There’s a lot more to happiness in the workspace than a comfortable salary. In fact, working more than 40 hours a week may well be doing you a considerable disservice and directly affecting your health and performance at work. Thankfully, taking a few minutes of your day and deploying intelligent fixes can turn your office from a dreary workspace to an area that transforms your productivity and mindset. Here are nine ways you can make your workspace work for you.
Take a stand
There’s a reason standing desks – no longer the reserve of agile Silicon Roundabout startups – are quickly making their way into the offices of multinationals. Encouraging employees to be considerably more aware of their posture at work, adjustable desks and workstations such as Varidesk and the Yo-Yo desk are quickly becoming adopted by offices. What’s more, sitting for more than six hours a day leaves you at greater risk of anxiety and depression, according to the Association for Psychological Science – meaning that an eight-hour day spent on your rear quickly becomes an unhealthy habit.
In a 2014 study, Exeter University’s Dr Chris Knight found that offices devoid of pictures, plants and other “distractions” were “the most toxic space” for humans. Having studied the issue for 10 years, Knight concluded that employees were 15% more productive once workspaces had been populated with welcome elements of greenery. Our recommendation? A Zamioculcas zamiifolia (the ZZ plant) – it tolerates long periods of low light and needs very little water or fertiliser. A win-win for even the laziest of us.
Old meeting notes, dirty mugs, empty sandwich boxes and a dirty keyboard all add up to an unhappy desk. According to a study by Princeton Neuroscience Institute, “multiple visual stimuli” – also known as unwelcome desk clutter – compete for attention in your brain, meaning you can remove distraction with a desk free of unnecessary mess. Similarly, you’ll want to give your keyboard a wipe-down every week or so, as the average keyboard has 20,000 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
Stretch it out
Stressful experiences – at work and at home – have the potential to age the human brain by four years, according to a 2017 study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association’s conference. Thankfully, you can de-stress and fight poor posture at your desk by working through this stretching routine. To open up your back, bring your hands behind you and press your palms together. Bring your elbows back and downwards, slowly tucking your chin – hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times. Consider this your first step to become a more supple – and pain-free – human.
Make a move
For now, there are no stringent laws on taking screen breaks, but the Health and Safety Executive recommends a five- to 10-minute break every hour. Standing up and walking around will help stretch your body, adjust your posture and increase productivity and attention, as well as the quality of your work.
Give yourself a hand
Spending 35-plus hours at a desk each week is hardly appealing, the very real prospect of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) – a condition in which a nerve in your wrist is under pressure, causing numb hands, weakness and tingling – is far worse. Common in men and women over 40 years old, CTS stems from repetitive actions such as using a mouse and keyboard. Handily, ergonomic office equipment – Microsoft Surface and Mac-friendly Kinesis Freestyle are two of the most popular options – can help stave CTS off. The oddly shaped equipment improves forearm posture, adds comfort and supports your hands. You’ll agree that it’ll be worth a few odd looks.
Workplace absence, in the UK, is costing £18bn annually, according to analysis from Centre of Economic and Business Research. That’s a total of 168m working days lost annually. While there’s no sole reason for this, it’s important to adopt everyday habits to keep you as healthy as possible in the workspace. Dehydration, for example, even at a mild level, directly affects both physical and mental performance, meaning that you’ll find it hard to concentrate during work hours and struggle with that post-work run. Women should aim for two litres a day, and men for three litres.
If constantly feeling tired is making office life a miserable reality, it could be because of the light levels in your workspace. A 2013 study from the Netherlands found that when office workers were exposed to more daylight during the working week, they were less sleepy and considerably more energetic. Similarly, researchers from Turkey found that study participants who had three hours or more of daylight a day felt considerably happier and more satisfied – muting the chance of office burnout. Push for that window desk and reap the rewards immediately.
Pain in the neck
Your career, rather unfortunately, is wreaking havoc on your neck. A combination of poor posture and stress, which affects your sleep, is likely to be causing unnecessary neck pain. Rarely a sign of something more serious, neck pain can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as Voltarol, which can be taken orally or applied directly to the affected area.