Put your health on the agenda
Melissa Galea Holmes, MSc, MA
Workplace wellness is essential to enjoying life, especially since conditions on the job can impact your well-being for better or worse.
The work-life balance often tips toward the workplace, where most Canadians spend over 60 percent of their waking hours. It is no surprise that conditions on the job can impact your well-being—for better or worse. Workplace wellness is essential to enjoying life, both at work and off the clock.
A positive work environment is a win-win situation for employers and workers alike. A healthy, happy workforce means fewer disability claims, lower absenteeism, and boosted productivity. At the same time, employees benefit from increased job satisfaction and a full, active life throughout the week.
Employee assistance schemes, such as fitness programs and disability management, are offered at nearly 70 percent of Canadian workplaces. Are you aware of the resources available to you? Employee involvement is essential to maximizing workplace wellness programs. A few tips addressing key issues at the workplace will help you get started.
Workplace relationships are as complex as they get, involving individuals from various backgrounds, with a range of skills and values. Professional relations can usually be maintained, but conflict among co-workers is inevitable, especially in high-pressure environments and when communication is misinterpreted.
To resolve conflict, focus on task-related issues rather than individual differences, and direct attention to relevant facts while minimizing emotional outbursts. Many organizations now offer training in team building, which can facilitate relationships and boost morale.
Social support is a crucial buffer against stress at work. In addition to support from family, these factors will help you look forward to Monday mornings: positive collaboration with co-workers, getting help when needed, and regular feedback on effort and performance.
Repetitive use injuries
Stress and conflict at the workplace have a broad impact on well-being, and may even contribute to physical impairment. Low job satisfaction, time pressure, and job insecurity, for example, have been associated with common repetitive-use injuries, including neck, shoulder, and low-back pain.
Repetitive use injuries can affect the muscle, tendons, nerves, or any other soft tissue. While the link between stress and injury is well documented, it is not as clear as the impact of physical and environmental causes, such as unaccustomed movement, awkward posture, and poor workspace layout.
If you experience pain or suspect an injury, report to your health representative and seek appropriate treatment. Physiotherapy, including strengthening and mobilizing exercises, ultrasound, and electromagnetic field therapy, provides effective treatment for some injuries, while an occupational therapist can evaluate your capacity to work and recommend changes to your workspace.
An important measure for preventing injury involves personalizing the layout of your workspace. Ergonomists specialize in improving the interaction between people and the tools, equipment, and technology they use—from a cushioned pen to heavy-duty industrial machinery. Embracing a holistic approach, an ergonomist will consider physical, psychological, social, and environmental factors when making recommendations.
Across Canada employers are legally required to meet health, safety, and ergonomic standards. Many industrial settings have taken enormous steps, sometimes hiring a full-time ergonomist on site. Others rely on external consultants, and most employers will at least provide basic supplies—an adjustable chair, hand grips on tools, or a foot rest, for example.
But fancy equipment is of little benefit if you don’t know how to use it. Ask for instruction from a specialist—even basic training can reduce the risk of injury and provide a sense of control over your workspace.
An ergonomic chair might make long hours easier on your back, but this is no reason to stay glued to your desk. Adults, on average, spend more than half their waking time sedentary—often sitting in transport or on the job.
Even if you exercise before or after work, the unhealthy effects of prolonged inactivity—which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity—cannot be counteracted by exercise at other times of the day.
Taking frequent breaks can improve health. Walk a flight of stairs every hour, stand up for a light stretch, or visit your colleagues at their desks instead of sending an email. Try an active commute instead of driving, and if you use public transportation, spend the journey standing.
Nearly half of Canadian companies provide information about policies and programs to support physical activity. The most successful workplace initiatives rely on employee input—so get involved. Lobby for better facilities, such as showers and bike racks, and ask for incentive schemes and flexible hours to facilitate activity throughout the workday.
In addition to the impact on physical health, the organization of your workspace can affect your mood and productivity. It is important to feel comfortable but also invigorated by your environment. A few principles based on feng shui, the traditional Chinese system of harmonizing your surroundings, can help you to harness positive energy at work.
Begin by removing clutter, which can become a mental and physical obstacle to productivity. At the end of the day, organize any work in progress so that you can easily resume where you left off on your next shift. Keep decorative items to a minimum, but include a combination of imagery and items that both inspire you to look ahead and reflect on your past accomplishments.
Harness natural energy by propping a plant or two nearby. Foliage naturally filters the air, while a splash of green spurs creativity, confidence, and ambition. Keep plants fresh, watered, and healthy, as a drying leaf might make you feel wilted too.
Advocating for yourself
Today’s working world is fluid and unpredictable, and it is your prerogative to shape your professional path. If you shy away from networking opportunities, are not sure how to launch into a negotiation, or are just looking to brush up on self-management skills, seek out training in professional development offered through your employer or an independent provider.
Self-advocacy relies on having the experience required to achieve your goals. If your skill development is stagnant, discuss new projects or a more challenging role with your employer. Be clear and deliberate when communicating your objectives, and don’t be afraid to promote your key strengths.
Self-advocacy extends to your personal time. Manage boundaries between work and home life with your employer, but also with your family. Gain support from your partner when working late shifts and coordinate hours to manage time spent together and with children.
Workplace wellness is evolving, and employers are adopting a holistic approach, addressing health and safety, lifestyle changes to improve fitness or diet, and job-related stress, while tailoring programs to individual needs.
Learn about your options and make the most of opportunities available to you. Just a few small changes can tip the work-life scale to balance in favour of your health.
Employee involvement is essential to workplace wellness. Know your rights by visiting some of the helpful links below.