When you think about how much time you spend at work, doesn’t it make sense to take care of your health during each work shift?
Pacing yourself at work is a great way to maintain your health, while incorporating active living principles into your work day.
By planning your work tasks, taking active breaks, eating healthy foods and paying attention to your body and mind, you can be healthy and productive at a pace that works for you and your employer.
Pacing yourself at work can help to prevent or reduce:
- physical fatigue and strain
- mental fatigue and stress
- workplace injuries, such as repetitive strain injuries or overexertion injuries
Recognizing the Health Risks
Some of the common reasons why people do not work at a healthy pace include:
- competing demands, being too busy, or facing multiple deadlines
- getting “lost” or behind in your work, by not setting priorities
- just doing the job to get it done (without thinking it through or setting a pace that is good for you)
- employer-driven goals or productivity demands (e.g., high pressure work environments)
- perception that co-workers or employers will think you are working too slowly
When people don’t work at a healthy pace, in can contribute to health problems or concerns. For example:
- People in “desk jobs” or other sedentary work often experience fatigue in their back, neck, eyes, arms and shoulders.
- People who do manual labour involving lifting, carrying, climbing, operating machinery, or working with tools and equipment, muscles can easily become fatigued or overworked, adding to the risk of injury.
- Mental fatigue can happen for a variety of reasons, such as repetitive, boring or mentally demanding tasks. When we are mentally fatigued, it can lead to decreased mental focus, less enjoyment or job satisfaction at work, and in some cases (depending on the task) it can lead to injuries or other workplace hazards or incidents.
With a little planning and a few pacing techniques, you can establish a healthy pace of work and avoid or reduce the health risks you may experience while at work.
Most pacing techniques can be applied in any workplace, whether in office or industrial settings. Here are some important techniques you can use to help you set a healthy work pace for yourself:
- Take regular breaks. Under the law, employees get to take scheduled work breaks.
- Change tasks more often. Avoid repetitive tasks if you can. If you are doing the same task over several hours or more, try to take a break from it regularly throughout your work day, even if the break is only a minute or two.
- Include “active breaks” in your day. This means being physically active when you take a break from a work task. Use your scheduled breaks or other short breaks to walk, stretch, eat well, drink water and take a few minutes for yourself.
- On your longer active breaks, such as lunch hours, go for a run or a bike ride. Or, go for a brisk walk outdoors, in any season. You’ll get a mental and physical break from work, and the fresh air will do you good!
- Try to listen to your body and respond. For example, if your neck or shoulders are getting sore while you work at a computer, get up and move, and do brief stretches or exercises to reduce the strain or fatigue you may be feeling.
- Encourage your employer to consider different work-station options, task sequences or work assignments for you and your co-workers.
Work breaks and active breaks are an important part of avoiding too much muscle fatigue. If you keep working when experiencing muscle fatigue, you are more likely to injure yourself. So, take frequent breaks and pace yourself!
It also helps to avoid working in awkward positions. For example, kneeling, bending, sitting or crouching for long periods can lead to muscle and joint strain. As often as you can, change positions, switch tasks, alternate tasks with a co-worker, and take frequent breaks. By using these strategies, you can maintain your productivity and your health.
Healthy Pacing in Sedentary Jobs
Here are more pacing tips for people who work in sedentary jobs:
- During your work day, adjust your normal work routine to include active components, such as taking the stairs to meetings, walking over to speak with co-workers rather than e-mailing, or stretching often while at your desk.
- Recognize when you are doing repetitive tasks or holding an awkward position for too long. For example, take breaks from typing and use a telephone headset that doesn’t strain your neck.
- Another option is to choose a sit-stand work station, where tasks can be completed while in different body positions.
- For people who work in other types of mostly sedentary positions, such as driving, or operation of machines or equipment, it’s important to build regular breaks into your work routine. For example, plan to frequently get out of driver’s seat or work station. Walk around, stretch and take a physical and mental break for a moment. After each break, you will be a little refreshed and ready to get back to work.
Healthy Pacing for Manual Labour
Here are more pacing tips for people who work in jobs that involve a significant amount of physical labour:
- Be aware of the physical strain placed on your body from overexertion or overwork, or from doing the same task or tasks over short or long periods.
- When you take a break, move away from the task or work area. For example, walk around the work site, eat a healthy snack, drink some water and do some stretches to relieve some of the tension in the muscle groups you are using.
- As easy as it may seem to “push through and get the job done” it is better for your body, your mind and even the safety of your co-workers if you take regular breaks.
New Workers and Employees Returning to Work
Healthy pacing is also important for new employees and those returning to work after an absence.
In some cases, the employee’s body may not be used to performing the required physical tasks in the job, or they may not yet have developed the necessary strength.
Employers can work with the employee to develop a plan that paces the work so that the employee’s body will gradually adapt to the physical demands of the job. This is especially true for workers returning to work after an injury or illness.
In some cases, a temporary “modified work” position may be helpful. For example, some workers may still be experiencing some level of pain from a past injury. Until they have fully recovered from the injury, the modified work can help ease them back into the work force. Pacing techniques, such as frequent breaks and active breaks, can also be helpful in this type of scenario. By doing modified work and/or using pacing techniques, it can help prevent a new injury or re-injury.
Tips for Employers
Many employers are well-focused on workplace health, safety and wellness. As part of a workplace wellness approach, employers can play a key role in helping workers to set a healthy pace of work. The benefits can include higher productivity and reduced injury risks.
Here are some tips for employers:
- Educate yourself and your employees on the muscle groups more likely to be injured with particular tasks.
- Provide job diversity and cross-training; this helps to prevent muscle fatigue and strain for workers, and can improve worker morale by offering a variety of tasks. With cross-training, workers benefit by learning new skills, while employers gain more flexibility when assigning work tasks.
- Review your office ergonomics policy. Office ergonomics, including comfortable work stations which help to reduce fatigue and risk of injury, is recognized by many employers as beneficial to the health and productivity of their employees.
- Lead by example; owners, managers, supervisors should demonstrate healthy pacing and take frequent work breaks, and encourage employees to do the same.
Although each individual is different, some of the real or potential paybacks from setting a healthy pace at work include higher productivity, improved job satisfaction, better health, reduced risk of injury or illness and reduced physical and mental fatigue.
Similarly, any employer can promote the same range of benefits for all employees in their organization by encouraging active living at work, including healthy pacing, healthy eating, regular breaks and active breaks.
Physical Activity at Work
A great website from the Alberta Centre for Active Living. Includes several videos to help incorporate some activity within your work breaks.
Workplace Health and Safety Publications
Links at this page include numerous publications on ergonomics, different topics on how to work safely, and other health and safety topics. Booklets, bulletins and manuals are published by the Workplace Health and Safety division of Alberta Employment and Immigration.
Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta
Office ergonomics, including stretching.