30 April 2014

How To Break Free From 8 Unhealthy Work Habits


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Career development Performance


The office, whether at home or at your employer’s place of business, is a dangerous place – full of unnoticed health risks that should be avoided.

If you don’t realise these unsafe work habits and act to do something to address them, then you may inadvertently be harming yourself every time you’re sat at your desk or in the working environment.

Below are some of the usual suspects and what you can do about them.

1) Sitting all day

sitting all daySitting all day, not just at work, but on the commute to and from the office too, is a health risk. Some of the problems associated with being planted in a chair for most of the day are:

  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Increased blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Excess body fat around the waist
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels

What to do – According to research, going to the gym doesn’t make any difference to the risks associated with too much sitting down – the solution? Sit less.
Invest in a standing desk to completely eliminate sitting while at work; if you can’t get a standing desk, make changes to your habits at work. Some examples are:

  • Stand while on the phone (this also has the added bonus of improving your authority and influence)
  • Avoid crossing your legs
  • Place your feet flat on the floor
  • Take regular breaks and walk around (make more drinks for your colleagues!)

2) Poor posture

Posture is one of the most common bad habits at work that we have. Slouching, holding the phone between your ear and shoulder and spending the day looking up/down at your monitor are all bad for us, but we all do them.

The effects of poor posture include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Poor breathing
  • Back pain
  • Blocked digestive system

Slouching also gives others a bad impression of you, which can adversely affect your career prospects.

What to do – Ensure that your desk and it’s contents are positioned correctly. Your monitor should be at eye-height to avoid having to tilt your neck for an extended period of time. Your chair (if you have to use one) should be ergonomic in design and positioned correctly, according to its guidelines.
Your knees should be at least level with your hips, if not slightly higher, and your feet should be on the floor or foot-rest. Don’t slouch and keep your back against the backrest of the chair, your spine should be straight.
Again, regular standing breaks should be taken to include movement in your daily routine.

3) That caffeine hit

Caffeine hitIt’s all too easy to drink too much coffee – you make one, then your colleagues all take turns to make more throughout the day. This adds up to a lot of caffeine during the week, and can possibly affect us in the following ways:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia (in extreme cases)

What to do – You can switch to decaffeinated. If you don’t mind the taste difference then this is a good option. I’ve switched my morning coffee to a green tea, it’s a healthy alternative and, once you get used to the taste, it’s a nice refreshing drink in the morning. Another option is to simply cut down on the number of coffee’s you have, try water instead.

4) Grazing on snacks

If your office is anything like ours then there’ll always be something available to snack on. Everyone brings in home-made cakes, cookies, brownies or other delicious goodies, it’s great for working relationships and engagement, but not so good for waistlines and our health. Over-snacking on unhealthy foods leads to a number of health issues, including:

  • Obesity
  • Disrupting our natural eating cycle
  • Digestive disorders (long term)
  • Constipation

eating snacksWhat to do – Cutting down the amount we snack is the best option. If there are lovely treats on offer, take one (only one) and eat it with your lunch so as not to disrupt your eating pattern. Making sure you eat a healthy breakfast will also help to keep hunger at bay until lunchtime. Swapping unhealthy snacks with things like nuts, carrot sticks or salad is a great alternative.

5) Getting stressed

Working in a stressful environment isn’t good for us. We all have periods where we’re stressed, but when this feeling becomes constant, things need to change. Many things can cause stress, from a messy desk to a project deadline. Learning to handle and reduce stress is vital for good health.

What to do – There are a number of things you can do to reduce stress, these are detailed here, they include:

  • Get the bad things out of the way early
  • Listen to music you love
  • Take a break outside in the fresh air
  • Exercise
  • Speak to colleagues
  • Arrange something to look forward to


6) Skipping lunch

skipping lunchWhen we’re busy at work, engrossed in a project or in a meeting that overruns, a bad work habit is it’s all too easy to miss your lunch, but we really shouldn’t allow ourselves to go without this important meal. Skipping lunch results in our blood sugar levels dropping, this can have the knock-on effect of:

  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating more

What to do – Eat lunch! If you know that you’ve got a lot on then bring a healthy lunch with you, as opposed to going to the shops, so that it’s easier and quicker to prepare and eat. Set an alarm to remind you to eat lunch, that way you won’t lose track of time and work through.
You could even organise lunch with a colleague or friend, this makes it easier to remember and can be added to your calendar for anyone to see who may be thinking of booking a lunchtime meeting.

7) Working too many hours

Working too much, for long hours, has many negative effects on our health. Working long hours often results in a culmination of some of the above health risks such as higher blood pressure, bad diet and stress. In a study conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology it was found that employees that worked overtime regularly were 40%-80% more likely to die of heart disease.

What to do – Know when to go home and monitor your hours. There are always going to be those days when you have to stay in the office late, but there will equally be days where you ‘could’ stay late, or you could just get the work done the next day.

Working from home or flexible hours can help to ease the pressure and working hours by giving you the option to work without distraction. It may also be the case that you’re more productive at certain times of day.

working too many hours

8) Chaining yourself to your desk

As with the point above, poor work habits include not taking breaks can lead to a combination of any of the above health issues. Spending too long at your desk without a break can leave you feeling stressed, overtired, anxious and suffering from backache, among other ailments.

What to do – Divide your day into work ‘chunks’, separated by a short break that can be used to stretch, get away from your desk and, if possible, get some fresh air.  Self-discipline is key with taking these breaks and changing the habit of staying put at your desk, be strong!