Health and Safety

Eight bad habits that should be banned from the workplace forever

By Leigh Stringer

Over the years, we have developed workstyles that are not good for our physical, mental or emotional health. It’s not that we’re bad people, or that we aren’t working hard. The problem is that we are so focused on work and on getting things done that we’ve changed the way we eat, move and sleep in a way that is actually counter-productive. What our minds and bodies need at a basic level is in conflict with our work style.

Taking care of worker health and wellbeing is the most effective way to increase engagement and performance. It also saves the company money.

Here is a list of the bad habits that need to be banned and what to do instead.

1. Don’t assume that sitting in one place is the only way to work. It’s not.

We’ve heard that sitting for long periods of time is bad for your health. The issue isn’t that we sit; the issue is that many of us sit and work without standing or walking for many hours at a time. Walking on a treadmill desk for eight hours a day is not the answer, either (at least for most of us). Instead, stand up every 30 minutes and walk around every hour and a half, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Also, take phone calls, watch presentations, read or perform other activities while standing up or even walking if it makes sense for the task at hand.

2. Don’t put unhealthy foods front and centre at work.

You know how you walk into a grocery store and find yourself buying junk food at the end of the aisle? Or have you noticed how candy is located at child-eye level by the checkout counter? Foods that are easy to spot and presented well are not put there by accident, and food companies pay for the privilege. The secret is “choice architecture,” a term for different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers, and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision-making. Don’t fall victim to this at work! Instead, “hide” unhealthy foods in the kitchenette or break room by putting them in opaque or translucent containers (versus healthy food like fruit or nuts in glass containers).

3. Don’t let the papers pile up.

Paper on your desk, especially if it has been sitting there a while, is likely full of dust and dust mites, which for many people can trigger serious allergies and asthma. Do you really need all that paper in your workspace? File paperwork and put in place a system for removing paper or moving paper off-site that you don’t need access to on a regular basis. Also, put in place a good system for scanning and digital filing of documents, so that you and your team know where to find things later. A trusted electronic system can help reduce the need for a paper backup.

4. Don’t email after hours.

All this late night chatter increases stress, decreases sleep and impacts long-term productivity. If you are a client or a boss of someone, you are impacting the stress and sleep of everyone on your “cc” list when you send them emails at night. A survey put out by Good Technology found that some 80 per cent of the 1,000 Americans polled said they spend seven extra hours a week or 30 extra hours a month checking emails and answering phone calls after hours. Wait until normal business hours to send emails, or if you must write something, don’t press “send” until the morning, or Monday morning if you’re working on the weekend.

5. Don’t skimp on vacation time.

A survey for the career website Glassdoor found that U.S. employees use only 51 per cent of their eligible paid vacation time and paid time off, according to a recent survey of 2,300 workers who receive paid vacation. Even more frightening, 61 per cent of Americans work while they are on vacation, despite complaints from family members. One-in-four report being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while one-in-five have been contacted by their boss. Plan your vacations, take them and enjoy yourself. Give yourself and your teammates permission to unplug.

6. Don’t go to work when you are sick.

When you come into the workplace sick, you are very likely spreading 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. Stay home when you are sick.

7. Don’t stay indoors all day.

A good portion of our global workforce spends 90 per cent of each day indoors, which essentially puts workers in a state of “light deficiency” and it negatively impacts our sleep cycle. Get outside, preferably earlier in the day, and for as long as you can.

8. Don’t put work before your health.

If you aren’t healthy, you can’t get anything done and you won’t be there for your colleagues, friends and family when they need you. A global survey of business executives conducted by the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health from 2009 to 2011 identified non-communicable diseases as one of the leading threats to global economic growth. Make your health a priority, and start by building time in your calendar to work out, to relax or do something that gives you energy and sparks your personal passion.

Healthy workers are more productive. The most obvious benefits to the bottom line are the avoidance of health care costs, but companies that make investments in employee health and wellbeing are also seeing increases in creativity, engagement, productivity and, as a result, business growth. Being our emotional, physical and mental best is foundational to doing our best work. It’s time to get our priorities straight, and make worker health and wellbeing a foundation for good business, not just a “nice to have.” 


Leigh Stringer is senior workplace expert for EYP Architecture & Engineering. She is the author of a new book, The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees – and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line.