The Healthy Workplace

Are women concerned about factors affecting their health in the workplace? If the turnout to the Women’s Business Council event featuring author Leigh Stringer is any indication, the answer is a resounding YES!

In case you missed Leigh’s dynamic talk or couldn’t get into the sold-out event, WBCVoice followed up with her to ask more questions. Leigh also reminded us that she shares current advice at www.leighstringer.com.

          

WBCVoice: During your talk you shared with us that women are far more likely to experience stress. What are some of the factors contributing to stress in the workplace?

LS: There are so many factors that impact stress at work… the list is long!  Stress might be triggered by having a bad commute, having a disagreement with a colleague or boss, dealing with a personnel issue, crazy deadlines, a fear of being fired, addressing a life-threatening situation (if you are a firefighter, in the military, etc.), taking on too much responsibility or working long hours.  Interestingly, one of the biggest stressors is when we don’t have “control” over the outcomes of our work.  When we are not able to control how, when or where our work gets done, it not only makes our work more stressful, but also, it increases heart disease and reduces productivity.  Often, sadly, women are more likely than men to be in jobs with less “control,” which is one of many reasons we are twice as likely to suffer more from anxiety and depression.  Here is a little more information on the research related to “control” at work.

WBCVoice: For those of us working in small teams or in a self-employed capacity, what are some of the easiest steps you would recommend for better work-life balance and improved health? 

LS: Here are a few of my favorite tips:

  1. Nurture “biophilia.” We have a strong desire to be in and among nature. It’s only natural – for most of human history we spent all of our time outdoors.  This preference, often referred to biophilia, was introduced and popularized by E.O. Wilson, who suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. To take advantage of the nature-lover in all of us:
  • Add natural elements into the workplace by putting small plants or a water feature on your desk or nearby.  These elements are soothing psychologically and reduce stress.
  • Move your desk or any workspaces occupied by people next to a window if possible.  More natural light will decrease eye strain, improve well-being and if you sit close enough to a window, it can help reset your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
  • Use features in the workplace that mimic nature, such as pictures of trees and water, building elements that mimic shells or leaves, furniture with organic rather than geometric shapes, and wood with a visible wood grain.  These features, referred to as “natural analogues” can have the same biophilic impact as the real thing.
  1. Make getting healthy a team sport. Social influence, also known as peer pressure, has a positive impact on exercise behavior and our attitudes towards exercise. There are many ways to tap into this at work. For example:
  • Create competitions between teams or different office locations to encourage more walking, biking or participating in team sports over the course of a work week.
  • Consider creating a community garden (if you have the real estate available). Studies show that people are more likely to eat more healthy foods if they have a hand in growing their food as a community, even more so than if they grow it on their own!
  1. Create healthy “nudges” to take the stairs.  Taking the stairs is good for cholesterol levels, for burning calories, and for increasing collaboration at work. Unfortunately, in many buildings, the elevator is front and center and stairways are often hidden, dark, locked or generally scary places to hang out.  To encourage more stair use, try the following:
  • Paint the stairwell a lighter color so that it appears brighter and less foreboding.
  • Add artwork to give it a personal touch and add visual interest.
  • Pipe in pleasant music.  Some buildings are actually taking music out of elevators and putting them in the stairs to make the stair experience more desirable.
  • Want a really simple trick to nudge stair use?  Studies show that just by putting up signs that explain the health benefits of taking the stairs (such as a sign in the elevator lobby that shows how many calories you can burn), stair usage increases by 54 percent!
  1. Stay home when you are sick.  When people come into the workplace sick, they are very likely spreading their diseases to colleagues, which reduces organizational productivity.  As tempting as it is for you to “power through” and minimize sick days, the overall health risk is not worth it.  Researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson placed a tracer virus on commonly touched objects such as a doorknob or tabletop in workplaces.  At multiple time intervals, the researchers sampled a range of surfaces including light switches, countertops, sink tap handles, and push buttons. They found that between 40 and 60 percent of the surfaces were contaminated within two to four hours.  This may be a reason to adopt a “work from home” policy, if you are looking for one. Beyond that, everyone should frequently wash their hands.

WBCVoice: You briefly mentioned your new organization, GW4W. Can you share what the objectives of the organization are, and how members of the Women’s Business Council in the New York Capital Region can contribute?

LS: The mission of Global Women for Wellbeing:

  • Funding quality research focused on women’s health and wellbeing issues
  • Sharing success stories/lessons learned from women around the globe
  • Providing cross-disciplinary mentoring by seasoned leadership
  • Inspiring each other and the next generation of women to step into leadership roles in their businesses and their communities

How you can get involved:

  • Join GW4W and become a member today!
  • Share the GW4W  website with your friends, family and colleagues
  • Stay connected, be informed and inspired by following and liking GW4W on Facebook
  • Become a corporate sponsor. If you are a business owner or you think your company has a focus on women’s issues and would be interested in becoming a corporate sponsor, please let us know

NOTE: Global Women for Wellbeing is a non-profit organization incorporated in the State of NY and a selected member of the Center for Social Innovation in NYC.  Your membership fee and/or donation is tax deductible.

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