By Bridget Gourlay
Most employees in New Zealand spend their weekdays at work following set hours. How can the office — often a scene of drudgery — become a lively, vibrant, productive place that employees thrive in?
Katie Robinson from workplace wellness company Vitality Works, says it has become abundantly clear that offices are happier places when the staff are healthy.
“‘Presenteeism’ is a huge issue,” she says. “That’s being at work, but doing bugger all. It’s actually a lot worse than absenteeism. There is an absolute, clear relationship between how healthy someone is and how productive they are, especially in presenteeism. This is only just being acknowledged — it’s been in research for a long time — but now by employers in the mainstream.”
Encouraging healthy bodies and minds at the workplace can be done in simple ways. Robinson recommends having accessible staircases; and bike racks and showers so people can cycle, run and walk to work, or exercise during lunchtime.
There could also be a lunchtime office walking group, or the company could sponsor their team to do an event like a 10km run or start an indoor netball team.
At work, offices can hold ‘walking meetings’ where meetings are held as the team walk through the local park.
Food is the other crucial part of good health. Robinson says businesses should see what is available at the cafeteria or vending machines and make sure there are some healthy options. The same goes for Friday drinks and morning teas — balance out the sausage rolls and cake with carrot sticks and sandwiches.
Robinson says five employees could form a healthy lunch club, where each member makes a healthy delicious lunch for everyone one day of the week. This means each person gets five healthy lunches a week with only a fifth of the effort of preparing it.
Poor mental health is often affected or even caused by poor physical health. Not only does regular exercise and good food lead to fitter bodies, but it reduces stress and depression.
Increasingly, research is pointing to long periods of sitting as being the cause of a number of health problems.
In many cases, employees drive to work, sit all day and then drive home, with few breaks from sitting. But even healthy people who exercise regularly need a break from sitting.
Robinson advises businesses look into standing tables, where employees can stand at their desks for some of most of the day. Her husband stands at his desk, and “to begin with he found it hard work but now he has really noticed the difference.”
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Of course, there’s more than just exercise and good food involved in making the office a happy place. The basic necessities must be right.
Make sure the lighting enables people to see well without being fluorescent and that the heating and cooling in the building are adequate.
No one can work to the best ability if they can’t see properly or are too cold or too warm — not to mention the potential sick days off when an employee catches a cold, or gets headaches from straining their eyes.
The best workplaces are the ones where staff members come to work looking forward to seeing their friendly colleagues and knowing no one is going to make them feel bad.
It’s hard to work well when your every move is being scrutinised or you are being bullied or discriminated against.
To promote friendliness within the office, ensure bullying is stamped out. This can be hard to find, but the EEO has useful advice in its resources for businesses who are concerned about this issue. For example, it says companies could:
■ Conduct a confidential workplace survey to find out whether harassment/bullying is an issue for employees
■ Document noticeable changes in patterns in performance, turnover or sick days for individuals or groups of staff (such as young women or employees in a particular team)
■ Assess how much time is being spent dealing with employee complaints relating to this issue
■ Find out if the workplace practices comply with the legislation
■ Figure out what procedures are in place to protect employees from harassment/bullying
■ See if there is a clear policy or procedure for victims to make a complaint.
There’s also the basic light relief —
Friday night drinks, morning teas and other social activities which allow everyone to have fun together.
Think about it. If the average person works 40 hours a week from age 22 until 65, then that means you spend most of your waking hours at the office. That’s often more time than you spend with family or friends; making one of the keys to a happy life a happy work environment.