besity is one of the greatest public health challenges for the 21st century and is considered a global epidemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) given the alarming increase in the prevalence of (pre)obesity on different continents.1
The pandemic situation has also fuelled this reality. If, on the one hand, it has brought flexibility and greater credibility of remote or hybrid working models, on the other hand, it has also brought about many changes in eating behaviour and lifestyle.
When we bring the office indoors we gain a lot of free time that we once lost in traffic queues on the way to work. However, that free time is not always used to take a few simple steps or engage in some kind of physical activity. Often the tendency is to occupy breaks from work with those delicious snacks with generous amounts of sugar, secretly kept on the pantry shelf, which ends up being so far away, yet so close.
In fact, studies indicate that during confinement, 64.4% of remote/hybrid workers noted changes in their eating habits, with 44% of them assuming an increase in food intake, compared to the pre-pandemic period. These behaviours often represent episodes of emotional compensation eating associated with low levels of general well-being.2
Depending on the field of expertise, the work-from-home model may be a little lonelier and, since the human being is a social animal, food often ends up being an emotional compensation to cover up the greater moments of silence or solitude. Social life tends to become more reduced and all this compromises the psychological well-being of the employee, contributing to his or her isolation and sedentary lifestyle.
Parallel to this, we spend more hours sitting down and save many steps on the mini journey from bed to office/office to bed. If we don't take certain precautions, sooner or later we'll welcome tendonitis and other pompous names ending in "itis" which always bring some pain into our lives.
The changes in lifestyle can be so evident that we even run away from the scales just so we don't have to see what the mirror shows us every morning! In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, with the imposition of confinement, many people reported weight gain or changes in body shape, as well as an increase in musculoskeletal pain, anxious-depressive symptoms, sleep disturbances and feelings of loneliness.3 However, being overweight does not have to give rise to mental health issues. Good social support can mediate and positively influence this relationship between weight and mental health conditions.4 We can have happy, motivated and emotionally balanced individuals working from home or in a hybrid model, with healthy eating habits and regular physical activity. For this, the main key is social support. This support can come from family, friends, colleagues and/or the community, but also from the company where we work, and it can reach us in person or virtually.
A manager knows that the physical and mental health of their employees is also reflected in their productivity and therefore in the health of the company in question. A manager knows that investing in the physical and mental health of their employees is investing in the health of their business.
There are therefore varied solutions to counter weight gain and the increasing sedentary lifestyle in remote work. Many companies with remote or hybrid work models already provide this support by offering perks such as:
- emotional support via chat, or online psychological support, to control episodes of food intake by emotional compensation;
- nutritional support to promote a healthier lifestyle;
- dedicated spaces or discounts on physical exercise (e.g. gym, gym classes, yoga, pilates, etc.).
- implementation of regular breaks for muscle relaxation, undivided attention or workplace workout;
- an amount for coworking spaces for the employees who need more socialisation.
None of these solutions minimises the importance of the active role of the employees themselves to stay healthy, regardless of the working model - face-to-face, remote or hybrid. Each employee is equally responsible for his or her personal and emotional development, therefore they can also apply their own solutions:
- commit to walking, whenever possible, namely when answering any phone or video calls;
- have a work space that is, if possible, separate from the sleeping area;
- bet on a good office chair that keeps the "itis" far away
- establish short breaks at work, free of electronic devices, both to "get moving" and to enter for brief minutes in one's own zen corner, which can easily be created/decorated in the backyard, on the balcony or even by the living room window;
- replace snacks with other healthier and equally pleasurable options;
- regularly use physical activity solutions, often provided by the organisation where you work;
- invest in inner balance, through a daily routine of undivided attention, with moments of conscious breathing throughout the day or, alternatively, through the practice of modalities such as yoga or pilates.
For a more personalised offer that meets the specific needs of each employee, many companies are opting for flexible benefits solutions, such as Coverflex, which allows the allocation of budgets that can be spent on various services, namely in the fields of health and well-being, such as psychotherapy, nutrition appointments, yoga, gyms and personal trainers, as well as physical and mental health apps, among others.
Having a good team at work is also half-way to listening and feeling heard! Remember that being alone at a desk, in the comfort of home, doesn't mean that you feel lonely. And the digital revolution has changed that in every context! But if you're still not succeeding in your organisational happiness or you feel that external guidance is important, don't hesitate to seek expert support, inside or outside the organisation where you work.
1 WHO (2000). Obesity. Preventing and Managing the global epidemic. Report of a WHO consultation. Geneva: World Health Organization.
2 Białek-Dratwa, A., bieta Szczepan´ska, E., Grajek, M., Ca ́ łyniuk, B.& Stas´ kiewicz, W. (2022). Health Behaviors and Associated Feelings of Remote Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic—Silesia (Poland). Public Health and Nutrition - Journal Frontiers in Public Health, 10(774509). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.774509
3 Cruz-Ausejo, L. & Jaime, R. R. (2021). Complications associated with remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic: a rapid review. Revista de la Facultad de Medicina Humana, 22(4), Article 21, 857-864. DOI: https:// doi.org/10.25176/RFMH.v22i4.4806
4 Freitas-Rosa, M., Gonçalves, S., & Antunes, H. (2014).The relationship between weight status and psychopathology in adolescence: The role of social support. Journal of Health Psychology. 19(7), 907-917.