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The Worst Work Habits for Your Health

Kick these bad work habits to the curb for a healthier 9 to 5.

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Americans spend around 1,790 hours a year at work. That’s a lot, and it means that what we do in the office or out in the field can have some serious implications for our wellbeing.

From the lunches we pack to the way we sit, unhealthy habits at work have the potential to cause a slew of health problems, such as stress, insomnia, back pain, weight gain, even chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Click through to learn more about these bad work behaviors from Andrew Robinson, DO, of Lone Peak Hospital in Draper, Utah.

And get a few simple tips for staying healthy on the job.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

woman eating fast food at her desk
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Going Out for Lunch

It’s tempting to toss that brown bag you brought to the office in favor of some quick fast food. And while this may be okay every now and then, over time, the calories, saturated fat and preservatives from unhealthy restaurant food will start messing with your health – in the form of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight gain.

Work smarter: Take some time to prepare a healthy lunch at home instead, says Dr. Robinson, and load it up with fresh fruits and veggies, fiber and lean protein. And try to steer clear of quick, processed meals. “If you just go grab a microwaveable pizza, that’s not any different than going to a fast food restaurant.”

woman looking at her phone
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Checking Work Emails on Your Phone

Up to 52% of us check our emails before and after work each day. And while it might seem harmless to reply to a coworker’s request while climbing into bed, research says not so much. One study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that employees’ pressure to answer emails off-the-clock leads to worse sleep, more burnout, higher levels of stress and more sick days.

Work smarter: Unless it’s an emergency, make checking emails a work-only activity, and turn off the notifications on your phone. “You need to be present,” says Robinson. “If you’re at work, be there 100%, but when you’re at home with family or doing your hobbies, be completely there.”

messy desk
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Cubicle Clutter

Soda cans, loose paper, some part of yesterday’s lunch. Unsightly desk clutter is more than just an eyesore. According to research conducted at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, having piles of paper and junk around makes it harder for us to focus and process new information. Clutter also ups our stress levels and decreases productivity.

Work smarter: Set aside time at the end of each day to organize your desk and toss all the trash. Clear out papers and objects you don’t use, too. This helps give you a fresh start each morning, and helps de-clutter your brain.

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Leaning In (to Your Computer Screen)

If you work at a cubicle or desk job every day, you’re probably already familiar with that bleary-eyed, achey-headed feeling. Sitting at your desk and staring at a screen for eight hours tires out your eyes, contributes to weight gain and can also harm your back, neck, shoulders and wrists. Plus, sitting in an uncomfortable position for too long could lead to tension headaches and bad posture.

Work smarter: Robinson suggests aiming for a more ergonomic workstation—keeping your monitor at eye level, maintaining good posture in a chair with lumbar support and not forgetting to take short breaks each hour to get up, stretch and move around.

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Sweating the Small Stuff

It’s actually healthy to have some stress in our lives. But chronic work stress is different. Over-stressed employees are more likely to get sick, have high blood pressure, suffer chronic headaches and have trouble sleeping.

Work stress affects the bottom line, too. The health harm to over-stressed employees costs U.S businesses up to $190 billion per year, according to some estimates.

Work smarter: Take mini mental breaks, air your grievances calmly and set realistic standards for yourself.  Exercise, good sleep, meditation or venting in a journal can also help. And if work stress feels unmanageable, Robinson recommends reaching out to your doctor.

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