The power of flexibility in the workplace


This blog is written by Martha Lourey-Bird, exercise scientist.


Staff that exercise regularly are less likely to take sick leave, recover quicker when they do, have more strategies for coping with stress and anxiety and enjoy better sleep and less back pain. They’ve also been shown to be more productive during the working day. What’s not to love?

They’re facts that make injecting some flexibility into the workplace, so that employees have the freedom to fit some exercise into their workday, a really smart strategy. The great news is that more and more organisations are doing exactly that. If you work for one of them, fantastic! If you don’t (yet!) a good starting point is to start talking about it at work, regardless of whether you’re an employer or employee. To kickstart the dialogue, it pays to know how a ‘flexible workplace’ might look, so you know what to aim for. Here are three things they tend to have in common. 

  1. Active lunch breaks are encouraged. Whilst some of the more active workplaces facilitate touch footy comps and running groups at lunchtime, you can start small. Simply pull on a pair of comfy walking shoes, walk away from work in one direction for ten minutes, then turn around and come back. That’s all it takes! Go by yourself or invite a colleague. If your office isn’t located in an area that’s conducive to walking, consider going to a yoga or group fitness class. Many lunchtime classes are 30-45 minutes long, so you’ll have enough time to eat lunch and grab a shower, too. Find more ideas to help you have an active lunch break, here.
  2. Working hours can be tailored to suit exercise. Flexible workplaces are often set up so that people have the freedom to, within reason, choose their own working hours. This might allow people to start work later three days a week, so that they can exercise before work on those days. Alternatively, you could negotiate to start and finish work earlier three days a week, so you can exercise on your way home. An added bonus? By tweaking your work hours slightly, you might also avoid hours a week spent sitting in rush-hour traffic!
  3. Socialising and activity often go together. Instead of office drinks, plan something active and fun for your next work function. It can be anything from a salsa class, to a day out of the office hiking, team walking activities like treasure hunts, a social day of tennis or something more challenging like rock climbing. Ask your colleagues for ideas and take an office vote – early collaboration in these types of activities tends to yield higher participation rates.

Martha's website can be accessed here.

Let's do lunch


This blog is written by Martha Lourey-Bird, exercise scientist.

And by ‘do’ I mean actually making the effort to take a break on workdays, to enjoy a healthy lunch. When was the last time you did that? While it might not sound like anything particularly special or out of the ordinary, statistics suggest the opposite is true. In fact, while 44 per cent of Australians continue to work while they eat their lunch, more than one in four of us are skipping it altogether.

According to the researchers behind those statistics, a number of things are responsible, and while the main excuse given is ‘being too busy’, another reason is that a workplace’s culture might be such that skipping lunch has become the norm.

It’s unfortunate because when people do take a break for lunch, the majority say they concentrate better and are more productive when they return. They also report enjoying their job more, and feeling less stressed out by it. That’s got to be good, right?

I know myself how challenging it can be on those crazy busy days to set aside a little bit of time for lunch. But, as well as providing a chance to eat your midday meal mindfully rather than distractedly, taking a break from work for lunch can also provide an opportunity to squeeze some activity into your day.

I’m not suggesting you have to hit the gym at midday or get so sweaty that you’ll need a shower afterwards (although if that does suit your lifestyle and your schedule, go for it!). Just heading outside for a short walk to a nearby green space will do the trick. Make sure your lunch is portable and you can take it with you and eat it amongst that greenery, when you get there. You can find more active lunch break inspiration, as well as learn more about why it’s such a healthy thing to strive for, here.

The fact is, having flexibility in the workplace can make it easier to fit activity into, or around, your work commitments, as well as providing the freedom to take the sort of lunch break that works best for you. Not sure what a flexible workplace is exactly, why they’re so beneficial or how to go about finding or establishing one? You can read more about that, here, or head to flexibleworkingday.com.

Flexible Working Day is an international day that provides an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the benefits of flexible work for both people and organisations, as well as marking a call to action to tackle flexism. It’s taking place on Wednesday, June 6, and I’m excited to be an Ambassador for this year’s event.

There are so many reasons why I personally support and encourage flexible working environments, and it’s true that different people require flexibility in different facets of their working life. But why not make a start this week by dedicating a little more thought, love and care to your midday meal breaks? You might just discover that it’s a small change that can pack a really big punch at lunch.

Martha's website can be accessed here.