Most people probably assume that office workers have it easier than blue-collar workers. After all, we work in enclosed air-conditioned buildings, get to do our work sitting down and follow safety procedures consists of holding onto the handrail when you go down the stairs – if you take the stairs at all.
But, in fact, working at a desk job can actually be very hazardous to your health. It turns out that some of the very things that make office jobs seem safe and comfortable – like enclosed offices and sitting down all day – can actually be the most detrimental to your health.
5 Ways that Office Jobs Are Bad for Your Health
First, let’s look at how your cushy office job may be slowly killing you.
Light and Technology Pollution
Many office lights are too bright, which can lead to headaches, stress and fatigue, as well as interference with the body’s natural sleep cycle.
Photocopiers emit ozone, which is dangerous to inhale. Even though copiers have a filter to catch it, the filters often aren’t replaced and lose their effectiveness. Laser printers, in addition to emitting ozone, also give off tiny particles of toner that make their way into office workers’ lungs.
Toxic Air in Poorly Ventilated Buildings
Did you know that the air inside office buildings can be up to 100 times dirtier than the air outside? This is due to the fact that modern buildings, in an attempt to be energy efficient, are tightly sealed, preventing proper air circulation.
If anyone is sick in your building, the air they’re coughing out is getting recycled to the rest of the office. Those emissions from printers and copiers are getting recycled throughout the building. Even when buildings pull air from outside, they may be pulling it from a parking lot or another less-than-pristine source of air.
Sitting Too Long
Sitting for most of the day is extremely bad for your health. Your body needs to move around to stay fit. Sitting for long periods leads to increased blood pressure and blood sugar, since it is more difficult for your body to metabolize sugar and fat when you aren’t moving around. Your digestive system also doesn’t work as well, which can lead to constipation.
Plus, you burn very few calories sitting at a desk typing all day, which can lead to obesity. Obesity can lead to a whole slew of health problems.
Employers in the U.S. are required to allow 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. People whose jobs require a lot of moving around tend to take their breaks so they have a chance to rest a bit in the middle of their shifts. But office workers routinely skip their breaks – and that’s bad for the workers, whose minds and bodies need the break, regardless of how many pressing deadlines are looming.
In fact, the more stress a person is under, the more important it is to take breaks to recharge.
Poor Eating Habits
Due to heavy workloads and high stress, many salaried workers are even skipping their lunch breaks or eating at their desks. Not giving the body a chance to get up and move around is one problem with this habit.
The other problem is that many office workers in a hurry don’t prepare healthy meals, opting for convenience instead. While this is certainly understandable, it further weakens the body by depriving it of vital nutrients.
Working longer than eight hours a day has become increasingly common, especially for salaried employees who don’t get paid overtime for working more than 40 hours a week. This has many negative consequences for both physical and mental health, including:
- Lower productivity and ability to focus, especially at the end of the day
- Not getting enough sleep at night, which leads to less time for the body to heal
- Being more tired at work due to lack of sleep, which reduces energy, focus and productivity even further
- Developing a caffeine addiction due to attempting to work long hours on little sleep
Overwork creates a dangerous cycle of stress and fatigue that take a toll on the body and leads to higher rates of disease. Stress is also a major cause of addiction, as people turn to substances and unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms.
Employers who try to squeeze more work out of their employees end up paying the price in terms of:
- Lower productivity among staff
- Reduced creativity among staff
- More workplace accidents and conflicts
- More sick days
- Larger health insurance costs
If you want an easier way to remember the five ways that your desk job harms your health, check out the following image (and feel free to share it with your social media followers):
8 Tips to Keep Your Desk Job from Killing You
Now that you know the many ways a desk job can threaten your long-term health, here are several steps you can take to mitigate the damage.
In an ideal situation, you would have total control your environment. In fact, this is why many professionals are turning to work-from-home jobs that make it easier to prioritize health while working.
But even if you can’t entirely control your work environment, you can at least control how you work in it. Here are some ways to create a healthier situation for yourself, wherever you work.
Take your 15-minute breaks, and take your lunch break – away from your desk. The physical walk – even if it’s just to the break room – is good for your body. Changing the scenery and focus also helps refresh your mind so that you’ll be better able to concentrate when you return to your desk.
An easy way to get up and walk, even when you’re not on break, is to walk to people’s desks to talk to them. Sure, email, phone and IM are quicker, but if you need an excuse to leave your cubicle for five minutes, talking to a co-worker may be just what you need. And you’ll probably find that some discussions happen better in person than in writing anyway.
