I recently gave a presentation to newly hired graduates at my company on Office Worker Health. I had worked with a few of them beforehand and knew them to be a fit and healthy bunch of guys and girls so it took me a while to decide on what to speak to them about. I decided to share with them the worst habits I’ve observed in colleagues, co-workers and myself in 10+ years in an office setting. My thinking was that highlighting these bad habits to them so early in their careers would put them off introducing such habits into their routines! It might take a while to see if my presentation had the desired effect however it certainly seemed to resonate with those in attendance.
I want to share 5 of the worst of these habits (in my opinion!) in this blog. It shouldn't matter what stage of career you’re at in order to get some benefit from this detail. Whether you’re starting out in the office world like my graduate colleagues or whether you’re a veteran desk jockey, it’s never too late to change a bad habit and hopefully highlighting them here will open your eyes and make you do something about them.
There’s nothing revelatory about these bad habits, I'm sure you've come across most of them before in some shape or form. If you slip into some of these habits every now and then it probably won’t have a hugely negative effect. The real problems can arise if they stay with you over a long period of time i.e. they become a habit! Injury and even illness are possible consequences of inaction.
Here’s the 5 worst office habits I've encountered that you should be avoiding:
1. Skipping meals and unhealthy snacking
For the office worker the meals that are often skipped are breakfast and lunch. You should be having a nutritious breakfast of complex carbohydrates (wholegrains) in the morning so you can take advantage of the slow release energy that this provides. Eat at home if you can. How many times have you been dragged in to a meeting as soon as you arrive at the office? Then there’s the actions to follow up on afterwards. Before you know it its lunch time and you haven’t eaten a morsel all day.
Lunch time meetings are another all too common occurrence these days that can throw your eating schedule out the window. If you know about the meeting in advance then eat beforehand or bring your lunch with you. If the meeting is called at short notice then ask that you bring your lunch to the meeting or better yet that sandwiches are provided by the organiser.
Snacking can be difficult to control at the office, it can be even worse if you skip the meals above! Try and keep the chocolates, sweets and cakes to a minimum. At my office there always seems to be someone back from holidays or someone leaving so cakes and treats are in plentiful supply. Exercise some discipline by not over doing it. Better yet, bring some healthy snacks with you such as fruits or nuts so you have the option to snack healthily rather than turn to the unhealthy treats every time you feel hungry.
2. Not sitting correctly
This is something that can easily lead to serious back pain if you are sitting incorrectly for a long period of time. The below chart is all important. Set up a comfortable work station and ensure you are adhering to the principles set out in the graphic below. I had lower back pain for a time when I first started at my current location. The reason? My screen was below eye level so I found myself leaning forward to type and view the screen. The solution? Two packs of photocopy paper to prop up my laptop. Be creative with your desk layout, it doesn't always have to involve huge changes or new furniture.
3. Not staying hydrated
Dehydration can have a negative impact on our performance, alertness and concentration. Water should always be the first choice for staying hydrated. The recommendation from the Institute of Medicine is for men to drink 3 litres of fluid a day while the adequate intake for women is 2.2 litres per day. That’s the total beverage consumption per day and water should make up the majority of that figure, so start sipping from first thing in the morning. I try to have a bottle or a glass of water with me at all times, whether I'm at my desk or especially when I'm in long meetings or workshops.
4. Not taking breaks
You’d think this would be an easy habit to avoid, right? You should take a break from your computer screen or long meeting every 30 to 40 minutes. After 40 minutes our concentration levels drop considerably as, unsurprisingly, does our productivity. Stand up, stretch your legs, go for a walk around the floor. Even better, go outside for 5 minutes to get some fresh air. If there’s a smoker at your workplace I bet they take regular breaks? You should be doing the same (minus the cigarette of course!). Studies have shown that breaks involving physical activity are more effective than resting so that’s something to consider the next time you’re feeling lazy at lunch time.
5. Breaking your exercise routine
As we get older, a reality for many of us is that work, family & social commitments can increase. I have a number of friends and colleagues that were very active in sports and clubs throughout their 20’s however for many of them, now in their 30’s with young families, they have stopped playing with their teams (probably due to a combination of age and time constraints) and have not replaced this with any form of exercise.
It’s so important to plan a regular exercise schedule, whether you’re starting out for the very first time or you’re bridging the gap from a team sport to an individual routine. The Mayo Clinic recommends both aerobic and strength training every week for healthy adults. At least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity is recommended along with a minimum of two strength training sessions a week. N.B strength training doesn't necessarily mean you need to join a gym (although you will have more options at a gym). There are bodyweight exercises that you can complete almost anywhere with little or no equipment that will give you full-body strength training and toning workouts. Which gives me a great idea for a new blog on bodyweight exercises!
The bad news is there’s plenty more bad habits you can pick up while working in an office. The good news is there’s something you can do about all of them. I imagine you've seen all of the above before however I hope by highlighting them here that it creates an awareness for you and motivates you to do something about them if you are an offender!
Remember, it’s never too late to break a bad habit….