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Work to live or live to work: five tips for a healthier workplace

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 11:55

Guest post by Dr. Linda Friedland 

Healthy, happy employees result in a highly productive company and a robust bottom line.  A healthy productive workplace is no longer viewed simply as a feel-good for organisations. The data is overwhelmingly clear that when management prioritises and encourages physical and mental wellbeing, it results in countless measures of superior organisational and personal performance. Several highly successful studies have revealed significant enhancement of productivity, creativity, employee satisfaction and financial results. 

A recent Robert Walters survey found that Australian employees are feeling a lot less than well. With the current financial climate employees are anxious to maintain their jobs at all costs and expectations from employers have increased. Furthermore working hours have increased over the years, as has the need to remain logged-in and contactable beyond office hours. As a manager you have high decision latitude and can assist and encourage your employees to defuse stress, enhance their performance and strengthen their physical and mental health.  Implement these five simple strategies to transform your workplace into a wonderfully healthy and productive environment:

Encourage personal control

Employees experience the greatest degree of stress when they feel out of control. Employees are far more productive and able to manage stress if they have some control and flexibility in how they perform their tasks.  Following the Karoshi epidemic in Japan and its spread into Asia and beyond, a great deal of research has been conducted. A number of studies have demonstrated a significant relationship between high job strain ie high production demands and low levels of control and social support resulting in heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

Focus on the people not the numbers

In any business it is easy to become fixated on the figures, the financials and the profits.  But “It’s not numbers that drive people, but the people that drive numbers,” points out Jon Gordon author of The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change. Take a step back and remember that ultimately, an organization’s failure or success is determined by the moods, energy, thoughts, behaviours and mostly the health of the people who work there.

Value recovery time

Although the prevailing work ethic in most companies is that downtime is time wasted, the researched data is compelling. Cognitive function, creativity and overall performance levels have been shown to improve dramatically after a short power break. Encourage employees to take a power pause at least every 90 minutes. Encourage them to use these micro breaks to get up from their desks, stretch muscles and thereby stimulate body and brain blood flow and oxygenation.  The practice of short breathing or mindfulness techniques interrupts the surging of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol and allows for mental and physical repair and recovery.

Promote a HIIT!

Exercise is essential for defusing stress levels in demanding jobs.  Encourage and inspire your staff to build activity into their schedules. Any type of exercise that they do is beneficial in relieving stress and enhancing health and longevity. But in recent years HIIT or High intensity Interval Training has been shown to significantly reinforce cardiac health, immunity and metabolic functioning. This means exercising at a moderate pace interspersed with brief moments (60 seconds) of high intensity and then reverting to moderate pace.  This also burns off excess adrenalin facilitating total body recovery.

Respect the biological clock

Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. As humans, we have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day, called the circadian rhythm. This precise and regular system facilitates the release of different hormones and enzymes at specific points through the day. There are peaks of naturally high energy and troughs of low energy and it is impossible to fight this innate human natural rhythm. A perfect example is the early afternoon’s notorious energy dip!

A high stress level at work affects far more than productivity and performance. It may increase the risk of mental illness, heart attack, stroke- and possibly even Karoshi (death due to overwork). It doesn’t have to be this way!

Dr. Linda Friedland specialises in corporate health, stress management and performance. She is a medical doctor, bestselling author of five books, and sought after international speaker. For more information visit www.lindafriedland.com or email linda@lindafriedland.com