Money & Career

6 Hazards That Could Kill Your Career

Lion tamers aren't the only ones with workplace perils. We take a look at the health hazards that are lurking among the cubicles in your office - and how to avoid them.

Manic multi-tasking

The Damage: Multi-tasking impedes long- and short-term memory and affects overall mental performance, as the brain loses the ability to stay on target, according to 2011 research by San Francisco’s University of California. 

The Fix: Become a one-task woman. Segment your day into separate tasks, doing the important things first, advises the Australian Medical Association’s Dr Leon Massage. Need help? Try the Pomodoro app (available from iTunes), which prompts you to focus on a task without interruption for 25 minutes at a time before taking a five-minute break to refresh. Consider allocating set times throughout the day for phone calls, emails and idle chitchat. Write a new task list at the end of each afternoon to ensure you start every day with renewed focus, and spend 10 minutes before you leave the office filing paperwork and emails to maximise mental performance and minimise stress while working.

Boardroom bullies

The Damage: A toxic environment in the office contributes to general health issues for the victims of workplace bullying and witnesses alike, according to a 2011 University of Auckland study. 

The Fix: “Seeking assistance from someone objective, such as a psychologist, will help you to gain some perspective and be able to view the behaviour as a characteristic of the bully, which protects self-esteem,” explains psychologist Dr Vicki Williams. She also suggests looking to areas of your life outside the office to gain self-confidence and increase personal fulfilment. This could involve indulging your interests or setting new personal goals that help provide you with purpose and joy – from completing a fun run to learning how to swing dance.

Chained to the desk

The Damage: Recent research by the University of Western Australia reveals that working in a desk job every day for a decade doubles your risk of bowel cancer, even if you undertake regular physical exercise outside the workplace. 

The Fix: Introduce as much movement into your day as possible, says Dr Angus Pyke, of The Chiropractors’ Association of Australia. Set an alarm for every 50 minutes to remind yourself to get up and walk around, and sip some water to remain hydrated. Dr Pyke also advises doing chair aerobics. “Simply move your body, shrug your shoulders and stretch your arms while sitting down,” he says. He recommends “walking” meetings around the block as a healthier alternative to boardroom or cafe catch-ups.

An unbearable boss

The damage: In 2008, the Stress Research Institute of Stockholm University found that employees with incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative managers were 60 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack or other cardiac condition.

The Fix: Expressing your anger and frustration at poor leadership is important, says Dr Williams, so cope with stress by chatting with trustworthy friends, taking regular walks outdoors, or through relaxation techniques, such as meditation. She also recommends gaining control of other areas of your personal life, such as your finances. “The greater your sense of control in general, the more resilient you will be to poor leadership at work,” adds Dr Williams.

Ladies who (don’t) lunch

The Damage: More than 20 per cent of employees eat at their desks, and an additional 13 per cent rarely take the time for lunch at all, increasing the risk of numerous chronic health issues including diabetes, heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Plus, there’s the added risk of infection from salmonella and E. coli, with research showing that desks can harbour 400 times the bacteria of a toilet seat.

The Fix: “It’s essential to have a physical or mental break,” says Dr Massage. “Schedule a time to go out for a walk and get some fresh air and sunlight.” This also tops up your vitamin D, which increases cellular energy levels and helps you recharge for the afternoon’s work. Just 10 minutes will do the trick.

Overdoing overtime

The Damage: Working more than 11 hours a day increases your risk of heart disease by 67 per cent, a 2011 study by University College London found. 

The Fix: “Plan to be somewhere at the end of the day and use that as motivation to choose which tasks to focus on to get you out the door on time,” advises Emma Grey, director of life-balance training company WorkLifeBliss. “Monitor your hours and commitments outside work and communicate these with your boss.” Delegate when possible, practise saying no, and ask yourself whether your motivation for taking on extra work is more about your self-esteem than your work ethic. Can’t avoid overtime? Keep the rest of your life well balanced with quality sleep, nutrition and exercise.

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