By Hannah Kaiser

When we feel good, we feel empowered to do good at work.

Sustaining healthy workplace habits goes beyond simply staying at home when sick. Good physical and mental health can be essential for fully engaging with our work and feeling satisfied with what we have accomplished. Otherwise, diminished overall well-being can degrade our productivity, cause us to make more mistakes, and can even decrease our ability to self-regulate, leading us to engage in unethical behaviors we wouldn’t otherwise.

Conversely, the work we do and the environment we do it in can affect our health. If you are making an effort to take good care of yourself outside of the workplace, it doesn’t make much sense to check those efforts at the office door after clocking in for the day. 

Overworking ourselves, prolonged physical and mental stress and other unhealthy habits will continue to have an impact long after we get home. These negative effects can eventually cause us to get sick, or, if left unaddressed for longer, can even lead to the development of more serious health-related issues like high blood pressure or heart disease. 

Maintaining our well-being while at work is just as important as it is outside of work. Although certain features of a workplace environment may occasionally make these efforts more difficult (such as needing to stay seated for long periods of time, or regularly dealing with stressful deadlines), there are many opportunities for small adjustments anyone can make to prevent their work from deteriorating their good health. 


Maintaining Your Health

Experiencing stress and strain at work is unavoidable. 

In reasonable doses, stress isn’t all that bad. We need some of it to motivate us to get things done. The trouble starts when stress gets too extreme or lasts for too long. If we are constantly feeling overwhelmed, we begin to burn out. Burnout can leave us feeling disconnected and unhappy, and we may even begin to question the value of our work. 

Setting small amounts of time aside for rest during the workday is an important part of recovery. And, resting and recovering in healthy ways can help build resilience for stress we may experience later. The simplest way to do this during your day is to schedule specific times every so often (every two hours, perhaps, or even every hour and a half) to completely disconnect from work. Ideally, this should look like putting away all technology, including phones, that can potentially reconnect you to the workday before you are finished resting. 

Take a short amount of time, even just five minutes, to meditate, complete a mindfulness exercise, or take a walk outside or around the office. 

It may be valuable to consider other times during the day when there are opportunities to recover. For example, try taking lunch breaks outside, or at least somewhere away from your desk. Or, if you have a habit of spending your break times scrolling through social media and find that this practice leaves you more stressed than before, consider taking a book to read or listening to calming music instead. 

Additionally, it’s important to remember that not all breaks are equal. Taking a walk while continuing to fret about an upcoming meeting is not going to be as relaxing as a walk spent practicing breathing exercises. 

Here are some points research indicates may be good to keep in mind while crafting a break schedule for yourself: 

  • Do something you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy meditation or taking walks, consider choosing an activity better suited to your preferences to maximize the benefits of a break. Perhaps doodling or journaling would be more personally relaxing. 
  • Don’t wait too long to take a break. Prevention is better than a cure. Breaks work better earlier in the day rather than later. Instead of waiting until you are stressed after an important meeting, take a break well before it starts so you’re relaxed from the beginning. 
  • Consider break length and frequency. Longer breaks are great, but not everyone’s schedule is conducive to spending lots of time away from work during the day. In that case, try taking shorter breaks more frequently (even just a few minutes will be helpful). 

Taking good breaks improves mental health through decreased work-related fatigue, decreased emotional exhaustion, and increased job satisfaction. But, high-quality breaks can also improve physical health. Breaks that lead to successful resource recovery may lessen back pain and eye strain, and they can prevent headaches. 


Helping Others Maintain Health 

Plenty of evidence demonstrates providing social support in a workplace setting is important for an employee’s mental health. Working with people that you get along with well, and who get along with you, has an obvious benefit by eliminating potential stress resulting from conflict. However, the benefits of positive workplace relationships go beyond that. When someone has high-quality relationships with coworkers, they tend to be more committed to their organization and experience higher job satisfaction. These relationships can also help mitigate stress, and give the resources needed to be equipped to handle difficult situations. 

As a colleague, providing positive social connections can go a long way. And, if we have adequate resources, going out of our way to help coworkers can show support to them, and also improve our own mental health by making work feel more meaningful

The same benefit can result from supervisors who provide strong support and foster good relationships with employees. 

In fact, a strong supervisor-supervisee relationship may even have a greater impact on health when compared to coworker relationships. Employees with supervisors they view as unsupportive tend to have less healthy cortisol patterns (cortisol is a stress hormone). These unhealthy patterns can lead to higher blood pressure, weight gain, and high cholesterol. 

As a supervisor, providing strong support is crucial to helping employees keep their health. Being supportive can be as simple as regularly communicating to employees that their work is meaningful to the organization. It can also look like going out of our way to help out an employee who is struggling to meet a deadline, or taking the time to make sure our communication is thorough and clear to prevent confusion and additional stress. 

Helping ourselves, and helping each other, preserve mental and physical health can make a lasting positive impact.

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