Balancing Act: Prioritizing Health in the Modern Workplace

Expert Interview, News from DACH

Transforming Stress into Strength for Leaders and Organizations

In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, Departer – The Know-Who People presents an insightful interview with Dr. med. Anne Pfeiffer, a renowned Mind-Body Medicine Therapist, Doctor of General Medicine and Doctor of Occupational Medicine.

In this expert interview, Dr. Pfeiffer addresses common health challenges in today’s workplace, offering invaluable strategies and recommendations for executives, leaders, and organizations to prioritize mental and physical well-being amidst demanding schedules and responsibilities. Discover how minor lifestyle adjustments can yield significant and swift benefits in navigating the modern workplace landscape.

Dr. Pfeiffer empowers companies to cultivate a healthy workforce and foster a culture of wellness within their organizations.

Understanding the Landscape:

Departer: Dr. med. Anne Pfeiffer, what are some common health challenges you’ve observed in today’s workplace environment, particularly among executives and leaders?

Dr. Pfeiffer: The modern world of work is becoming faster and more complex. There are hardly any breaks. The pressure to perform continues to increase. The boundaries between leisure and work are blurring – in terms of place and time. Work anywhere, at anytime. Dosed correctly, this has many advantages. However, many employees and especially managers are pushed to their mental, emotional and physical limits. Stress-related diseases such as burnout, high blood pressure, sleep disorders and tinnitus are often the result. Other typical complaints are pain in the area of the back. These are partly a consequence of the lack of exercise that goes hand in hand with office work.

Strategies for Leadership Wellness:

Departer: What specific strategies or practices do you recommend for executives and leaders to prioritize their own health and well-being amidst demanding work schedules and responsibilities?

Dr. Pfeiffer: My vision is to sensitize as many people as possible to actively and independently shape their health and stress management. The first and most important steps in this direction are to become aware that we can do something for our own health. And then want to do it! The prerequisite for this is the will to want to change something and to become active yourself. Then often only minor changes in everyday life are needed, which already lead to rapid success. And once you have experienced this “aha-experience”, you will want to continue on your own. In “Mind Body Medicine” (or “Lifestyle Medicine”) there is a whole toolbox of tools and strategies from which everyone can take the right one for them and try it out. True to the motto:

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf them.

(Jon Kabat-Zin)

One method is to take breaks in stressful everyday life and thus get the body out of the stress reaction and a little bit towards relaxation. This can be, for example, taking 3 conscious breaths between two emails or before a phone call, e.g. with diaphragmatic breathing. I discuss this in more detail in one of my recent podcasts. The same works very similarly through the integration of exercise, through conscious relaxation, through healthy nutrition and the development of a supportive social network, friends and family.

Employee Engagement:

Departer: How can leaders effectively engage their teams in promoting a culture of health and wellness within the organization?

Dr. Pfeiffer: The concept of “Mind Body Medicine” is already very widespread in the USA and is also becoming more and more established in Europe. Lifestyle medicine is a modern and holistic approach that complements conventional medicine with our own possibilities. It’s about mobilizing our body’s own resources. Small changes in our lifestyle have a big impact. Many topics are very well suited to learning and tackling in a team. This can work in a number of ways. I always recommend starting with team events in the form of workshops, e.g. on the topics of “Stress & Tension Regulation” and “Strategies for Implementing New Resolutions” in order to create a common awareness and then start implementing them as a team. Everyone can then set individual goals, which can be supplemented by team goals.

Balancing Work and Life:

Departer: Many managers struggle with work-life balance. What advice do you have for maintaining a balance between professional commitments and personal health?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Especially after Covid and especially due to the increased proportion of home office and remote work, the world of work and private life are becoming increasingly blurred. Many innovations bring advantages if you manage to set limits to the stressors. The more stressful the job, the more important it is to provide balance in your private life. My favorite tip is: Take time again for what you used to like to do! And spend time with people who are good for you! It is also worthwhile to deal with one’s own behavior and thinking. Our inner attitude, thought patterns and the way we communicate influence our feelings and thus our well-being. If you know your patterns, you have a starting point for possible changes. For practical implementation, there are a number of aids in lifestyle medicine, e.g. behavioral therapy. After some practice, you can learn to defuse stress effectively.

