If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that our well-being (both mentally and physically) has never been such a topic of importance. With the announcement that Scotland will be trialling a 4-day working week to help encourage a healthy work-life balance and Nike US giving every employee a week of “mental health rest”, workplace wellness is becoming more of a normal discussion that has benefits for both businesses and employees.

Having helped corporate and private clients including everyone from Millie Mackintosh and Naomi Sheldon to CMS Law Firm and GymBox succeed for over eight years, Jenny Devonshire is a qualified Personal Trainer, Yoga and Pilates teacher with a BSc in Psychology; who, thanks to her own background in the corporate world understands the demands that the working environment can place on the human body, and just how to keep its delicate systems in balance. 

Combining her years of training and expertise, Jenny has designed a corporate wellness solution like no other which intertwines health optimisation, sports psychology, movement, nutrition, meditation practices and more to help companies get the very best from their workforce. A curated journey to optimal longevity, her company, Pause2Perform delivers maximum ROI for every player involved, because a company is only as healthy as its people. Below she shares why workplace wellness is so important for both employees and bosses alike and her top tips for staying physically and mentally well in your working life.

Why workplace wellness is booming? 
I think the past two years have highlighted to everyone just how important both mental and physical health is. People have become a lot more aware of mental health, it has been mentioned a lot in the press and the stigma that was once attached to it has been somewhat removed. Going through a global pandemic has been incredibly challenging, stress and anxiety levels have gone through the roof. Fear of illness, losing one’s job and uncertainty for the future is the perfect storm for a range of mental health problems. I think this has led to a lot more problems but allowed people to focus more on the things they can do to help cope such as asking for help from friends, colleagues, bosses and professionals which can only be a good thing. 

Physically, our attention has been drawn to just how important our health is. It is something a lot of us take for granted and suddenly we have been forced to face the fact that no one is invincible and just how important it is to take care of our bodies. Our immune systems are vital for fighting off illnesses and things like exercise, nutrition, and stress management all have a huge impact. 

Working from home has resulted in a lot of people feeling isolated and spending most of the day on online meetings has led to a phenomenon that has been labelled ‘zoom fatigue’. This can lead to headaches, migraines, eye irritation and pain, blurred vision, muscles tension, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. To counteract the mental and physical challenges brought about by this new workplace, more and more employers have turned to encouraging and implementing workplace wellness. Workshops providing stress management, ways to cope with anxiety and building resilience can be helpful for employees to navigate these difficult times. Also, exercise is an amazing tonic, physically and mentally, and a great way to bring a team together outside of meetings. It is a win-win for employer and employee alike, the staff feel healthier and more energised whilst also feeling looked after by their employers. Whilst the employers see greater focus and productivity from their staff with the benefit of having reduced revenue lost to ill-health and staff attrition.

Why it matters more than ever for employees and bosses
With people working from home a lot more, often with a less than ideal desk set-up, there has been a rise in musculoskeletal conditions. Pre pandemic, an estimated 6.9 million working days were lost to work-related musculoskeletal disorders, an average of 14 days for each case. It has been estimated that work-related ill health costs the UK economy 10.7 billion per year! 

From the point of view of the employee, no one wants to suffer in this way, it can be incredibly debilitating, painful and stops you from doing the things you enjoy in your life. We only have one body, so we really need to look after to live our life to the fullest for as long as possible. There is a quote that I love; “the idea is to die young as late as possible” – Ashley Montagu. 

Aside from physical ill health, 1 in 6.8 employees experiences a mental health problem (14.7%) that disrupts their ability to work. More and more employees are being diagnosed with chronic stress, and a recent analysis has found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. If your employees are stressed and burnt out, not only will their productivity suffer, they’ll also be likely to engage in “presenteeism” – spending unproductive hours at work rather than taking time off. 

How can I approach introducing workplace wellness to my boss?
It can be really daunting to approach your bosses to ask for something but by going about it in the right way it can help frame you as a forward thinker and positively impact their opinion of you. Rather than seeing it as asking them for something that will cost the company money, view it as something that will be beneficial for employers and employees alike. Pitch the ideas focusing on what workplace wellness will add to the company rather than taking away from it. Backing your argument with statistics is always useful so depending on your company, you could use any of the following:

Today, 1 in 6.8 employees experience a mental health problem (14.7%), recent analysis has found that poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders account for 29% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health, costing the UK economy £10.7 billion per year.

Employees who feel they are being cared for are 38 percent more engaged than their peers, and organisations with effective employee wellbeing programmes consistently outperform the market.

An analysis by the London School of Economics found that an investment of £45 million into health and wellbeing generated a £225 million return on investment in just 3 years.

What are your top five tips for staying well (physically and mentally) at work?

1. Improve your sleep
Often easier said than done, but sleep is important for a plethora of functions such as brain waste clearance, modulating immune responses, improving cognition, memory consolidation and energy conservation. Physically it is important for recovery and growth whilst it can have a huge impact on your mood. To help ensure you get the recommended 7-9 hours per night, avoid blue light from devices such as mobile phones, laptops, and televisions before bed, make sure you give yourself enough sleep opportunity by getting into bed at a reasonable hour (this will depend on when you need to get up), have a cool, dark bedroom, and avoid drinking caffeine after 12pm.   

2. Take a lunch break
We all need to rest to function at our peak. Our brain uses an extensive amount of energy, so working at tasks without giving yourself a break will result in cognitive fatigue, making tasks harder and our efficiency depletes. You may feel like you have too much work to do to allow for a break, but that time out will result in your being more efficient when you get back to your desk so you will get more done than if you powered on through. Movement combined with fresh air will make you feel better physically as well as mentally. If you’ve been working of a difficult task, you might find you’ve come up with a solution by the time you have got back to your desk.

3. Move every hour 
Sitting has been coined ‘the new smoking’ but it isn’t just sitting that is bad for you if done too much. Standing desks sadly don’t solve the problem of being sedentary. In an ideal world we would be moving at a very low intensity continuously. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible with our modern office working model but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Try and move your body every hour. If you are at home, you could stand up and do some squats by your desk. If that is too embarrassing at the office, you could simply walk to the kitchen and get some water. Set a timer to remind you as once you get engrossed in something it is easy to forget.

4. Eat a nutritious, balanced lunch 
Our bodies need fuel to function, and the best fuel comes from a balance of whole foods. Avoid processed or sugary meals and take the time to prepare food from scratch wherever possible. If this isn’t possible, there are companies that provide meals ready made but not processed. 

Whilst at work, avoid too many simple carbohydrates at lunchtime as this will lead to the post-lunch dip where it is hard to focus. Making sure you eat lots of fresh vegetables, healthy fats such as avocado, oily fish and avocado as well as protein from either chicken or legumes if you are vegetarian. This will ensure you feel and perform at your best. Also try to avoid eating whilst working, this can lead to overeating and eating too quickly which may result in digestive issues.    

5. Breathe 
If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, take a few moments to focus on your breath and calm yourself down. When we are under stress, we can get stuck in our sympathetic nervous system, sometimes known as our fight or flight. Whilst this is OK for short periods, long term stress leads to health problems. One of the easiest and most accessible ways to get out of this state and into your parasympathetic nervous system, is through the breath. My favourite exercise is to breath in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and exhale for a count of 8. Try and repeat for 5 rounds and see how much better you feel.

words by Jenny Devonshire, Pause2Perform

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