This article was originally published by VicHealth.
April 6, 2021
Back to work? How to make it positive
Many of us have been working from home, or not working at all due to the pandemic. It’s only natural that going back to the workplace may feel like a challenge. To help you maintain your physical and mental health, we’ve asked the experts for guidance on a healthy work life.
Any coronavirus information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was ‘Last updated’ (see above).
In this article we’ll cover:
- how can we enjoy exercise instead of making it a chore?
- how can workplaces help staff feel better by moving more?
- what are some ways to sit less during the workday?
- tips to eat healthy in the workplace
- how can we balance our workloads with our personal lives?
- simple steps to take when we feel overwhelmed or anxious
- how can we think about work in a way that doesn’t occupy our minds all the time?
Be Healthy was created by VicHealth to provide helpful tips and advice on how you and your family can stay healthy. You can read more Be Healthy articles here.
How can we enjoy exercise instead of making it a chore?
Personal trainer Natasha Korbut says the key to ensuring exercise is part of our day is to make it a sustainable habit, so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. “As soon as exercise starts becoming a chore, we find ways to shorten it, skip it and delay it,” said Korbut. “So make it joyful! This will be different for everyone.”
Here are some ideas on exercise that brings you joy, and Natasha recommends checking out This Girl Can – Victoria for some more ideas:
- going for a stroll with friends or dogs before or after work
- cycling or walking to work instead of sitting in the car or on public transport
- lifting weights in the gym or at home
- going for a swim in the pool or the ocean
- joining a dance class in person or online
How can workplaces help staff feel better by moving more?
On those days that are really busy and 30 minutes to an hour of structured exercise feels too difficult to fit in, Natasha says to inject small “movement breaks” of 3 – 5 minutes into the day. “Workplaces could make this easier by providing space for employees to do some stretching or yoga, and by encouraging these small breaks for staff throughout the day to prevent too much sitting time. Workplaces could also do walking meetings, or allow for shared coffee breaks that involve walking to a café a block away.”
What are the benefits of exercise for the workplace?
Natasha Korbut explains that:
- More exercise may mean less sick days – numerous studies have demonstrated the relationship between exercise and our immune system.
- Improved mental concentration – exercise has been shown to improve concentration in adults
- Reduced anxiety – physical activity can help improve our mental health and wellbeing, including reducing anxiety levels.
What are the benefits of sitting less?
Studies show that long periods of sitting can increase the risk of physical and mental health issues. Desk-based workers spend on average 75% of their workday sitting, workplaces that encourage their staff to sit less will benefit from:
- increased productivity
- reduced absenteeism
- better team culture
- less risk of injury
BeUpstanding provides tips on sitting less and how to set up a healthy workstation at home. We summarised some of these in a previous article about staying safe and healthy while working.
Tips to eat healthy in the workplace
Accredited Practising Dietitian, Nicole Dynan says, “It can be tricky to eat well at work, especially as our routine changes in the transition back to the office.” Workplaces that encourage wholefoods and nutrient-rich meals benefit from boosting memory, concentration, and dodging mid-afternoon slumps for workers.
Workplaces can support nutritious options by:
- providing healthy food options for catered meetings
- providing water refill stations
- encouraging workers to eat together, or away from their desks and screens
- designating one day a month to celebrate birthdays with a cake rather than every birthday
- making fruit, nuts and vegetables easily available rather than high-sugar and high-salt snacks
- providing a kitchen area and food storage facilities for workers to bring or make their own meals (Nicole recommends “adequate, clean fridge space, sandwich press, microwaves, chopping boards and knives.”)
What are some tasty, nutritious options to pop in your lunchbox?
Nicole Dynan suggests:
- wholegrains, which are high fibre and provide sustainable energy– such as wholemeal bread or brown rice
- air popped popcorn
- raw, or dry roasted unsalted nuts (keeping in mind allergies)
- roasted chickpeas
- if there’s facilities to heat and prepare food, consider mini vegetable quiches, or falafel balls with tzatziki
How can we balance our workloads with our personal lives?
Organisational Psychologist Michelle Pizer suggests that we don’t sacrifice the important aspects of our lives for the sake of our work.
“Plan ahead to ensure we include nutritious food, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, time with our friends and family and make time for something fun too.”
So how do we ensure work doesn’t occupy our minds all the time?
Michelle says that the first thing to do is identify whether work is all-consuming at an individual level or is it an organisational issue?
“Are the job demands unreasonable such that anyone would be overwhelmed by it? Do priorities and deadlines need to be renegotiated?” she asks.
“This is where leaders need to step in and support their team members – whether it’s through better job design and resourcing, being very clear about what’s expected, or providing support and helping with skill building.”
There are also general tips you can follow to find a balance between personal and professional time:
- Plan workload in advance, and if the workload is too much, discuss extending deadlines or having assistance on tasks.
- Discuss expectations with management and colleagues about reasonable availability (i.e. within work hours only, with after-hours calls to your personal mobile in the case of work emergencies).
- Resist the temptation to continue checking work emails after hours by scheduling personal activities to start right after work, such as a phone call with a friend, a walk or a yoga class.
- Turn off or setup a ‘do not disturb’ for work emails and alerts (you can try apps like ‘Freedom’ or ‘Offtime’) when work hours are over.
Are there some simple steps to take when we feel overwhelmed or anxious about returning to work?
“When you start to feel anxious, bring your attention to how you’re breathing,” says Pizer. “A few slow, deep breaths – in through the nose and longer out through the mouth, while relaxing your shoulders, jaw and the muscles around your eyes. Do whatever helps you to relax – for some that’s mindfulness or meditation, for others it might be exercise or watching a comedy, something that makes you laugh.”
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Ultimately, returning to the workplace should be a positive experience and hopefully these tips can help you keep the exercise and enjoyment of healthy food you’ve discovered while not in the office. There may be a few teething issues in transitioning back into the workplace, so be patient and compassionate with yourself and seek professional support for mental and physical health concerns if you feel stuck.