The idea of workplace wellness is a growing trend, and for some, a big job perk. Free yoga classes, meditation, health food demos. It’s all great.
But are we missing something out?
Let’s see. You start your day with an hour of exercise. It’s strengthening, energising, and refreshing. Then you spend the next eight sitting for too long with bad posture, ’email apnea’ (explained below), tech neck, and more. By the end of the day, you’re beat.
Why aren’t we addressing work-related aches and pains more?
You might say that the above-mentioned initiatives are meant to help with that. But is exercising a few times a week enough to balance out the effects of long hours at work?
Let’s look at pushing workplace wellness from the inside first. You might think the onus is on individuals to watch their posture, take breaks when necessary, and stay mindful of their tech usage. It is. But maybe office culture makes it hard to do all that.
Some examples: Employee A doesn’t want to look lazy, so he doesn’t dare to take regular breaks. Employee B is merely a junior executive, so she doesn’t dare to ask for more desk space. And so on.
The truth is, this lowers productivity and leads to injury or chronic pain in the long run.
Does this apply to you? See if you recognise any of these:
Forgetting to breathe a.k.a. ’email apnea’
What is this? Shallow breathing or breath-holding while staring at a screen.
Question: While reading all of the above, how many full breaths did you take? For many, the answer might be none. Linda Stone came up with this term, referring to the idea that we don’t breathe properly when staring at a screen.
There’s a lot of research to be done, but it makes sense. When you roll your shoulders and hunch forward while using your laptop, this leads to shallow breathing without you realising it. Some say the stress of rapid emails and online activity also makes you unconsciously hold your breath.
Tech neck pains
What is this? Neck or shoulder ache from looking down at your phone or being hunched over your laptop too much.
I never knew how much tension I held in my shoulder and neck area until I stepped into a float tank. With only water to support my weight, my muscles took a long time to learn to relax.
When you look down at a device held at chest or waist level, your neck muscles shorten and tighten, and your shoulders round forward. Also related: backaches from hunching over a laptop, trigger thumb, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Computer vision syndrome
What is this? Eye fatigue, headaches, or blurry vision caused by looking at screens without rest.
Nobody should feel like they have to be staring at their computer all the time at work. You aren’t being 100% productive, and this makes your eyes exhausted.
The office squeeze
What is this? Any physical issues related to cramped space in an open office.
For example, ear fatigue due to loud music on your headphones. You might do it to drown out the noise of an open office. Or maybe your shoulders are up to your ears from trying to type in between tight stacks of folders and items.
Breakout spaces are a good way to balance out open offices. If your office has any, use them to do work comfortably and without interruption.
You don’t have to be a health nut to know what feels good and what doesn’t.
Most of the time, the news features quirky offices with playgrounds or designer architecture. It’s time we put the spotlight on offices that promote ergonomic work conditions, in addition to other types of physical and mental wellbeing.
I’d like to see workplaces that educate and remind employees to take breaks, watch their tech habits, and more. That’s what I’d call all-rounded workplace wellness.