In just about every workplace across America, employees this time of year are washing their hands, using sanitizer, and otherwise trying to avoid the colleagues who appear to be coming down with — whatever it is.
Staying healthy is a challenge in the winter months, and no one has time to be sick.
“We are so focused on work that we’ve changed the way we eat, move, and sleep in a way that is counterproductive,” said one workplace strategy expert.
But a healthy workplace entails much more than the avoidance of germs. We have developed work styles that are not good for our physical, mental, or emotional health, according to Leigh Stringer, a Washington, D.C.-based workplace strategy expert and researcher, and author of the Healthy Workplace.
“We are so focused on work, on getting things done, that we’ve changed the way we eat, move, and sleep in a way that is actually counterproductive,” said Stringer. Taking care of worker health and well-being is the most effective way to increase engagement and performance, she added.
So how can we improve the health of our workplace — especially as we head into this stressful time of year? Here are five tips from Stringer:
1.) Be respectful and thoughtful to others.
This includes understanding that colleagues have different political views — and that the folks you work with don’t always see things the way you do. “I can’t speak for the country at large, but in my office, we tend to keep politics to ourselves, especially lately, and focus instead on the mission of our organization and how we can make the planet a better place,” said Stringer.
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2.) Build flexibility into how, when, and where you work.
Studies show that people who feel more “in control” of their work and work environment are less likely to suffer from stress and illness — and more likely to see increases in productivity. Talk to your manager or team about ways you can build more flexibility and choice into your workplace.
Roughly half of workplace surfaces are contaminated within two to four hours after someone shows up sick.
3.) Move around more.
Take a look at how you work and explore alternatives to sitting in one position all day. Change your position often and move around frequently — stand at a table in the break room, walk around during conference calls. Taking the stairs is good for cholesterol levels and for burning calories. If you can’t take the stairs, take a walk instead.
Also, do what you can to adjust your work environment. Even if your organization does not provide desks that move up and down, making small adjustments, like moving or adding a computer monitor, turning on a task light, or re-orienting furniture can make a major difference in your posture and your productivity.
4.) Stay home when you’re sick.
When people come into the workplace sick, they are very likely spreading their diseases to colleagues, which reduces organizational productivity. As tempting as it is for you to “power through” and minimize sick days, the overall health risk is not worth it. Researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson placed a tracer virus on commonly touched objects such as doorknobs and workplace tabletops. At multiple time intervals, the researchers sampled a range of surfaces including light switches, countertops, sink tap handles, and push buttons. They found between 40 and 60 percent of the surfaces were contaminated within two to four hours.
5.) Set aside time for yourself.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of setting aside some time for ‘me,'” Stringer told LifeZette. “It’s so easy to get pulled in lots of directions, which puts me in reactive mode and impacts my ability to be resilient. When I let other people, including my family, dictate my entire schedule with no time left for myself, I get really overwhelmed, stressed, and have difficulty processing. Especially this fall, in what for me has been one of the busiest, most stressful seasons ever, I have found that carving out a few hours here and there (away from social media!) to just think and process has kept me sane and focused.”