June is Professional Wellness Month, and usually we’re thinking about what we can do in the office to improve our health and productivity.
This year, with most of us working from home and facing a different set of challenges, we’re thinking about how the usual advice about work/life balance, eating well and taking breaks, applies to our new circumstances.
With the workplace now inside the home, and less of a physical break between the two, it’s arguably more important to consider your professional wellness and how that affects your overall health.
If you’re an employer, then employee health (body, mind and spirit) is a critical consideration during times when stress, anxiety and personal circumstances affect your team in different ways.
Here are some suggestions to help manage work wellness:
Delineate your office / work space
One of the biggest challenges when working from home is not allowing work to seep into every waking moment. It’s easier to fall into this trap when your work space isn’t defined, and having family at home makes it harder still! Even if you’re used to checking emails on your phone in the evenings, consider the difference between doing that at home, versus still being in the office at 10pm.
Set yourself up in a specific area, such as one room of the house or a particular corner of the living room, and consider that ‘the office’. Physically walking to and from your home workplace, or walking outside and back in, will help you to clock off mentally and give you much-needed respite.
Commit to taking a lunch break
It’s all too easy to get up and get straight into emails and calls. With a variety of snacking at your laptop, before you know it, it’s mid-afternoon and you haven’t had a proper lunch break.
Setting a particular time for lunch, and giving yourself a mental break and some time to digest will not only be good for your body, it will make the afternoon much more productive as well.
Get some fresh air if you can, or else read a book, do a puzzle or meditate. Giving yourself a break from the screen, and your mind a different challenge, will help you to reset for the afternoon.
Ask for flexibility
One good thing that has come about from everyone working from home is that more employers understand not just the need, but the benefits of flexible working.
Talk honestly with your boss about your needs and figure out how you can fit your work hours and commitments into a day that suits you both. For example, if you are home schooling, you could arrange to start early and then take 9-9.30am off to help get the kids started. Similarly, it might be possible to take a couple of hours off in the late afternoon to do mealtimes and bedtimes before coming back online. Another great idea is to take a longer lunch break so that you can fit in an exercise class before coming back to work a longer afternoon with more energy.
Many companies have found this arrangement makes employees more productive, and results in more hours being covered because not everyone is working the same 9-6 workday.
Align your body and your work space
If you’ve spent the last few weeks working on a laptop from home, then you might have noticed you have more neck strain, shoulder stiffness and headaches. The positions we find ourselves in when we use a laptop is not ideal for body alignment, and the dreaded ‘tech neck’ not only causes pain but is also very ageing.
A really simple fix for using a laptop at home is to buy a separate keyboard so that you can raise your laptop to eye level but keep the keyboard on the table so that your arms aren’t raised as you work. Alternatively, you can connect your laptop to a second screen (or TV) for the same effect.
If you have a home office, it’s well worth investing in an adjustable standing desk. These allow you to stand at your desk instead of sitting all day, but with the option to lower the desk and take seated breaks. Standing desks have a huge list of benefits, from easing back, neck and shoulder pain to reducing fatigue and even improving mood.
Be social online
When you’re working from home, replicating social time with colleagues can be really important to help deal with daily stressors, as well as for creativity. The opportunity to talk things through with others can bring new insights and different perspective.
It can be tempting to call non-work friends when you need a break at home, but it’s important to stay connected within the workplace: pick up the phone to team-mates or arrange to have a coffee break at the same time as someone in a different department so you can compare notes and connect.
Be a good Ally
During times like these there is much less sharing “off-line” about how team members feel, or are being treated by others. However, the need for change is more important now than ever and change starts with all of us. To be an ally is to unite oneself with another to promote a common interest. We all benefit from our collective efforts to create a better educated and more understanding world that treats each of us with dignity, respect, and equality. Now is the time to learn, share resources, and encourage meaningful dialogue that can create far-reaching and long-lasting change.
If you’re an employer
Thinking about employee welfare is not just a business decision but also a human one. Studies show that improved employee welfare leads to less absenteeism, better productivity and improved efficiency. In this day and age, there is no excuse for employers not to be concerned about the needs of those who work for them.
If you’re an employer, consider the ways in which you can facilitate improved health and wellness for your employees. Could you formally recognise flexible working, or discuss ways in which managers can facilitate it for their teams? Perhaps it’s possible to allocate budget to give employees a second keyboard, or to work with managers to make sure that employees aren’t expected to be available at all hours of the day.
Setting healthy boundaries starts with senior management asking themselves whether sending an email at 9pm or over the weekend is truly necessary. Leading by example and showing employees that you care about their wellness can have a huge impact, and can really elevate and differentiate you as an employer.
Wellness is a year-round concern
Wellness is a lifelong pursuit and much of our lives are spent working, so finding a good work/life balance, physical comfort and increased flexibility, can make a huge difference to your life. Since small changes make easy habits, start with one achievable change and take it from there; you’ll soon notice the difference it makes to your day, every day.