Have you ever washed your hands at a restaurant, and read the “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” sign as you are scrubbing? How did it make you feel? Did you instantly question what you were about to eat? Moreover, what about you had already eaten—who needs a reminder for that?! Alternatively, perhaps you felt relieved that you work in an environment where the health and hygiene of others doesn’t depend on you!
Either way, reading that sign probably made you think. Believe it or not, health and hygiene are not always common sense. Furthermore, maintaining workplace health is not limited to being mindful of keeping clean and preventing the spread of germs. Many factors that contribute to a healthy workplace.
Regardless of your job, workplace health should be something that remains at the forefront of your mind. If you are healthy, you will feel better. When you feel better, you will be happier. If you’re a happier person, you’ll be a more effective worker. When you’re a more effective worker, your company will prosper. If the company thrives, all will be well with the world!
Keeping in line with that analogy, here are some best practices for ensuring workplace health all year round.
The Three Pillars of Health
While we could all theorize the efficacy and benefits of essential oils and the best superfood berries, according to The National Institute of Health, sleep, diet, and exercise are arguably the three most important factors that contribute to a person’s health. In fact, health researchers know them as “the three pillars of health”—an appropriate name for the powerful trifecta.
However, there can only be one number one, and the verdict is that sleep beats out diet and exercise for the coveted spot on top, so sleep is where we are going to start.
Research shows that approximately 30% of Americans are sleep deprived. In terms of population, that’s over 40 million people walking around in a fog of exhaustion. If you are someone who spends a lot of time commuting, imagine driving in the center lane on the highway and knowing that either the person on your right or left at all times is likely getting less than the recommended daily amount of sleep regularly. Furthermore, what if that person is you? Statistically, chances are it very well could be.
So, what is the recommended nightly number of hours a person should be sleeping? Well, if your goal is to improve workplace health, then it is not advised to pull frequent all-nighters. The average healthy adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Additionally, rest is not something you can stock-pile or make up. So, if you don’t keep a consistent sleep pattern during the week, but think you can undo the damage by getting extra sleep on the weekend, you are sadly mistaken.
What can you do to ensure that you are getting the recommended hours of sleep each night? For starters, find a schedule that you can stick to because consistency is key. Don’t try to suddenly get to bed two hours earlier than you usually do, because you will grow frustrated as you lie awake until your body is ready to fall asleep.
Ease into an earlier bedtime routine by going to bed a few minutes earlier than you did the night before. Eventually, you’ll get to an appropriate bedtime, but it will feel natural.
Next, avoid exercising or eating too late in the evening. Exercise and certain foods can boost endorphins and give you energy, which is the opposite of what you should be doing when you’re trying to wind down.
Then, you will need to do the unthinkable: unplug. Blue light (the result of light-emitting diodes that exist in many overhead lights and electronic devices) disrupts sleep patterns, so as long as you continue to feed your device addiction, you will continue to experience sub-par sleep. Wondering what you can do with your free time before bed? A couple of healthy alternatives are: 1) read an old-fashioned, paper book, or 2) listen to some soothing music.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find diet trailing closely behind sleep in the three pillars of health.
One of the trickiest things about workplace health is that diet can take a major hit. When you are at home, it may seem simple to grab an apple or some grapes from the fridge, but eating healthy at work does take a little forethought.
Salespeople who spend their days visiting clients, and people who must travel frequently, know better than anyone that finding a way to do their job and maintain healthy eating habits can be quite the challenge. Many of their meals are spent in restaurants or grabbing something on the road in between appointments.
Considering the obstacles of the traveling worker, an office worker might appear to have it easy. Chances are there is a refrigerator available in the breakroom, or at least some co-worker has a mini-fridge available somewhere close. Packing your lunch with a balanced, healthy array of foods may be easier for someone in the office than someone who travels.
The benefit of eating this way is that you will feel better (many fast-food restaurants prepare items with excess sugar, salt, and saturated fats that can cause you to feel sluggish), you might see a change in your waistline, and you will get to put that sad Tupperware to use! Did I mention the money you will be saving by eating a packed lunch instead of eating out each day?
