10 ways to boost your wellness in your workplace

From the chair you sit on to the hours you keep, here’s how to make your nine-to-five working day a healthier one.

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Call it the pandemic effect: wellbeing is everyone’s top priority this year. But when it comes to work, the definition of health and wellness goes beyond face masks and hand sanitiser (although those are important, too). It means taking the time to consider everything from your posture to your team culture, to make sure you can thrive physically and mentally during your workday. 

Whether you’re putting in the hours at home, heading back to the office, or working long days on your feet, there are plenty of ways to protect your body and mind. Ready to get started? Put these workplace wellbeing pointers on your to-do list.

1. Check your screen

If you moved your office to the kitchen table last year and never left, chances are your workstation isn’t as ergonomically friendly as it could be. 

“You shouldn’t use a laptop flat on a work surface for more than two hours a day, because it forces you into an awkward posture, which 

can lead to migraines, tension headaches and back pain,” explains Dr Elizabeth Kirk, founder of injury prevention training business Beyond Ergo. Instead, prop up your computer on a stack of books and use a wireless keyboard and mouse. Then, make sure your screen is at the right height with this handy trick: “The centre of your screen should be at about shoulder height, so if you put your arm parallel to the work surface and point to the screen, that sets the centre of the screen. It’s a simple way to check you’re not going to be forced to look up or down, which is really hard on the neck and shoulders,” says Dr Kirk, who has a PhD in ergonomics. 

2. Be seated

Desk jockeys, consider your saddle. Whether you’re working in an office or at home, a good, supportive chair is vital – and your dining room chair just won’t cut it.

“The main thing to look for in a chair is adjustability,” says Jordan Lees, director of The Ergonomic Physio. “If you can’t adjust a chair to the exact position that you need then the likelihood of the pre-set positions of that chair suiting your body is so minimal that it’s just a waste of money.”

Don’t be fooled by space-age designs, warns Jordan. Look for three or four levers on the chair that control height, the backrest angle and the seat pan position to ensure you can tailor it to your needs.

3. Create a switch-off routine

If you’re always bringing your work home with you, create some space with a “mindful gap”, says Rachel Clements, director of psychological services at the Centre for Corporate Health. At the end of your day, “Take five deep breaths from your abdomen to switch on your body’s ‘rest and digest’ response,” she says. “Then recalibrate: ask yourself, ‘Who do I want to be when I show up at home? Do I want to be calm? Do I want to be present? Do I want to have energy? Do I want to be fun?’ It’s very much an intentional switch-off technique.” If you’re working from home, Rachel advises setting an alarm to nudge you to finish up, then stepping outside – even if it’s just for 10 minutes – to reset your headspace.

4. Clear clutter

Forget what Einstein said about messy desks being a sign of brilliance – Jordan believes clutter is an ergonomic no-no. “If people have a lot of clutter on, and particularly under, their desk, we find they’re less likely to want to stay pushed in,” he explains. “If you can’t push yourself in to the desk, you’re more likely to lean forward.”

To avoid this neck-busting trap, spend five minutes at the end of your workday tidying your space and make sure you keep the area under your desk clear for your legs. 

5. Beat the bug

Switching between office and home this year? “Because we know the [coronavirus] bug is carried on work surfaces, use wipes to clean any work surface you’re going to use as soon as you sit down at the workstation,” says Dr Kirk. “Wipe everything, including your phone and keyboard, and keep it really clean.”

If you’re working in a shared space, your employer will need to follow the social-distancing guidelines for your state or territory. But, as a general rule, you should maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from your co-workers, and if you can’t physically distance, you may need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and a face mask. Safe Work Australia also recommends placing signs around the workspace with hygiene tips, like how to correctly wash and dry hands, 

and how to avoid putting phones on meal surfaces in shared areas. 

Visit safeworkaustralia.gov.au for more COVID-19 safety advice.

6. Work out for work

One of the best things you can do for your body is prepare it for the workday with four simple shoulder exercises, says Dr Kirk. “They make a massive difference because you’re conditioning the muscles to be able to hold you in a nice relaxed, neutral posture all day.”

Add 15 reps of each of these exercises to your daily routine: 

  • Front raise: With elbows slightly flexed, raise one arm at a time to shoulder height directly in front of you.
  • Lateral raise: With elbows slightly flexed, lift both arms out to shoulder height.
  • Reverse fly: Sit bent over forward with your back straight. Let your arms hang straight down, then raise to shoulder height.
  • Shoulder shrugs: Standing with your arms by your sides, lift your shoulders up and down.

7. Check in 

Heard of mental health first aid? It’s about preventing and spotting mental illness in the workplace, and it starts with fostering regular and open conversations about mental health. “One of the biggest things is checking in with colleagues,” says Rachel, who runs training in mental health first aid for businesses. “Having a culture within the team where it’s okay for us to talk about our wellbeing, where it’s okay to say, ‘Hey, I’m feeling really burnt out and exhausted. How are you?’, is really important.” 

8. Take a load off 

Standing on hard surfaces all day can be just as tough on your body as sitting. “Use a footstool or a railing to keep one foot up to help take the pressure off your back,” advises Dr Kirk. “Keep your knees slightly bent, and try not to lean forward onto countertops because it hyperextends your back.”

An evening stretch can help, too: lie on your back with your feet up against a wall, then rotate your ankles and flex your feet. “This will get your blood circulating… to help reduce inflammation and swelling,” adds Dr Kirk.

9. Fight stress with gratitude

The hormones serotonin and dopamine, which are natural mood-boosters, take a hit when you’re stressed. “Our whole day’s supply of serotonin and dopamine can be depleted within an hour,” says Rachel. Reboot your levels by taking stock of what you’re grateful for – a good job, a sunny day, a fresh latte… “Gratitude has been shown to elevate us from negative emotions back into positive ones quite quickly,” she says. 

10. Make a change

If you’re inspired to make some healthy changes to your workplace but you don’t know how to get your boss on board, sell them on the benefits, says Rachel. Health and wellness initiatives have plenty of flow-on effects for businesses, like increased productivity and performance. “You could say, ‘I understand that we work hard here and enjoy it, but at the same time I’m wondering if there’s an opportunity to open a discussion around how we might work in a really sustainable way, by introducing a wellbeing initiative’,” she suggests.