by Sherry McAllister, DC, Executive Vice President of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (www.forbes.com)
Nonprofit leaders and employees are usually passionate about their organization’s mission, values and goals. This sense of personal fulfillment is often a benefit itself, so leaders and employees may not recognize that their long workdays, frequent travel and taking work home are detracting from essential self-care activities, such as exercise, healthy eating and sleep.
Less time for healthy habits and insufficient sleep often means more stress and poor posture. Combined, these risk factors can lead to greater burnout, higher health care costs and reduced productivity, derailing your organization from achieving its objectives.
That is why learning and practicing better sleep and posture habits is crucial and can simultaneously help decrease stress levels. Stress can be further reduced through other self-care activities and health care services, but a cultural commitment to schedule flexibility so employees — and leaders — have the time to eat healthy, exercise and rest is just as important.
In my 20+ years as a doctor of chiropractic and, more specifically, in my three years working as the executive vice president of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress, I’ve seen firsthand how proper exercise, nutrition and sleep can positively impact an individual’s overall productivity, especially when you take into consideration the effects that long workdays and frequent travel can have on your body.
1. Sleep: An Overlooked Public Health Issue
Diet and exercise fads seem to be national obsessions. Insufficient sleep, however, is perhaps the least discussed public health issue in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 35% of U.S. adults do not get enough sleep, which can lead to diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and mental health problems, as well as a shorter lifespan.
For nonprofits, sleep deprivation not only damages your employees’ health; it negatively affects their performance as well. The U.S. loses about 1.2 million working days a year due to decreased productivity from sleep-deprived workers, which costs the economy about $411 billion a year.
One way to improve restfulness is by offering napping stations in your workplace, such as sleep pods, which look like space-age recliners with a large dome over the top to block light, noise and distraction. Sleep pods are used in organizations associated with demanding employee work schedules, such as law firms and corporations like Google, Samsung, Zappos, JetBlue and Cisco, as well as NASA.
Getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night, however, may be a challenge for some employees if they do not establish proper bedtime routines and sleeping positions that enable a more restful night’s sleep. Routines include dimming or shutting off screens an hour before bed and keeping the bedroom cool and dark during sleep.
As far as sleep positions, stomach sleeping should be avoided, as it impairs the natural curve of the spine, putting pressure on the joints and muscles and causing strain on your neck. Sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees or side sleeping is also spine-friendly, as long as you keep your waist straight and a pillow between your knees.
2. Posture: More Than Just Looking Taller
Most nonprofit employees work in office settings, and many team members with fundraising duties travel frequently. Too much time spent at a desk or in airplanes and cars, as well as the hours a day spent looking at your phone, can negatively impact your posture.
Posture is not just about looking taller or feeling more confident; it has surprising consequences that affect our health and quality of life. Over time, bad posture can cause low back pain, which about 80% of adults experience at some point in their lives. Additionally, research reveals that back pain accounted for more than 264 million lost work days in one year.
The first step toward better posture is to establish a personal baseline. Have a friend photograph you or use a timer to do it yourself while standing as you normally would and another standing up straight. From there, practice self-awareness and correction of your posture while sitting, standing, walking and running. Keeping your feet on the floor or a footrest, for example, while sitting at a desk will help you maintain the proper spinal alignment and posture.
Seeking help from a health care professional, such as a doctor of chiropractic, can also help by correcting your posture and recommending exercises to strengthen your core postural muscles.
3. Stress: Decrease The Pressure
A good night’s sleep and proper posture are effective at reducing the third top productivity killer: stress. Nearly two-thirds of adults reported stress about work and money this year, followed closely by health and the economy.
Chronic stress can lead to numerous other mental and physical health problems, such as depression, substance abuse, digestive conditions and headaches. While this contributes to nonprofit organizations’ health care costs, stress-related chronic health problems can also cause burnout, impacting your team members’ performance and retention.
Establishing a culture where employees are encouraged to unplug and devote time to self-care and pleasurable activities with family, friends and their communities is essential. Seeking help from mental health professionals is also effective for managing stress, while many Americans report regular chiropractic care reduces their stress levels and improves their sleep and posture.
By pursuing these healthy self-care habits, nonprofit leaders and employees can maintain their organization’s productivity momentum while ensuring team members stay engaged, high-performing and full of passion.