The third of the three pillars of health is exercise. This pillar is the one that is way too easy to put off.
While sleep requires you to relax and submit, and diet requires you to be mindful and have willpower, exercise requires you to make a decision, put on your workout clothes, go outside or to the gym, and sweat. It’s a lot!
Well, it’s a lot if you continue to believe that it is. Guys, exercise doesn’t have to be that hard. In fact, most of us would improve our workplace health by merely getting up and walking to the printer on the other side of the room each time we need something printed or copied, rather than having the machine at our desks. Or, if we would set a timer for the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon, then walk around the office for 10 minutes, we would quickly see an increase in energy, as well as an improvement in mood.
While you are walking, don’t forget to breathe. Breathing isn’t considered to be one of the three pillars of health, but perhaps it’s because many of us take it for granted that it will happen naturally. Oxygen is vital to the properly functioning brain, and it is necessary for growth and healing.
If you don’t think you could benefit from taking some deep breaths each day, just imagine your brain drying up and looking tattered. That should prompt you to take a nice, big gulp of air. Andrew Weil devised the 4-7-8 breathing technique (in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, out for 8 counts) to help people become more intentional about their breathing, to lower stress and improve health. The whole technique takes no more than a couple of minutes, but the effects are instantaneous. In short, you have plenty of time to take a moment and breathe.
Our planet is nearly three-quarters water, and yet studies show that approximately that same percentage (75%) of us are actually dehydrated to the point of bodily harm, making it seem as though we live on a desert planet, instead of this vast ocean planet we call home. Suffice it to say, upping your H2O intake may alleviate many of the health issues you may be experiencing. The easiest way to increase water consumption is to keep a water bottle nearby and sip from it regularly. You can expect to be running to the John for a while, but once your body regulates, you won’t need to tinkle as often, and you will likely be feeling better in surprising ways. Then, further workplace health will be underway.
Flu season is just the worst, and it recurs annually like clockwork. But try not to get in the mindset that there is nothing you can do to prevent getting sick—as though you might as well just lick all the doorknobs and walk through sneezes because it’s fate that you’re going to catch something. While avoiding all germs may be challenging, there are simple things you can do to help keep the germs at bay and sustain workplace health, even during the gooiest of times.
- Wash your hands frequently. Some people aren’t ashamed to have a bottle of hand sanitizer at their desk, but nothing beats warm, soapy water.
- Don’t touch doorknobs. Sure, you might look like you have a serious case of OCD when you open doors with your elbows or grab the knobs with a tissue or your sleeve, but you’ll look much better that way than in the hospital with a bad case of the flu.
- Cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. People will be silently appreciative if you practice this one little courtesy.
For Pete’s sake, if you get sick, just stay at home. Certainly no one person is so necessary that his/her job is worth risking the workplace health of everyone else. Enough said.
Yeah, I know—it sounds like the study of strange sounds people make when they’ve had too much beer and pizza on a Friday night. Ergonomics, however, is actually the study of a person’s efficiency in the work environment. Do you know what goes hand-in-hand with ergonomics?
That’s right—workplace health! So, if you haven’t already done so, have your posture, pressure points, and workspace setup evaluated. Many employers are becoming increasingly aware of the ergonomically correct chairs, desks, and keyboards (among other things). Find out if your employer will pay for a setup to improve the efficiency of your body, and therefore workplace health.
One step at a time
As with anything new, it will take a little time to develop healthier habits to get you on track to a healthy workplace. It probably would be overwhelming to take on all these suggestions at once, but definitely pick a couple to focus on, while at least trying to be mindful of them all. Most importantly though, there is no time like the present, so do not put this off for a “better time.” Remember that one thing leads to another, and you will experience a cascade effect if you make a choice to make small changes and stick with them.
Have you read so much about sleep and workplace health that your eyes are getting heavy? Good! Now turn off that device and hit the hay so that you can be ready to take on the challenge of a new day!