HR Network: Why You Should Prioritise Wellbeing at Work

Salad at work desk

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions this year? Perhaps you’ve promised yourself you’ll make healthy lunches to take to work, join the workplace gym or meditate at your desk for a few minutes a day. But have you considered how to look after both your body and your mind to optimise your health and wellbeing?

Strive for a balanced mindset

As Dr Pascal Burgmer, a social psychologist at the School of Psychology, explains, ‘Research at the intersection of social psychology and philosophy suggests that it might be helpful to consider how body and mind are interconnected, rather than focusing on one over the other.

‘People have different viewpoints on how minds and bodies are related to each other, and we can reliably measure these lay beliefs and relate them to important outcomes such as health-related attitudes (e.g. “regular exercise is important”) and behaviours (e.g. picking a salad instead of a burger for lunch). Specifically, it seems that those who tend towards a more dualistic construal of mind and body display less positive health attitudes and behaviours. In other words, viewing the mind as independent from the body decreases our motivation to take care of the latter. One of the reasons for that is that believing that the two are independent from each other entails the view that mental wellbeing does not require physical health.

‘Going back to making resolutions, one implication of these findings is that it should be helpful for us to think about how our minds are connected to our physical bodies, and how taking care of the latter will also boost wellbeing of the former: a sound mind in a sound body. Thinking of the mind – and our conscious experience – as grounded in physical matter can help us to draw a connection between eating healthy and exercising not just to be in shape, but to feel better.’

The key to happiness

Recent research led by the University of Kent and University of Reading found that fruit and vegetable consumption and exercise can increase levels of happiness. While the link between lifestyle and wellbeing has been previously documented and often used in public health campaigns to encourage healthier diets and exercise, new findings by Dr Adelina Gschwandtner (Kent’s School of Economics), Dr Sarah Jewell and Professor Uma Kambhampati (both from the University of Reading’s School of Economics) published by the Journal of Happiness Studies show that there is also a positive causation from lifestyle to life satisfaction.

As Dr Gschwandtner explains, ‘Behavioural nudges that help the planning self to reinforce long-term objectives are likely to be especially helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If a better lifestyle not only makes us healthier but also happier, then it is a clear win-win situation.’

Professor Kambhampati adds that ‘There has been a bigger shift in recent years for healthier lifestyle choices. To establish that eating more fruit and vegetables and exercising can increase happiness as well as offer health benefits is a major development. This may also prove useful for policy campaigns around environment and sustainability.’

Supporting wellbeing in the workplace

With this in mind, here are some ways in which you can support mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace:

  • Encourage exercise and regular social events such as lunchtime walking clubs, yoga classes or ‘lunch and learn’.
  • Bring healthy snacks into the workplace to share, or suggest the work canteen makes some healthier additions to its menu.
  • If you’re a manager, give colleagues the flexibility to make time for exercise, rest and healthy meals within their working day.
  • Suggest your team make a Mind Wellness Action Plan and make time to talk about their plans in meetings.
  • Set an example by taking your annual leave and making the most of your lunch breaks for health and wellbeing activities.
  • Change your email settings so that they don’t send outside of working hours, and avoid scheduling meetings over lunchtime if you can.
  • Offer to have a walking meeting or call your colleague rather than video call so that you can ‘walk and talk’.

Do you have any other tips? Let us know by starting a conversation in our HR Network group on LinkedIn, or tag us on Twitter @KentHRNetwork.

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