Leave your desk every couple of hours at least. Your brain can’t focus for more than an hour or two at a time anyway. So when you find your thoughts drifting off to other topics, or realize that you’ve simply been staring off into space for who-knows-how-long, call it quits for a few minutes and recharge.
Even when you’re not leaving your desk, it’s still a good idea to get up and do a few stretches. These can be done right next to your chair.
Just do a web search for “desk stretches” to find simple stretches you can do to help prevent carpel tunnel syndrome, keep your back and neck muscles from getting tense, and generally improve your flexibility and relieve tension.
Using the Pomodoro Technique is a great way to remind yourself to take stretch breaks, while also helping you increase focus and productivity.
Leave Your Desk for Lunch
As tempting as it is to work through lunch to try and tackle the overwhelming amount of work you have, this is a dangerous habit to get into. Your body needs to get up and walk around, eat a solid meal, and take a mental break from work.
Lunch is also a great time to socialize with your co-workers and build work relationships. Or, if you’re not feeling social, put on your headphones and do something fun on your smartphone for a little while.
Walk Around and Get Fresh Air
Find opportunities to get outside and walk. You don’t have to work out and get all sweaty. Just a nice stroll around the office building can be refreshing. If the weather outside isn’t good for walking, try to walk more inside. Take the stairs now and then for a super-quick mini workout.
It’s especially good for your health to take a stroll after eating a meal. This helps your body metabolize your food and keeps things moving in your digestive tract.
Lastly, you can also get a desktop air purifier to help make the air in your immediate vicinity a little healthier while you work.
Avoid Meetings as Much as Possible
Meetings can be a huge waste of time, not to mention boring. When you’re bored, your body thinks it’s time to sleep. This can throw off your natural body rhythms and makes you less productive at work.
And the more time you waste in meetings, the less time you have to get your actual work done, which can lead to longer hours and higher stress. So as much as possible, try to get out of unnecessary and unproductive meetings.
Many people just assume they have to go to meetings they are invited to. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can find ways to uninvite yourself.
Get Plenty of Sleep
What’s the No. 1 thing you can do to improve your health right away? Get enough sleep. This allows your body to repair itself, and gives you more energy for the next day.
Getting enough sleep can allow you to do away with your caffeine habit. Or, notice how much more energized the caffeine makes you when you are already rested.
While this advice is simple and effective, many people don’t do it because there’s simply so much to get done, and taking time away from sleep is the easiest way to get more hours in the day. But the truth is you can’t actually get more hours in the day; there’s always 24 hours – no more, no less. When you steal time from sleep to do other things, you are paying for those tasks with your health.
Stop Training Your Boss to Overwork You
One of the reasons that people have too much to do and aren’t prioritizing their health is because they’re not comfortable saying NO right now in order to protect their health in the future.
Unfortunately, many employees have trained their bosses to expect them to not take breaks, to work through lunch, to work long hours, and to respond to work-related emails and texts from home.
Think about it: It’s not like your boss is ever going to say, “You’re working too hard. Stop it!” Most companies prioritize results and productivity over employee health. This means you have to safeguard your health and your rights as an employee.
Stop trying to compete with the workaholics. The race to work longer and harder is one that every employee loses, even when they win. Especially when they win.
Here are things you can start doing now to train your employer to have more realistic expectations of your work availability:
- Leave at the end of the workday.
- Don’t work over 40 hours a week on a regular basis – only in emergency situations.
- Take your full lunch break.
- Take your 15-minute breaks.
- Don’t work from home or answer work-related messages at home, except in rare cases where it really is urgent.
- Take your vacation time.
If doing these things would mean that the work won’t get done, then it’s your employer’s responsibility to hire enough people to do the work that needs to be done.
Have you tried exercising mindfulness at work? Here are 10 ways you can do just that:
Work from Home
Ask your boss to if you can telecommute part-time or full-time. Even one or two days a week working at home instead of in the office can remove you from the many hazards of the office, both physical and mental, including:
- Distractions and time-sucking small talk
- Endless meetings
- Being stuck in a cubicle
- Toxic recycled office air
Working away from the office has several benefits, including:
- Being able to sleep in and commute to your office across the hall in your pajamas
- The ease of getting a healthy snack or meal simply by walking into the kitchen
- Taking much-needed breaks without worrying about anyone criticizing how long you are away from your desk
- The freedom to get done when the work is done, rather than based on the current time on the clock
- Peace and quiet
Share Your Workplace Health Hacks
OK, now it’s your turn: What strategies do you use to combat the physical and mental effects of working in an office? Please share in the comments.