According to the American Institute of Stress, “Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.” The Philippine situation can’t be much different, especially given the daily commuting struggles on top of long working hours.
Now more than ever, companies should take steps to create a healthy workplace to help lower stress among employees and consequently safeguard their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. After all, happy, healthy workers can also make a difference in a company.
Benefits of a Healthy Workplace
The World Health Organization states that prioritizing health in the workplace can be good for employers by improving staff morale, reducing staff turnover, reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity, and reducing health care costs. It’s also good PR if a company is seen as caring for its people.
On the other hand, employees benefit from a good working environment because it enhances their self-esteem, reduces stress, improves morale, increases job satisfaction, improves their health, and improves their sense of well-being.
The Ingredients of a Good Working Environment
Below are some of the things you need to create a healthy workplace:
Healthy food. Stress and unhealthy eating can form an endless loop—when you’re stressed, you may overeat or reach for junk food, but the unhealthy food can also trigger anxiety. Harvard Health Publishing recommends a diet filled with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits (a.k.a. complex carbohydrates that are released more slowly into blood stream, which encourages a feeling of calmness) rather than processed food.
Studies suggest that magnesium-rich foods (leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds), those that have plenty of zinc (oysters, beef), those rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon), probiotic food (fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut), and those that are rich in Vitamin B (almonds, avocados) may be helpful in lowering anxiety.
What employers can do: Provide a healthy array of dishes in the company cafeteria, including fresh fruit that employees can snack on.
What employees can do: If the cafeteria menu is lacking, prep and store your healthy lunch for the week over the weekend. Don’t forget to pack healthy snacks. While it’s tempting to reach for the chips, you’ll feel much better if you munch on nuts instead.
Nap time. Gone are the days when napping was seen as the lazy man’s pastime. Research has shown that napping can increase alertness, improve memory, and may be good for your emotional and mental well-being. The top companies in the world recognize the power of napping: Google, Huffington Post, and NASA are just three examples of companies that devote space where employees can get some shut-eye.
What employers can do: Devote a space that is conducive to midday rest and make sure employees know that they won’t be penalized for taking a break.
What employees can do: If your place of work is still a long way from building nap pods, you can use 15 minutes of your lunch break to get a few zzz’s at your desk. (Just make sure your naps don’t go beyond half an hour—any longer than that and you may end up feeling sluggish the rest of the day.)
Natural coffee. A 2015 study on two groups of mice suggests that coffee may promote calmness. After three weeks of being given either caffeine or water, the mice who were given caffeine responded better when exposed to stressors.
Other studies have linked coffee consumption to a lower risk of depression. And, according to Psychology Today, caffeine also helps release the brain release a feel-good neurotransmitter called dopamine. The ritual of pouring yourself a cup of coffee and sitting down to savor it can also slow you down and remove you from the mad rush of the day, even for just a few minutes.
What employers can do: Provide free natural coffee (instead of those with added sugars and other artificial ingredients) to employees.
What employees can do: Bring your own natural coffee in an insulated cup or bottle. Try Hineleban Farms coffee, which received a top rating from coffee expert Marty Curtis at the 2015 Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle. (Available at Healthy Options.) Just make sure not to overdo it (two cups a day should be enough) and try not to consume caffeine four to six hours before bedtime so as not to disrupt your sleep.
Office pets. Some companies abroad allow pets at the office, while others have their own in-house pets, and for good reason. Research by Marie-Jose Enders, who studies animal-human relationships at the Open University, suggests that having a pet around at the office lowers stress levels and increases productivity. Having a furry friend pop into your work station can also be a good reminder to take a break.
What employers can do: If you’re not ready to commit to having an office dog or cat, even a fish tank can help. As the Aquarium Channel has proven, watching fish can have a relaxing effect.
What employees can do: Watch cat videos for a few minutes! A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that cat videos and photos can boost productivity and increase happiness. Just make sure to give yourself a limited amount of time to browse and put the videos away once your minutes are up.
Good lighting. Bad lighting may be a silent productivity killer in your office. Both dim lighting and, more commonly, harsh lighting can cause eye strain and headaches. The best option? Natural light, whether it’s from big windows or skylights.
What employers can do: When designing a good working environment, spend time going over the plans for lighting, which is often overlooked. Make sure there is ample natural light. If that’s not possible, make use of bulbs that mimic natural light.
What employees can do: If there’s a lack of natural light in your office, take a break and go for a walk outside. The few minutes of sun exposure can put you in a better mood and help you power through the rest of the day.