It's no secret that healthy workers are among the happiest and most productive at their jobs. Numerous studies have shown that employees in better overall health exhibit high performance and efficiency levels, leading to a greater focus from companies on corporate wellness programs. The opposite, of course, is also true: Poor health often results in lower job performance, productivity and attendance. "Without personal health and wellness, people are less likely to be engaged in their work," said Brian Shapland, general manager of turnstone, a provider of office furniture. "Discomfort, pain, stress and emotional distress all take the focus off tasks and workplace relationships, resulting in a disconnect that can negatively impact both the worker and the company's bottom line."
Business News Daily spoke with health experts and business leaders about some healthy personal habits that can help increase workplace productivity.
Get the right amount of sleep
How much sleep do you get? If you're among the 40 percent of Americans who sleep less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours per night, you're likely suffering from mild sleep deprivation. Even if you're clocking close to 7 hours, getting just 20 to 30 minutes less sleep than you need each night can impair cognition and performance — and you might not even realize it, said Dr. Marc Weissbluth, a pediatrician and sleep researcher.
"Minutes of sleep deprivation have a cumulative effect over time," Weissbluth told Business News Daily. "When researchers study adults in sleep-deprivation experiments, [they find] documented memory impairments, but [the subjects] are unaware of those impairments."
Weissbluth noted that many adults have been slightly sleep-deprived since their high school or college years, and may not have a good memory of what it's like to be fully rested. Shifting your sleep schedule to go to bed 60, 45 or even 30 minutes earlier for several nights in a row can give you a sense of how you feel and behave when you're fully rested, and you'll likely be calmer, more alert and more relaxed, he said.
"We're not talking about hours of extra sleep," Weissbluth said. "Going to bed [a little] earlier will help with productivity."
Use a better office chair
When you spend most of your day seated, the chair you're using can greatly affect how you feel during your working hours. You might not have any control over the furniture your company purchases, but if you work from home or even just use a desk at home regularly, it might be worth it to invest in a chair that's ergonomically designed for maximum support and comfort. A survey by Office Depot found that more than half of workers who use an office chair daily (that's 87 percent of all small business employees) suffer from back pain or physical discomfort because of their desk chairs. This can negatively affect not just your workday, but your personal life as well, said Ron Lalla, executive vice president of merchandising for Office Depot.
"When employees are sitting in the wrong office chair, they may experience discomfort, fatigue, sluggishness and trouble focusing," Lalla said. "But what we've also come to understand over the years is that, on a more human level, this can have major ripple effects beyond work performance and productivity into employees' personal and family lives as well." The Office Depot survey recommended checking your current chair for the proper seat height, seat pan and lumbar support.
Take exercise breaks
Constant connectivity via smartphones and tablets means that employees are working more hours than ever. This, combined with the increase of sedentary office work, means that people have to fight a little harder to work physical activity into their daily routines.
Hitting the gym before or after work is a popular choice for many employees committed to fitness, but midday exercise breaks can benefit more than just your health, said Guy Yehiav, CEO of predictive analytics software company Profitect.
"I have found that taking a break from the workday for [exercise] makes employees not just healthier, but also more creative," Yehiav said. "When we moved locations, I made it a top priority to select a space that included a gym within the building to encourage employees to stay active. I'm proud to say that more than 60 percent of employees are members and work out on a daily basis."
Even if your office doesn't have an attached gym, you can still make time for workout breaks during the day, said Heidi Bowman, senior vice president and general manager at Weight Watchers Health Solutions.
"From scheduling a walking meeting, taking mini stretch breaks to opting for the stairs, weave in manageable fitness steps to start building daily habits," she said. "Short breaks [like these] are important and help improve both circulation and productivity. Plus, stepping away from something you're working on can give you a new perspective when you return."
Bring your own meals and snacks
Vending machines, birthday celebrations, happy hours and nearby fast food joints all present temptations to make less-than-ideal food choices throughout the workday. Treating yourself once in a while is OK, but too many indulgences can leave you feeling sluggish and unproductive. On the flip side, eating nutrient-rich foods can improve your focus and fuel you throughout the day. That's why Bowman advises keeping a "healthy snack" stash in your desk (fruits, nuts, etc.) and making an effort to pack your own, nutritious lunches.
"When you choose lean proteins and veggies and steer away from saturated fats and sugar, you'll not only boost your weight loss efforts, but you'll also feel satisfied longer, making it easier to stay focused throughout the day," Bowman said.
What employers can do to help
Employees are ultimately responsible for their own choices regarding personal health, but a little support from the company never hurts. Bowman noted that a holistic employee-health program can help diminish some of the main causes of low productivity, including absenteeism and "presenteeism," or showing up to work while sick.
"Holistic health strategies in the workplace can help employees recharge