I am stressed because of work. I have no social life because of work. I have no time because of work. I drink too much because of work. I am overweight because of work.
How many of these sentences apply to you? It’s easy to blame work for all our problems, but it’s an inescapable fact of life. Blaming work for your unhappiness is like blaming the sky for rain: it might be true, but there’s not a lot you can do about it. You can change jobs, but work will always be there in some form, unless you’re ready to retire, and that brings its own potent cocktail of issues.
What we can do is work on ourselves. Work itself isn’t always the problem – sometimes it’s the way we approach it.
At No1 Fitness, companies often ask us to deliver workshops to help their employees deal with the daily struggles of working life and improve their overall health. According to mentalhealth.org, promoting wellbeing at work through seminars, workshops, incentives, partnerships and personalised advice can have a huge impact. It says that if a company with 500 employees invests £40,000 in staff wellbeing, it can expect a net return of £347,722, mainly through fewer sick days (those figures sound pretty insane to me, too, but even a fraction of that is still a great return).
Every company is different, but here are five key changes that will always have a positive effect on employees. If you improve each one of these areas by five per cent, your working life will change radically. And the good news is that if you improve one area, it will drag the rest up with little additional effort.
As a fitness professional I’ve seen the power of exercise and what it can do to change lives, but I don’t think people really understand the extent of these benefits until they experience them. People I speak to at corporate events often say they lack time to exercise because of work and family commitments. This is where good corporate responsibility comes in. Many companies in the City now have partnerships with local gyms, providing an incentive for their staff to work out. Programs like Vitality and Perk Box also allow companies to offer discounts at some of the big gym chains.
Does your company run any after-work activities, like a running club or dance lessons? These can improve health and wellbeing, but also integration. You could also suggest fitness or yoga classes at the office: at No1 Fitness we host small group sessions during lunch breaks or after work. As a manager, you could also consider motivating your team by getting everyone a fitness tracker. Christmas is just around the corner, after all.
The nutrition workshops we deliver are always our most popular. It’s also the area many say is their biggest problem. City life sets us up to fail due to the long hours, poor food selection, client entertainment and social nights out. Most people are not, realistically, going to have time to cook their own meals every day, or the willpower to stay away from social drinking. This is fine.
But companies can do a lot to help. If there’s a staff canteen, make sure the food is healthy, with low-calorie options. Provide little touches like fruit bowls. People are going to snack – if you provide them with an apple that means they don’t have to walk through the rain to buy a Twix, then you’ve done a good job. Managers can also try to avoid making work nights out purely alcohol-based. There are plenty of things to do in the City these days besides drink.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about strategies to improve your sleep. People in the City often seem to think sleep is a sign of laziness, but the evidence clearly shows that anything less than seven or eight hours a night has a detrimental effect on your health, performance and mood. There are more than 20 large scale studies that have demonstrated a clear link between shorter sleep and lower life expectancy.
Some of the causes of bad sleep can be put down to employees working into the night. After a long day, many bring their work home with them and find it hard to switch off. Others find that once they get home from work, family life becomes a priority, and those with children will know that getting enough sleep is sometimes virtually impossible.
There are various ways companies can help alleviate this. Flexible working is a great option: if your team has pulled a late night, give them a few hours back the next morning to recover. Work out how your individual employees function best: if you have a super-talented manager who just cannot get behind his desk in the morning, why not build this into his contract? That way his behaviour becomes a feature rather than a bug. Most offices now allow some flexibility on childcare – make sure employees know their rights and allowances.
If you bought your team that fitness tracker, they will be able to check the quality of their sleep as well as the quantity, and if it’s not great, they can start to address it.
We all feel stressed, and for some, that stress can be debilitating and have massive repercussions on other areas of our lives. Evidence suggests that 12.7 per cent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, although the good news is sick days have been on the decline since 1993, and companies are increasingly recognising stress reduction as an important management tool.
We have introduced mindfulness techniques along with some basic forms of meditation and breathwork into offices, and people notice the difference almost right away. These can be done in just 10 minutes, so can easily become a daily practice to help overpower stressful work environments.
Allowing staff regular opportunities to speak openly to management is also a great way of dealing with stress, making people feel like their work is worthwhile. Finally, when was the last time you booked yourself in for a massage? Many companies now bring in therapists to the workplace so that their employees can get treatments throughout the working day. Our bodies are great at holding onto stress and this is a good way to release it.
We spend the majority of our days at work, and a high percentage of that is sitting down. This sedentary lifestyle can play havoc on our health. Getting up for a few 10 minute walks a day is highly recommended, not only to help with circulation but also to help mobilise your joints. You can even try a few basic stretches at your desk, focusing on your neck, chest and hips, where our bodies hold a lot of tension.
Finally, our clients don’t drink enough water. Make sure those water coolers are stocked up and functional!
• Harry is owner of No1 Fitness and a life coach for City professionals. To book a corporate talk, go to no1fitness.co.uk or call 0207 403 6660