We spend approximately 30% of our lives working, maybe more. It is a significant part of our lives that is intertwined with our mental and physical wellbeing. So instead of just thinking about how to improve wellbeing through weekend activities and holidays, employees can also take action to improve their wellbeing at work.
Jody Delichte provides five key tips for employees based on the latest Gallup research on wellbeing.
1. Increase use of strengths
Everyone has strengths, which are based on their individual patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. While one person may be great at coming up with new ideas and concepts, another person may be energised by gathering and analysing information. When people are using their strengths they are more likely to enjoy what they are doing, as well as perform better.
Gallup’s research has found that when people have the opportunity to use their strengths every day, they are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life, as well as enjoy more of their work week. Higher engagement at work has been linked to increased happiness and interest throughout the day, lower depression, and decreased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
Employees can therefore improve their mental and physical wellbeing by recognising how they are already using their strengths and identifying how they can use more of them in new ways, either in their role or perhaps through participation in other organisational activities.
2. Develop positive social connections
Recent research by Gallup suggests we need six hours a day of social time to maximise our enjoyment and happiness and minimise stress and worry. Social time doesn’t just mean lunches and after work drinks with friends; it also includes working with other people including telephone, email and other online communications. It is about connection with others.
However, the number of connections alone will not improve wellbeing, especially if those connections are negative. Spending time with someone who complains incessantly or eats unhealthy food all the time is likely to lead to the adoption of some of their habits and a reduced sense of wellbeing.
The good news is that the reverse is also true. Happy, healthy people, with higher levels of wellbeing often boost the health and wellbeing of those around them. They can also provide healthy support during challenging times. So ensure that there are not only a sufficient number of social connections throughout the day, but also that those connections are positive in nature and will boost wellbeing as opposed to reducing it.
3. Make more healthy choices
Eat healthy food. Exercise at least 20 minutes every day. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. The same messages have been communicated repeatedly, yet many people still make negative choices for their health.
Just 38% of people Gallup studied around the world reported that they had exercised or had a lot of physical activity in the last day. Exercise is not just about the physical benefits; it impacts mental wellbeing as well. Our studies have shown that even just exercising two days per week can result in more happiness and less stress.
Similarly, eating healthy foods, such as those rich in Omega-3s like salmon, and dark vegetables like broccoli and spinach not only reduce chances of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but can also improve mood for the rest of the day. Yet when it comes to choosing what to eat, people make choices that may taste good in the moment, but negatively impact their mood later, and their health in the long term.
To improve physical and mental wellbeing, make more healthy choices. Choose a salad instead of pizza. Have fruit instead of the chocolate cake. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a walk at lunch. Go to bed a little earlier. Be conscious of the choices being made and choose for longer-term benefit as opposed to immediate gratification – at least more often.
4. Get involved
Gallup’s latest research identified community wellbeing as one of the five key domains of overall wellbeing. While this includes the general safety and quality of the environment within which one resides, it also includes involvement in the community and a sense of giving back to society. ‘Well doing’ has been linked with deeper social interaction, enhanced meaning and purpose, and a more active lifestyle, as well as the reduction of stress and negative emotions.
So get involved. Participate in existing community programmes within the organisation, or if none exist look at creating a new one. It’s likely that participating will have a positive impact on one’s own mental and physical wellbeing as well as on the recipients involved.
5. Set positive defaults
When things get busy and stressed, it is easy to slip back into old habits, regardless of the best intentions. It may be faster to take the elevator. The chocolate cake may seem like the best option for an energy boost. Time may seem too scarce to consider social connections or involvement in community programmes. Plan how to manage these busy and stressful times when there is time to connect with wellbeing intentions and time to think clearly about contingency plans.
Clarity of intentions, identification of strategies, commitment to new behaviours, and contingency planning can help ensure continued movement along the path towards mental and physical wellbeing.