How to improve your well-being at work

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Presenteeism, a culture where people feel they have to come into work and be ‘seen’ as much as possible (regardless of whether they are ill or not) has more than tripled since 2010, according to a new report by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development.)

The latest CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Well-being at Work report, published earlier this month, found that 86% of the 1000 respondents had witnessed presenteeism in their organisation over the last 12 months, compared with just 26% in 2010.

So, how can employees proactively improve their well-being and productivity at work?

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Dr Charlotte Elsworth-Edelsten, research fellow at the School of Human & Life Sciences,

Canterbury Christ Church University, says sleep is the single most important event in our daily life. “There is increasing evidence to suggest that poor sleep is detrimental not only your physical health, but your cognitive health too. This can have far reaching consequences in terms of you work productivity,” she notes.

You should, says Elsworth-Edelsten, be aiming for five 90-minute sleep cycles a night minimum. This will help improve your concentration, decision-making, creativity and social skills. Poor sleep could, however, trigger mood changes, increase stress levels, impulsiveness and make it harder to focus.

Stay hydrated and don’t skip breakfast

Emma Fowler, director of CHX Performance well-being and performance consultancy, says you can boost your productivity by making a number of small day-to-day changes.

“Drink more water and eat a balanced breakfast. If you skip it, you’ll run out of energy by mid-morning,” Fowler notes. “Your brain is made of mainly fat and your speed of neurotransmission (thinking) is dependent upon the axons of nerve cells which are made of protein.

Your brain runs on carbohydrate, so try your best to include all three food groups (protein, fat and carbohydrate) in each meal.”

Work out what sort of ‘sleeper’ you are and try and tweak your work schedule accordingly

Not everyone’s natural clock runs on the same schedule, says Dr Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist who specialises in sleep disorders. There are, according to Breus, four different chronotypes of sleepers based on the animal kingdom: the lion, the wolf, the bear and the dolphin.

If you can work out which animal you are, it might help you ascertain your most productive time of day is and the best time to schedule in a meeting.

The lion, for example, is a morning person and at their best first thing.  The wolf, on the other hand, is usually a creative, artistic extrovert who works best alone and during the evening. Wolves need to ensure they get plenty of natural light during the day to stay productive.

“The majority of us,” says Elsworth-Edelsten, “are bears who go with the flow, which means we rise with the sun and get sleepy at night time.

The dolphin, however, is the classic insomniac (characterised as those who typically have four hours or less sleep a night over a period of over four months) and usually has one eye open at all times.”

Don’t over indulge at lunch time

If you want to avoid the post-lunch slump you should try and avoid over-indulging at lunch time.

Dietitian Rebecca Dent explains: “If we measure how hungry or full we are on a scale of 1-10, we should ideally leave the table and finish eating when we are at the 5 or 6 mark (rather than going for a 10 each time),” says Dent.

“You should also wait around 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’re full before you continue eating.”

Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand

Next time you feel a stab of hunger coming on, don’t reach for the communal biscuit tin. Instead, try and ensure you have plenty of healthy snacks – bananas, oat cakes, fruit and nuts, natural cereal bars – on hand to tide you over till lunch time or the end of the day.

Get outside

Environment is critical to well-being, says Fowler, and being outdoors is key.

“Even if you just take a 20-minute walk at lunchtime, it can reset your whole afternoon positively,” she notes. “Walking will break down stress cortisol you’ve accumulated that morning, you’ll receive a welcome dose of UV / vitamin D and serotonin (which you can convert to melatonin later in the day for a better night’s sleep) and, if you go with a friend, these serotonin levels will be even higher.”

Cut your caffeine intake in the afternoons

It may be tempting to hit the caffeine in a bid to help you stay focused but it’s worth keeping in mind that it has a six hour ‘live,’ meaning that it will only leaving your system up to 12 hours after you ingest it.

“If you regularly consume caffeine, we recommend you limit your consumption to pre-lunchtime,” says Elsworth-Edelsten.

“Throughout the day a chemical called adenosine builds up in the body and acts like the bodies brakes to unwind. Caffeine stops this from happening which could mean you have problems switching off and getting to sleep later.” This could lead to a continual cycle of poor sleep and poor productivity.

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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