News from ION


Soon, many of us could find ourselves returning to work premises for the first time in over a year. For some, this will come as a relief but for others, the return of long commutes, packed lunches and formal wear may hold less appeal. So how can we maintain a work-life balance, whether working from home or at the office? 

Kate Cook, a registered nutritional therapist and corporate wellbeing speaker, says the main barrier to healthy habits at work is time management. “Naturally, with work deadlines and busy lives, people take short cuts either by buying food from local coffee places, [which is] not always ideal quality, or wolfing it down at the desk between multitasking,” she says.

For those returning to the office, she recommends taking time to prepare lunch the night before, or simply double up your evening dinner to create leftovers. She also advises making sure it contains a good source of protein, wholegrains and healthy fats, so that your blood sugars remain stable throughout the working day and you avoid any crashes in concentration or energy.

“Work is obviously about working,” she says. “So unless you are disciplined to get up, move, go for a walk, breathe 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.”

Cook believes it is vital for managers to create structures that support employees’ 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. “There is often nowhere for people to realistically eat lunch except at the desk – not great for digestion,” she says. It is also important for managers to lead by example – being seen to take a lunch break so that employees do not feel obliged to work through their own lunch.

When work intrudes into home life after hours, in the form of emails and smartphone alerts, it can also be damaging. A study from the University of Illinois, USA, found that this can cause spikes in stress, leading to negative and repetitive thought patterns and insomnia. Whilst symptoms can be alleviated by a supervisor who supports employees' work-life balance, they can be aggravated by one who expects employees to be always accessible and available.

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.”

Also, if you can find somewhere to eat away from your desk, do. Eat mindfully, taking the time to properly chew and appreciate your food. This will aid digestion. 

For those continuing to work from home, Cook 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 [walking and running are also good options], 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.”