Kevin Butler recently wrote a great post on HR.BLR.com about ways to improve wellbeing in your workspace. Office life in the modern world cause problems with people’s physical, social, and cognitive wellbeing. It’s widely accepted that so much sitting and unhealthy behaviors are causing disease rates and workplace injuries to soar. Even just stress of this modern life is enough to be considered an epidemic that sends people home with burnout.
The post considers the issue from the side of HR where companies know they need to approach and care for employee wellbeing in order to be successful overall.
Steelcase and turnstone recently completed a 2-year study of wellbeing in the workplace in which they found that fostering a workforce of employees who are productive, collaborative, and creative requires more than just the physical health of their employees. Rather, companies should take a holistic approach to wellbeing to understand the emotional, cognitive and physical needs of employees.
Bolstering this push for greater wellbeing are the breakthrough discoveries scientists are making about the mind and body as an interrelated system. Recent studies have identified the negative effects of long-term sitting, both on the body and the mind. Muscle inactivity produces a series of harmful metabolic effects, including a slowdown of the flow of nutrients to the brain, affecting alertness.
Clearly engaging the body in movement is essential for supporting physical and mental vigor at work. Here are six tips to make small changes to engage both your body and your mind at work:
- Stand up. As we’ve noted and the media has extensively reported, movement throughout the day is as important as ever. Did you know that you should get up and move every 60 minutes? To help promote mobility, many workplaces are offering standing height desks as an option to get people on their feet. That’s a great first step, but even standing requires mindfulness on the part of the worker. Avoid locking your knees and make sure the table height is comfortable and allows for good posture. Even though you’re on your feet, it’s still important to shift positions often.
- It’s no wonder your work is a pain in the neck. Many of us are so used to slumping over our laptops that we don’t realize it’s still important for the screen to be at the right viewing height. To avoid neck strain and shoulder cramping, add a monitor platform or set of books to raise your computer to eye level. Using the right work surface at the correct height is critical to physical comfort— don’t overlook it.
- Sitting up straight may NOT be the best medicine. If you’ve invested in an ergonomic task chair, take some time to get to know all the bells and whistles so that you can be supported throughout the day. Remember to lean into the chair back, allowing you to offload some of that physical effort; it’s important to let the chair do its job and not to fall victim to the myth that a completely upright posture is the way to go. Sitting up too straight often leads to “perching” on the edge of the seat, providing zero back and torso support.
For the optimal approach, mix up static seating by using an active seat like Buoy for short, frequent sessions throughout the day. The curved base on Buoy tips slightly, allowing much needed micro-movements. Just remember not to stay there too long—too much of a good thing is not always the best choice ergonomically.
- Take a load off. No matter which position you choose while you work, remaining static for an extended period of time can be harmful. Try setting an alert on your calendar, use the Pomodoro-method, or download an app to remind yourself to get up and move at least once an hour. Refill your water, grab another cup of coffee, head to the restroom or do a lap around your campus. If your workload is heavy, try scheduling a walking meeting. Even small adjustments will impact your overall wellbeing.
- Add “belly laugh” to your to-do list. Sometimes we take things at the office too seriously. While the potentially damaging effects of stress are well documented, we don’t often remember that laughter is a great way to combat those effects. Did you know laughter helps strengthen the immune system, reduce food cravings and cut the levels of stress hormones? So grab a few coworkers for ping pong or pull up a funny YouTube video during your break. Laugh a little! It might just make a big difference!
Kevin Butler is a board-certified professional ergonomist. As a Steelcase and turnstone workplace consultant, his primary focus is benchmarking and sharing ergonomics best practices with customers and designers. He also has extensive experience as an ergonomics practitioner assisting organizations in designing and implementing their ergonomics and wellness programs.