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Sustainable Wellbeing for the Workplace Athlete

Workplace AthleteOn reflection, the year gone by can feel like a marathon to the dedicated, hard-working professional.

Casting your mind back just a few months to December, did you feel like you were limping towards the finish line, pushing yourself to the point of burnout? Did thoughts about your wellbeing and general health go out the door as you rushed to hit end of year targets?

Yet you kept on living life at a frenetic speed with the distant promise of a few golden weeks of sunshine, rest, and quality time with family and friends, helping you get out of bed in the morning.

While we may be heading into the early weeks of April, it is not too late to reflect on the last few months of 2014; was it all worth it? Did it end in burnout? Were your few weeks of holidays spent enjoying the break, or recovering from the marathon effort expended in the previous year?

If it was the latter, now is the time to think about doing things a bit differently this year. As the year ramps up again, the pace of working life can quickly return to potentially unsustainable altitudes and the end of this year may feel like a lifetime away.

However, by pacing yourself and implementing good self-care and wellbeing strategies, you can finish the year in a lively sprint, saying goodbye to end of year burnout.

Professional athletes have known for years the importance of recovery and managing energy levels to sustain performance.  The dedicated workplace athlete may need to shift thinking and behaviour towards valuing recovery and investing in re-energising strategies as critical to long-term workplace performance.

A key component of maintaining a steady and functional pace throughout the year is to effectively manage your health and wellbeing. If you look after yourself throughout the year, you set yourself up to perform throughout the year and finish the year in full stride, without the sense of limping over the finish line.

Here are some tips for maintaining your health and wellbeing as the year progresses:

  • Leave your work at work! As much as you can, try not to take your work home with you.
  • Eat well. Consider online supermarket shopping if you are short on time, don’t keep tempting food in the house,  pre-prepare meals as much as possible, have healthy snacks like fruit and nuts available for snacking.
  • Have proper sleep. Try to get enough sleep each night (for adults this is around 7 to 8 hours). To make it easier to get to sleep, avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime and set regular times for going to bed and waking.
  • Incorporate exercise into your routine. The benefits of exercise can be achieved in just 30 minutes a day. If you’re short on time, incorporate exercise into your day by taking the stairs, getting off the bus a stop early, hold walking meetings, take a 5 minute walk as you eat your lunch. When you do have time, find a style of exercise that you enjoy.
  • Do things that you like. Anything from a hobby, to coffee with friends, to watching your favourite television show.
  • Make time for social contact. Make time to maintain relationships with friends and family.
  • Avoid stress. Don’t over-commit yourself, and remember that it’s ok to say no.
  • Look after yourself. Visit health professionals when you need it. Don’t put your health at bay, and seek assistance or advice when needed.
  • Take leave more regularly throughout the year. To maintain a healthy pace throughout the year, take leave more regularly rather than just once a year to help avoid burnout.

As well as maintaining your own health and wellbeing, if you are a manager or have direct-reports, you are in part responsible for seeing your team across the finish line safely at the end of the year.

In addition to promoting the self-care tips above, the key question for leaders is how to create sustainability in work style, culture, and the environment that recognises that worker wellbeing is essential to sustainable productivity.

Tips for managers to promote health and well-being for their employees:

  • As a leader you are a role model.  Employees are taking cues from how you are managing your wellbeing.  Role model self-care strategies.
  • Engage in critical self-reflection.  There may be a requirement to shift individual and cultural paradigms around what it takes to be a high performing leader.
  • De-stigmatise work-related stress by openly discussing it with your team.
  • Ensure a safe working environment by identifying and managing psychosocial hazards.
  • Make sure your employees are properly trained for their job.
  • In consultation with your staff and Human Resources, devise a health and wellbeing policyincorporating both physical and mental health.
  • If necessary, seek advice from subject matter experts to guide required shifts to enable a culture that supports work life integration and sustainable career behaviours.

It is inevitable that at times workplaces require the agility of a sprinter, the foresight of a middle distant athlete and the endurance of a marathon runner within the workforce. If you plan your race with strategies for maintaining your health and wellbeing now, this year you may reach a personal best and lead your teams to do the same.  With some dedication to shifting beliefs and behaviour, the marathon that is each year may go by as a challenging but enjoyable race, rich with results and good health.

Sally Cutts, Consultant Psychologist

Sally is a Registered Psychologist with a Master degree in Organisational Psychology. She has a well-developed knowledge of change management principles and methodologies, psychosocial safety in the workplace, organisational development, and team development.