We spend at least a third of our day in the workplace, and factors from the way we sit to what we eat can affect our physical and mental health. This, in turn, affects our productivity, so management would do well to support you in making some simple, constructive changes.
Keep muscular-skeletal disorders at bay
These are often caused or aggravated by work, producing pain, numbness and tingling, mostly the shoulders, upper and lower arms, wrists and hands, reports the Ergonomics Unit of the National Institute for Occupational Health. Help prevent them by making sure your workstation is set up to suit you personally, or make adjustments with a footrest, cushions, back supports or perhaps a different chair.
- Your computer screen should be directly in front of you, at a height that doesn’t make you bend or twist your neck, says South Africa’s first certified professional ergonomist, Dale Kennedy, CEO of Ergomax Holdings ergonomics consultancy. Your eyes should be in line with a point 5cm from the top of the monitor casing. The screen should be as far from you as possible with the writing still clearly legible, and positioned to avoid glare or reflections, to prevent eyestrain and headaches.
- Your chair should support your lower back when you rest, and allow you to sit with your knees lower than your hips and firmly on the floor or a footrest. Your elbows should hang from your shoulders in line with your keyboard, forearms slightly lower than the horizontal. When typing, your wrists should stay as flat and straight as possible to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Your keyboard, mouse and other equipment should be in comfortable reach, and if you make lots of phone calls you should have a two-ear headset – cradling a receiver causes neck problems.
- If after these adjustments you still have discomfort, ask management to arrange for an ergonomics expert to assess your workspace and make recommendations. The Ergonomics Unit at the National Institute for Occupational Health can advise on this.
Take regular breaks
Recent research from the Medical Research Institute in New Zealand found office workers who sit for three hours without activity more than double their risk of deep vein thrombosis. Get up and move around every 30 minutes. Strolling to the water cooler and drinking a glass of water will also help you combat dehydration, which is often made worse by air conditioning.
Protect your vision
Make a point of blinking rapidly at intervals to lubricate your eyes, and look up frequently and focus on a distant object, says Kennedy.
Pack a wholesome work lunch and snacks
Think whole grain sandwiches with lean meat or low-fat cottage cheese and salad fillings, raw baby vegetables with hummus dip, and fresh fruit. Make wholesome stews and soups weekly and freeze in individual portions you can pop in an office microwave. If you need to motivate for one, or for a kitchen area to prepare healthy food, inform management that according to a study in Population Health Management, unhealthy eating is linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of productivity.
Keep a plant on your desk and encourage colleagues to do the same
They help clean the air and counter "sick building syndrome" (SBS), associated with headaches, eye, nose or throat irritations, dry cough, itchy skin and fatigue. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, SBS is mainly caused by lack of adequate ventilation and by pollutants, and plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. NASA research suggests plants remove up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours, by pulling contaminants into the soil where micro-organisms in the root zone turn VOCs into plant food. Plants also release moisture vapour, increasing humidity to counter dry skin and coughs.
Get professional input
Approach management to arrange for office visits by a dietitian, a physiotherapist or masseur, and a fitness instructor or a practitioner of the Alexander Technique, which teaches you to use ergonomic principles in everyday movements. Remind management that having healthy employees reduces sick leave and creates a happier, more motivated workforce.
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