The average UK worker will put in 34 hours and 16 minutes a week, totalling to 1,791 hours a year, and 84,171 hours over the course of their career. With so much of our lives dedicated to our jobs, it’s hardly surprising that our eating behaviours at work strongly influence our eating behaviours at home.

We asked registered nutritional therapist and corporate wellbeing specialist Kate Cook for her tips on maintaining a work-life balance.

It's all about time management

According to Cook, the main barrier to attaining good health at work is time management. “Naturally, with work deadlines and busy lives, people take short cuts either by buying food from local coffee places (not always ideal quality) or wolfing it down at the desk between multitasking,” she says. “There is often nowhere for people to realistically eat lunch except at the desk – not great for digestion.”

She adds: “Work is obviously about working so unless you are disciplined to get up, move, go for a walk, breath and get work in perspective with other life it is really hard with expectations of bosses, and other colleagues who might raise an eyebrow if it seems you are taking it a bit easy and getting some balance.”

Leading by example 

From an employer’s perspective, Cook believes it is vital for the organisation to create structures that lend themselves to health – and not just as a tick-box exercise. “It is crucial for leadership to really believe in the benefits of a happy and healthy workforce, or there will be a lot of lip service without meaningful follow through on support or education.”

Simple measures such as providing an eating area away from desks can be important, as can managers leading by example – being seen to take a lunch break so that employees do not feel obliged to work through their own lunch.

A study from the University of Illinois, USA, found that when work intrudes after hours in the form of emails and smartphone alerts, it can cause spikes of stress that lead to negative work rumination, affect and insomnia. The authors reported that symptoms can be alleviated by a supervisor who supports employees' work-life balance, or conversely, aggravated by one who expects employees to be always accessible and available.

Tips for employees

However, Cook also believes that employees have a duty to adopt good practices too. “You as the employee have really got to feel why it makes such a difference to focus on health,” she says.

“Making small changes can nudge people to make lasting ones. These might include deciding to fuel yourself with a good breakfast, and planning; for instance, making sure that you have a snack like an apple or some nuts in your drawer, rather than resorting to a chocolate bar at 4pm because your blood sugar drops.”

She adds: “Now that we have embraced the working at home reality, I think there are problems both working at home and working in an office. Advantages to home working are you can make your own food, but that is also a disadvantage if you don’t allow the time or plan well on the shopping.

“I see people driving themselves quite hard at home, not taking a break, poor posture, poor environment (light, air, ventilation) and working into the evening because there is no clear boundary between home and work.

“The trick is embedding how important the daily routine is, especially at home. So daily yoga, meditation, and finishing work at a certain time so that you have time to make dinner. These rituals keep stress at bay and make it less likely you will crumble and dive into mindless eating.”

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