Boost your health at work

Most of our waking hours are spent at work, which means the working environment can play a big part in our health and wellbeing.

About 131 million working days were lost through absences due to sickness or injury in 2013. Stress and back pain are the two biggest causes of absence from work.

There are many things that workers can do not only to reduce their risk of work-related ill-health but also to use their time at work to boost their health.

Stress
About 15.2 million days were lost because of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2013. While not all stress is work-related, knowing how to deal with a lot of pressure at work is important. 

Learn to identify the symptoms of stress. Don’t wait for it to make you ill before you do something about it. One of the best ways of dealing with stress is knowing how to prioritise your workload and not taking on more than you can handle. Read more in Beat stress at work.

Back pain
About 30.6 million working days were lost due to work-related back, neck and muscle pain and other musculoskeletal disorders in 2013. The main causes are poor posture or an awkward twisting movement (bending or reaching), or a combination of the two.

In most cases, the best treatment is to stay active and, if necessary, use over-the-counter painkillers. You may feel like going to bed, but this won’t help and could make things worse. The longer you stay immobile, the weaker your back muscles will become and the more they'll hurt in the long term. For tips on keeping a healthy back, read more in Back pain at work.

RSI
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is more likely to occur if you spend long periods of work without a break, or if you sit on an uncomfortable chair or at a poorly arranged workstation. Incorrect technique when using a computer keyboard and mouse, mobile phone or hand-held device can all cause RSI.

Modern technology isn't solely responsible. Anyone who uses certain muscles repeatedly can get RSI. This includes factory assembly-line workers, musicians, tailors and cleaners. Read more in Prevent RSI.

Sitting
If you spend a lot of your time at work sitting at a desk, make sure you're sitting in the right position in relation to your computer. If you're unsure about correct posture, ask your line manager for a workplace assessment.

If you work on a computer a lot, it's important to take regular breaks. That means for every hour at your keyboard you should rest for at least five to 10 minutes. Read more in How to sit correctly and 10 common posture mistakes.

Exercise
Many of us spend long hours at work and may have a long and tiring commute. But getting active at work is easier than you may think. Here are some tips for building exercise into your working day:

  • Cycle or walk part, if not all, of your journey to work. Get off one bus or tube stop before your final destination.
  • Walk over to someone's desk at work rather than speaking to them by phone.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift. Or get out of the lift a few floors early, then use the stairs.
  • Use your lunch break to exercise. Your office may have a gym, or you may have access to a nearby swimming pool or squash courts.

Improving your general fitness and losing weight if you need to will also benefit your posture and help to prevent injury. For more ideas on working exercise into your working day, check out our Fitness articles.

Lifting
One of the biggest causes of back injury, especially at work, is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling objects can help prevent back pain.

Here are some key points to lifting safely:

  • Think before you lift.
  • Start in a good position.
  • Keep the load close to your waist.
  • Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways.
  • Keep your head up.
  • Know your limits.
  • Push, don't pull.
  • Distribute the weight evenly.

For more information on correct lifting techniques and safe manual handling, read our guide to lifting safely.

Eating
We consume at least a third of our daily calorie intake while at work. What we eat and drink affects not just our health but our work performance too. If we don't eat regular well-balanced meals or drink enough water, we may get headaches, feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

Whether you buy your lunch from a sandwich shop, café, supermarket or work canteen, there are usually plenty of healthy lunch options available. Bringing in your own lunch is also a good idea because you know exactly what's in your lunchbox and it'll save you money. You could either prepare sandwiches or a salad, or bring leftovers from your evening meal. For healthy eating ideas, check out the healthy eating section.

Go to the Health for Work website for more information about staying healthy at work or how to support employees or colleagues with health issues. You can also call their advice line on 0800 077 8844. 

Page last reviewed: 12/07/2014

Next review due: 12/07/2016

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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

screwnicolas said on 25 September 2012

It is always difficult to lose weight when you are working at office and sitting for so many hours ....
I have seen some companies are conducting weight loss challenge ideas at work place. We are also following http://www.eweightlossideas.com/challenge-ideas.html
ideas mentioned here.

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afirefly said on 04 November 2010

I work in the public sector also in the healthcare profession and my employer didnt come out well here either so what does that tell us !!! the public sector talks the talk but doesnt apply its guidance to its own employees

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Estweyn said on 25 July 2009

I work in the NHS also and find it amazing that our workplace is so bad. We have no natural light or ventilation, the average temperature summer and winter is 82 degrees, I have problems now with panic attacks along with dry eyes and dried out muscous mebranes in my nose due to having 3 fans running all day summer and winter, we can only work with the door open so no privacy, no where to sit and eat meals etc etc. The powers that be will not move us, it would appear that many rooms used for storage are more important than people within the NHS. I am also covered under the disability discrimination act due to a long standing medical condition. Perhaps its time for the NHS to start taking its own advice.

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EngineerMan said on 18 April 2009

I also did the workplace health assessment and my work place came out very poorly. Ironic I work for the NHS as well in Information Technology. We have tried to get things changed for years now, but there is always some problem why we cannot have the lighting fixed, or the heating repaired. We have nowhere to eat but our desks. If you complain too much you find yourself targeted by senior management in the most subtle but destructive ways. We have very high work related stress sickness levels and many staff suffer from repeated migraines. If they take time off they are then intently questioned on “Back to work interviews”. It has always been this way and our hospital is one of the largest in the country.

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TrishP70 said on 06 March 2009

I did the is your workplace healthy assessment - it reckoned my workplace came out out quite poor in terms of health and safety. I work in an acute NHS hospital!!

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André said on 30 July 2008

very good.

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Workplace health

Improve your health at work, with tips on dealing with stress, RSI, back pain, exercise and healthy lunches