Office Health Culture- start the conversation! (plus some tips for beating the office bulge)
For a large majority of us, we spend upwards of eight hours a day in the office. Have you ever thought about how your workplace is affecting your health? Judging by how often I have this conversation, people are very aware of it! And for many, the office life is what is standing in the way of reaching their health and wellness goals! Not good!
To start, the 'morning tea' culture in work places is enough to break the most diligent person's regular eating patterns due to the peer pressure that is felt. Many people feel as though they will offend people if they don't accept what is being offered. I have been in many situations where people have projected their own insecurities about their diet and health by trying to persuade me into eating what they were having. People get genuinely offended! To add to this, sedentary behavior is a major contributor to the poor health picture painted in offices. Australians are estimated to be sedentary for 8-12 hours per day. Being seated for more than 11 hours per day greatly increases risk of early death and diabetes. Heavy stuff...excuse the pun.
Change the environment change the habit? You bet!
One study has estimated that we make up to 200 food choices each day-that's just food choices! When we are faced with a series of situations where we have to continuously say no, no, no, we inevitably get caught out. It only takes a 'bad day', or a series of them for that no to become a maybe or a 'hell-to-the-yeah-gimme-all-of-the-food-om-nom-nom-nom....what just happened....'. This makes your environment really important to health outcomes for anyone trying to makes healthy changes. Taking away the temptation of the office cookie jar or chocolate box means one less thing to say no to, and one less hurdle to potentially stumble on. Out of site, out of mind.
The fact is, when in a group situation, we tend to slide towards the norm of the group- and usually in an incremental fashion. One day you are mindfully sipping on you green tea and tucking into homemade food, but over the course of a few months, given a less that healthy work place culture, you can find yourself slipping into the schnitty for lunch a few days a week crew. We don;t mean to, its just human nature to want to assimilate. But if we want to get serious about changing health culture, we need to get deliberate and cast the net wider than just individual changes. Change happens at the periphery and moves in- this is how epidemics (good and bad) happen. A few key people driving the change, leading the rest to follow suit. Want to start a health epidemic in your environment? Be the change you want to see.
There are a few ways to address the office trap, and it’s a really good one to get control of because cake, especially crappy Woolworths cake, every few days is not a good idea! Firstly there are plenty of changes you can make yourself, but in the long run, there need to be a culture shift within the whole place, for everyone to benefit- and you know what, it's going to be worth the initial feet dragging from the few fuelling the bad habits.
1. Talk to your management and HR- there are some excellent statistics out there that estimate that for something like every one dollar spent on health promotion, two dollars is gained in productivity from increased engagement and reduced days lost to illness.There are lots of initiatives to help work places improve there health culture!
2. If sitting is the new smoking- Move. Sedentary behavior increases disease risk independant of planned exercise outside of office hours. Move as often as you can. Stand for phone calls, take the stairs, 'sweat work' instead of network. Have walking meetings. Have standing meetings- you will be surprised how quickly you get through an agenda if you have to stand until you have the decisions made. Try aiming to move for 2 minutes for every hour seated. It's enough time to take a break without losing focus on a task. Go for more if you can!
2. Go to the morning tea with a prop, like a cup of tea/coffee, so it's not as obvious that you are not having the crappy cake. When offered, a simple 'no thank you' might be enough...I find the less info you give the better- you are not trying to offend anyone with your decision by giving reasons which might make the other person feel like you are judging them.
3. Have a script or one liner to deflect the attention away from you not eating crappy cake. 'No thanks, I've already eaten', 'I've got a dinner tonight I'm saving myself for', followed by a question back to them is another way to deflect while not offending. However, inevitably, you will get the office cake hog (let's call her Gertrude) who will say 'oh just one won’t hurt' or 'ooooh are you on a diet' in an attempt to wear you down. This is when you have to be strong on the reasons why you don't eat crappy cake- otherwise you will inevitably feel obliged and crack. One piece of cake a day, even every few days WILL hurt and is undoing your hard work, so stand strong, and let Gertrude know who is boss. You will probably find that after a while people will leave you alone on the crappy cake bullying, but you have to hold your ground, and even set an example.
3. If it's your turn to provide morning tea, put in the effort to make something nutritious and delicious, set an example for how it can be done- because it can!!
Office culture really is a big force to reckoned with, but only if you aren't set on being a healthier you. To see a culture shift you only need to start with a few key people. Make it look good and fun and easy- which it can be- and people will see how well you are doing, start asking and even start following, without you even saying a word. It doesn't have to be a statement about their lifestyle- it's an action towards good health and if Gertrude can't appreciate that ... well she isn't your friend anyway!