Is the workplace having an impact on your gut health?

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Hands up – who thinks the workplace is having an impact on their gut health?

From what you told us in our recent poll ‘Do you believe that your working environment has an impact on your gut health?’  – 89% of you tell us that it is….  So we wonder why that is?  

There is no doubt that the topic of health and wellbeing has been on the radar for a number of years now, but there’s no denying that Covid has brought it to the forefront and pushed it up most HR agendas.  Covid really made many of us sit back and reflect on what’s important for us as individuals and health was certainly up there – the saying ‘life is too short’ certainly came into its own when speaking with active job seekers and made people re-assess what was important to them.  Gone are the days when the job search used to all be about salary, career development and job title and now flexibility, personal health and wellbeing are certainly heading for the top of the towards the job search wish list. 

Gut health plays such an important part of well being so if you can stomach it, we’ve put a few thoughts down and are going to share what we’re hearing from our HR network about typical wellbeing routines!  There are quite a few facets of our daily lives and ongoing habits that we all might want to start paying close attention to if we want to give ourselves the best chance at a healthy gut and all the benefits that come with it. 

COVID, which let’s be honest was a bit of a turning point in peoples lives didn’t just bring about a global health crisis, it also tipped our routines on their heads – and Guts like routine! So coping with new hybrid working patterns, the stress that dealing with this new way of working brought to many whilst alongside juggling the home schooling drama and all the other pressures that largely fell into HR laps such as getting heads round furlough, restructures, protecting the business financially, we have to ask ourselves what impact did that all have on our gut?  How many days were you back to back on team calls and it was 2 or 3pm before you’d even stopped to think about lunch and found yourself reaching for crisps or chocolate to fill a hole?!

Fast forward to now most people have adjusted to their new hybrid working patterns, but they still have their pitfalls…. the kitchen is only ever a short distance away, perhaps you are even working in the kitchen most days! Either way snacking has become all too easy and if we are honest with ourselves, is it healthy food or are we reaching for comfort snacks at random points of the day? Unfortunately, this type of continuous grazing, often on less than ideal snacks, can throw our gut bacteria way out of whack. So, how do we stay mindful of snacking – the frequency and what?!

With more of a focus on getting people back in the office, what we are hearing is that employers are introducing incentives and tend to be focused on the ones that appeal to our tastebuds. I mean free lunches of pizza, coffee credits, snack-filled meeting rooms, well who has the willpower to walk away from all that?  But hold up one minute, while some incentives are alluring they are not all a wise choice for our gut or waist-line!  Whilst I’m sure we all love a chocolate covered cookie, we’re pretty sure the health experts would suggest we are kind and nurturing to our gut and give it what it needs – a nutrient rich, balanced diet.  The big question amongst many of our HR network is how can they get employees back in the office without having to lure them back in with naughty food treats!

It doesn’t end there though as you could argue it’s not just what we eat, but where we eat!   Something else we’re hearing is that employers and employees alike want to get on board and take time out for meal breaks.  It’s so easy to eat your lunch whilst typing an email sat at the desk but really a short walk, or a little trip to the café to take half an hour out with colleagues is surely much more enjoyable and engaging in the long run.  Afterall, people create the culture and having teams bonding, learning and strengthening relationships all adds to this!

Now, let’s not turn a blind eye to Stress – the silent destroyer of gut health (Emma – do you agree with this? Is there anything here we’re missing) Whether it’s demanding deadlines or worrisome workloads stress can play havoc on our digestive systems. When we’re stressed, our bodies enter fight-or-flight mode, taking resources away from digestion which can lead to gut symptoms.  Feeding into creating a positive workplace environment, many of our clients are looking at initiatives like massages at work, mindfulness classes, yoga classes through to ensuring staff take their full holiday allowance -all good starting points!

This takes us on to the subject of exercise which as we all know feeds into keeping our gut healthy!  Often, with long hours, sedentary desk jobs, shift work and so on, it can be really hard to motivate ourselves to ensure we find enough time to go for a walk, do a fitness class and get up and get moving which supports our gut with digestion.

As we deal with an ever changing work landscape and an era of convenience food we all need to give our gut health more consideration, it doesn’t necessarily mean a complete overhaul of our lives but just a few considered adjustments. It’s a no brainer when you think of the benefits – increased focus and energy levels, better mental health, decreased sickness, less anxiety and better sleep patterns – who doesn’t wish for all of that!

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