With the start of a new year, talk of resolutions to improve eating and exercise habits, reduce stress and many other goals is standard. But what about improving overall wellness in the workplace, where most employees spend nearly one-third of their waking hours each year?
Megan Ward, a purchasing agent for the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support’s Industrial Hardware supply chain in Philadelphia, believes wellness should be a priority. She brings her passion for it – and multiple certifications - everywhere she goes, including work. To that end, Ward shared her experience and some recommendations for Troop Support employees as they resolve to improve their wellness in the new year.
Though she was an athlete in her youth and throughout college, Ward said she embraced the benefits of holistic wellness after she hung up her cleats. Once she realized the impact it had on many aspects of her life, she strived to share those benefits with others.
“If I would have known the benefits sooner, I could have been a better athlete,” Ward said. “And when I really got into it, I discovered the impacts were broader than athletics, and that I was good at teaching others. And I enjoyed it.”
After college, Ward pursued and achieved certifications as a personal training and group fitness instructor, yoga instructor, holistic health consultant and health coach. Somewhere in her ten-year wellness journey, five of which included owning a yoga business, Ward came to understand that wellness is multifaceted; it’s a choice; and just like anything else, people can get better at it over time.
“You have to make the decision to make wellness a priority,” Ward said. “It has to be a priority, and it’s got to be at the top or else nothing is going to happen.”
Ward believes wellness should be thought of as a verb and a plan of action rather than just a word.
“Wellness plans are not quick fixes,” she said. “They are lifestyle changes.”
To start a plan, Ward recommends creating a list and a ”wellness wheel” to represent the aspects of wellness that are important and serves as a visual representation of holistic wellness. The list, she said, should be used to prioritize the pieces of the wheel based on an individual’s needs, and both may be different for work and home.
“You may notice that your home wellness wheel and priorities look a little different than your work wellness wheel and priorities as far as things that are important to you,” Ward said. “People are unique, and their approach to wellness should be too. A routine should evolve with a person over time.”
Slices of the wheel may include categories of wellness such as emotional, physical, social and occupational among others.
She said that each “piece of the pie” should have active efforts towards improving it, and that even the best advice on what to do and how to focus those efforts is subjective to each individual.
“Trust your intuition,” Ward said. “I may have some good advice for you, but that may not actually work for you. You want to keep an open mind. Give it a whirl. If it doesn’t work for you, try something different.”
Ward said it’s also important to just keep moving and striving to improve. Lose the excuses, analyze issues and make necessary adjustments, but don’t overwhelm yourself.
“Set small goals,” Ward said. “With small goals, you can accomplish something, feel good about it and set the next goal a little bit bigger, and then a little bit bigger. The next thing you know your whole world is different.”
Another big piece of advice Ward had was to maintain an attitude of gratitude and keep smiling.
“Gratitude is key,” she said. “Remember to be grateful for all that you have as opposed to what you don’t have ... and put a smile on your face. Remember to be grateful and happy as often as you can.”
Tips for the workplace
“We [often] get stuck at our desks and at our computers,” Ward said. “These are some very simple things that you can do to get your body more comfortable and keep the energy flowing.”
Some of Ward’s tips, although very basic and physical in nature she said, may also be mentally and emotionally gratifying.
- Office chair adjustments should be made for comfort. Make sure that legs are at a 90-degree position. If the knees are too high, hip and back pain may result. Make sure to maintain a comfortable position.
- Stretching can be practiced from an office chair. For example, rolling your neck or crossing an ankle on top of the opposite knee are two simple stretches that can relieve neck, hip and back stress caused by sitting at a desk for long periods.
- Set up “work blocks,” or time to get up from the desk and walk around.
“You don’t realize how long you’re stuck still, sitting in a chair, staring straight at a monitor,” Ward said. “All of the sudden, three hours go by. And I’ll tell you: no matter how comfortable you get your chair, [sitting like] that is not a natural position for a human.”
Ward recommended standing up or stretching at least every hour, and getting up to walk around every few hours.
“Get a breath of fresh air.” Ward said. “Come back nice and refreshed mentally and physically. Those things will build into other positive things you can do for yourself.”
Making a habit of good habits
Ward defined wellness as a combination of balance and consistency. The small goals and simple actions recommended are starting points for creating a few good habits.
“When you have bad habits going on, they can snowball,” Ward said. “But the same thing happens when you do positive things. You do one small thing, and then you think of the next good thing and say to yourself, ‘Well that was good. I like doing that,’ and it becomes a good habit.”
She said that while consistency is key, the balance should change over time as an individual changes. It’s up to the person to set their priorities in such a way that they move toward the goals and balance they are striving for as they change over time.
“You can create what you want,” Ward said. “You just have to take the steps to get there.”
Ward is currently working with IH CIT Chairperson Taylor Fontana to develop a monthly “Wellness Wednesday Lunch-and-Learn” program to explore different aspects of health, wellness and safety. Although it is initially being designed for IH employees, Fontana hopes to eventually extend invitations to other supply chains and staff offices at Troop Support.
Employees may also access benefits and wellness information through the Department of Defense Employee Assistance Program for DLA.