Implementing Wellness Programs:

Departer: What are the key components that HR professionals should consider when designing and implementing wellness programs that meet the diverse needs of employees?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Two things are decisive for success: The program should be sustainable and fun! The employees should enjoy being there in the long term. Which program works for which organization is very individual. Personally, I like to start with a starter workshop as a group offer in presence. Afterwards, you can decide together whether there should be further group offers in the form of workshops. Possible topics for this are: Mediterranean whole food nutrition, habits regarding perception & evaluation, communication (with ourselves / with others) and the social network. In other organizations, I switch to individual consultations after the starter workshop. For me, these are called medical health coaching, which can also take place online. When selecting suitable topics and methods, those responsible should also make sure that the offers can be easily integrated into the everyday life of the employees.

Remote Work Challenges:

Departer: With the rise of remote work, what challenges do you foresee in maintaining employee health and wellness and what strategies can organizations adopt to address these challenges effectively?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Many employers are already doing a lot to protect their employees. For example, they ensure that workplaces at home meet ergonomic standards, that emails are not transmitted at certain evening and night hours or promote the purchase of “job bikes”. At the end of the day, however, it is often questionable which measures are effective. Because it is up to the individual employee what he implements or accepts and what not. The increased pressure to perform often leads to permanent accessibility and the feeling of having to check emails anytime and anywhere. Here, too, I think it is most important to establish a common understanding and a health-promoting corporate culture. In the end, it is the appreciative interaction with each other that ensures healthy and relaxed employees and a motivated team. The benefits for the organization can be seen, among other things, in the reduction of sick days, in the increase in health literacy and the strengthening of the stress resistance of the team members. And, once established and known, this team culture results in a strong benefit for attracting and retaining staff.

Promoting Physical Activity:

Departer: How can companies encourage physical activity and movement throughout the workday, especially for employees with sedentary roles?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Here, again, the first thing to do is to raise awareness. In medical circles, they say: “Sitting is the new smoking“, because sitting makes you sick. I recommend starting with measures that are less time-consuming. Experience has shown that there is a greater chance that they will be implemented in everyday life. The MINIs described at the beginning also work with movement: Get up consciously every hour, stretch/stretch/stretch or even do a short stretching exercise. Routines should be established that then facilitate implementation. You can put blockers of e.g. two times five minutes in the calendar or e.g. do the daily while standing (also works for online team meetings). If you are furnishing new office spaces, you can plan sit-stand workstations and also make this possible when working from home. Campaigns such as “Stairs instead of elevators” or challenges such as “Who takes the most steps” can sometimes be extremely motivating, especially if you tackle it together as a team. It is also motivating if there is a “win” at the end, such as a €1 donation by the employer for every 10,000 steps for a social cause or a joint team event.

Nutritional Well-being:

Departer: Nutrition plays a vital role in overall health. What advice do you have for organizations looking to promote healthier eating habits among their employees?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Nutrition does indeed play a decisive role. Of all lifestyle areas, nutrition probably has the greatest influence on our health. However, it usually leads to resentment when unhealthy dishes are banned. It is more promising to try new healthy dishes and then integrate “delicious” ones into the menu. The “Mind Body Medicine” recommends the Mediterranean whole food diet. There are many great dishes that are healthy and delicious at the same time. A recommendation for “nutrition beginners” is to simply integrate more fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs as a first step. In a company, I once experienced that (tap) water was offered free of charge in the canteen, but soft drinks had to be paid for. This led to a massive slump in soft drink consumption. There are many such measures.

Resilience and Stress Management:

Departer: Building resilience and managing stress are essential skills for navigating challenges effectively. What techniques or practices do you recommend employees to cultivate resilience and manage stress in high-pressure environments?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Exercise, active breaks or relaxation exercises help to strengthen resistance to stress. As with most things, finding what works best is a matter of personal preference. The key is to stay consistent and establish a regular routine. In addition, there are a number of tools and methods that are worth taking a closer look at: e.g. recognizing and breaking through self-damaging thought patterns, mindful communication to reduce negative feelings, techniques for interrupting stress automatisms. The easiest way to do this is under guidance.

“It is not circumstances that determine man’s happiness, but his ability to cope with circumstances.”

(Aaron Antonovsky)

Measuring Success:

Departer: How should organizations measure the effectiveness of their health and wellness initiatives, and what metrics do you recommend they track to assess progress?

Dr. Pfeiffer: Objective measured values are, for example, sick days or the number of long-term illnesses. However, experience has shown that these figures only change in the medium term. When organizations establish health programs, they should be sustainable and fun! They should be aimed at the health of the individual and at the same time create a healthy working atmosphere. These programs work best when the benefits of the measures are known and they are tackled together as a team.

Dr. Med. Anne Pfeiffer

gesund. gelassen. glücklich.

Departer – The Know-Who People

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