Improving workplace wellbeing comes down to balancing the components that add stressors to an employee's life. Balancing stressors means staying hydrated, eating well, moving often, prioritizing sleep, and looking stress directly in the eye.
An untouched fruit bowl in the break room. A lone “healthy” packet of salted nuts placed in a vending machine filled with chips and chocolate bars. A biannual email reminding employees to download Headspace app and try meditation, written by someone who has never once meditated. The efforts to support employee wellbeing are celebrated but are often derided as disingenuous virtue-signalling.
Improving workplace wellbeing requires a collaborative approach. Employers must provide an environment conducive to healthy habits. And employees need to do their best to nail the core tenets of wellness: hydration, nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management. Let's walk through each of these and look at some strategies for employees to navigate deadlines and heavy workloads, and what management can do to support these habits.
One of the easiest things you can do for your overall health and nutrition is to drink 2-3 litres of water a day. Mild dehydration can decrease alertness, increase fatigue, create difficulty concentrating and lead to headaches. Waiting for these signals of dehydration is not enough, and it's important to be proactive with water intake. One study even found that measures of contentedness declined by dropping hydration levels: imagine if you could boost your mood simply by drinking more water!
Employees can actively manage their fluid intake by setting reminders around regular activities. For example, office workers could stop for a glass of water before each meeting, before emails, or after lunch. Tying the behavior you're trying to create, like drinking more water, with an existing behavior, can be really helpful to get it done. After a few weeks of consciously thinking about doing it, this becomes habitual and hydration comes easily.
For employees who are more active and not tied to a desk, I often recommend setting reminders on their phone or smart watch so that they have regular reminders to take a quick break for fluids.
Employers can assist employee efforts by ensuring water and hot beverages are available and that the workplace culture supports looking after hydration needs-- breaks to take a drink should be encouraged, not criticized.
When it comes to health and weight management of nutrition, there are 3 things we need to nail: protein, plants, and planning.
Protein is key for supporting muscle mass, our metabolisms and our immune systems. Higher protein intakes help us feel less hungry because protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fat. It's easy to miss out on protein at breakfast, so finding ways to get protein in earlier in the day can reduce hunger and support better nutritional decision-making across the day. Greek yogurt, milk, eggs, or smoked salmon are breakfast-food friendly protein sources to kick start the day.
Plants are vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Having five to seven servings of fruits and veggies a day is key to health, vitality, energy and weight management. Finding ways to slide more fruits and veggies into your diet can work wonders for your health, weight management, energy and vitality. Consider a mid-morning piece of fruit or a tide-over snack of carrot sticks in the afternoon. The fibre in these foods helps us stay full and keeps our guts working smoothly.
Planning is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy eating strategy is executed. Thinking ahead to the next day, or better yet, the whole week, can help to predetermine the best nutritional choices.
Employees should prioritize meals that promote health and satiety by planning lean protein and plants for every meal, and employers can help by pointing employees in the direction of better lunch options to avoid the pie-and-a-Powerade lunch that leaves workers half-asleep in the afternoon.
The best movement for anyone is the one that they'll actually do, so it's worth spending time trying out a few different activities to see what's enjoyable and easy to stick to.
Weight training can help to hold onto valuable muscle when losing weight, improve body composition and carbohydrate storage (making them less likely to damage health by staying in the bloodstream). Low intensity aerobic work like jogging, swimming, bicycling and rowing is great for the heart, lungs and one's ability to recover from life stressors. A combination of both is a winning formula for health and longevity.
Employers can encourage employees to use their breaks for movement like stretching and walking, encourage inter-team step count challenges, and keep workers posted about local sports at lunchtime or group runs.
Sleep is one of the most important tools in the wellbeing tool kit, and very few of us are doing it enough! Eight hours is necessary for full function and will help employees concentrate and stay engaged at work. It’s unlikely that you're part of the less-than-one percent of the population who actually get by on 6 hours of sleep or less.
Developing healthy sleep patterns is hard, and even harder for parents of small children. It's a good idea to start by addressing the things that can be controlled instead of worrying about what can't: the best practice is to develop a bedtime routine to wind down, get rid of screens, and agree to a predetermined number of Netflix episodes (beat the autoplay button!). Where possible, be consistent about your bedtime so you can fall asleep faster. If you are able to, keep the room cool or have a warm shower before bed to help you cool down.
Stress management is a key pillar of health. It’s a good idea to consider breathing practices, meditation or journaling to manage your stress if those things suit your lifestyle.
But the truth is that good stress management comes from building better environments for yourself that support your overall wellness.
That means making sure you've ticked all the boxes we've already covered today:
Hydrating properly by drinking enough at regular intervals.
Building a nutrition strategy that first considers protein and plants, while planning ahead for how your life actually looks.
Moving, regularly, and if you care about long term health or weight management, focusing on lifting and low to moderate intensity cardio.
Sleeping enough with good quality due to solid sleep hygiene, and finally letting these habits support your other stress management tactics like breathing practices or meditation.
To realize the productivity benefits that true workplace wellbeing can generate, employers need to provide an environment in which employees feel empowered and encouraged to prioritize healthy habit formation. In turn, employees must leverage this support to enhance their lives and enjoy greater fulfillment if they wish to feel happy, healthy, and balanced at work.