I’ve been asking friends about the dynamics in their workplaces, the good, the bad, and what has made for a really different type of environment.  One story in particular really stands out for me.  This one person worked in a very high stress, fast paced job where, in addition to all the other duties, they had to regularly create programming for schoolchildren and deal with constant schedule changes.  Such an environment sounds completely awful to me but, when asked, he said that it was his co-workers that made all the difference.  Even with the high stress environment, the team that worked there were able to roll with the changes.  Absenteeism was low and job satisfaction remained high until that division was completely reorganized.  What made this office so successful?  Many things, of course, but one of them is that everyone was physically fit and maintained regular exercise routines.

My friend’s job was very physical and the other workers had at least one fitness-type activity that they pursued.  The manager, for example, biked to work daily.  Another person had been in the habit of regular gym visits since high school.  One of the employees had been a nutritionist and was still an avid hiker.  This gave each person a connection to the others in addition to sharing a workplace, building on the team spirit.  Completely by chance they all found themselves thriving in a tense work environment and part of the reason was that their bodies were physically fit and with that comes better psychological resiliency.

Physical health is only the most obvious part of the story.  Hidden within the activities that kept them fit was that they all had enough time away from work to effectively manage life mechanics and still exercise while pursuing their active hobbies.  This allowed them to “recharge” even between workdays, getting completely away from the workplace, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  According to my friend, this made everyone feel more present while at work, something the supervisors noticed and mentioned frequently. A very pleasant side effect coming from these factors: physical health, psychological resilience, productive and recuperative time away from work, each person feeling present and like they are contributing to the team, and recognition from managers?  There wasn’t a single onsite accident in the three years my friend worked there.

This happened years ago, before the word wellness was being used in its modern connotation, but more and more studies are showing that the more physically fit people are, the happier they are in all aspects of their life, including work.  Instances of illness drop off and people report that they don’t feel quite so “stressed out” much of the time.  Naturally, in such an environment, job satisfaction goes up and people aren’t as quick to leave.  Also interesting is a very recent finding that shows positive effects for organizations who adopt wellness as part of their corporate culture.  Managers have a great deal of influence over shaping the culture of a workplace and one that fosters a sense of wellness is appreciated and often reciprocated by the employees.

Of course, most of this is pretty much what we knew already: healthy people with good habits tend to be happier and more psychologically resilient.  Having a work environment that fosters respect, teamwork, and good health makes for a place where stress is better managed and contentedness is commonplace.  The workplace may not be where we want to spend our time, but with a few tweaks it can become a much nicer, healthier, and more productive place.

Jackie Ostrikis MS CPT