Career Guide

5 Ways work is killing you and 4 ways to fight back

Having returned after a month-long project in Kuala Lumpur, I was shocked to find that I had actually lost 2kg when I thought I had gained at least 4.5kg.

The corporate executive’s lifestyle is usually not a healthy one. These are five ways that work is killing you slowly and surely:

1. Stress and anxiety

2. Long work hours and lack of sleep

3. Physical inactivity.

4. Unhealthy diet

5. Alcohol and tobacco

Besides the physical toll on the executive’s body, a poor work-life balance also affects relationships at work and home. While some claim to separate work from personal issues, they’re obviously bringing the same person to the office and back home.

With this vicious cycle, it’s a mystery how one can stay effective at work or at home. The most effective way of breaking a vicious cycle is to identify one or two strong leverage points that balance the system.

Focus on things you can do something about immediately. In this case, changing physical activity and balancing your diet could result in surprisingly great amount of progress over time. Other things mentioned may very well fall into place once you’ve set your priorities.

Simply by watching what you eat and putting in two hours of exercise a week could have positive effects in shorter amounts of time than you think.

While in KL amidst the hustle and bustle of four meetings a day and sometimes working till 9pm, who has time to stay healthy? Surprisingly, I was able to do so by carrying out four simple strategies, most of which are based on tested time-management principles.

In my busiest of weeks, I was surprised to be able to burn off two hours during the weekday and another hour on Saturdays with a quick run through the park. This was accomplished simply by filling gaps in my schedule.

The plethora of food choices in KL also allowed me to go on a primarily vegetarian diet at a local Indian restaurant.

Here are four strategies that could help you get on track:

1 Plot your fixed points

Plot all your meetings in your calendar including the tasks that will help you discharge during the week. Treat tasks as appointments. For example, if you believe preparing a report would take two hours, you should also plot it on your calendar to make sure you allocate enough time for it.

2 Establish baselines

Know how much time and calories a type of exercise would take up. For example: running on a treadmill could consume 250 to 350 calories per 30 minutes. Focus on cardio-vascular exercises if you are trying to lose or maintain weight.

3 Divide up tasks when necessary

Divide your body into four major sections: legs and glutes, trunk (abs, obliques and lower-back), chest and upper back and shoulders and arms. Working out by section, I found it only takes about 15 minutes for a basic strength-building regimen.

4 Fill in the gaps

Once you’ve plotted all of your appointments and tasks into you calendar, you will realise that you would have gaps between schedules. Use this time wisely to try and burn off excess calories. I was able to burn off an average of three hours a week with this simple strategy.

Having a company gym is a great benefit to employees as it allows them to stay healthy. But sometimes it only takes a pair of running shoes, some motivation and body-weight exercises to keep fit.

While it may seem that companies are on the giving side when they provide the means to exercise, recent studies have revealed that worker productivity goes up. According to a study, workers who have a regular exercise regime have less sick-days and fewer charges to medical benefits.

In a focus group discussion of employees covered by the study, employees who regularly exercise say that their time-management and mental abilities have improved.

They also reported a work performance boost of about 15%. Their abilities to cope with stress have also improved. Exercise generally makes for healthier, happier and productive employees.

There is also a strong link between fitness and career performance. Being physiologically fit enables an executive to stay focused, driven, committed and resilient. By subjecting your body to progressive physical overload, it is more prepared to adapt to stress.

Bringing this type of positive and confident dynamism into the workplace makes an executive a more effective leader who could lead by example.

In a 2007 University of Georgia study of 1,300 executives earning more than US$100,000, 75% of the executives interviewed said that good physical fitness is “critical for career success at the executive level” and that being overweight is a “serious career impediment”.

Perhaps you’re still on you way up to the corporate ladder but perhaps now would be the best time to start faking it until you finally make it. If you want to be an effective executive, you might as well start practising. I’d rather say that everyone is “fit for work”, but obviously I have to run!

John Walter Baybay is a regional management consultant who has worked more than 17 years in corporate strategic planning and economic planning. He is a competitive athlete who balances his time between business coaching, family and working with communities.