Why I’m becoming my own health and safety officer
As a freelancer, how much do we really think about our health and wellbeing? With no one overseeing this aspect of our work life, is it an area that is being neglected?
This month, I celebrate my first year of freelancing. Before I launch into year two, I’m assessing what my biggest learnings are. Of course, there have been several areas I have identified for improvement:
- Streamlining accounting systems
- Attending more networking events
- Implementing better operations systems.
Nothing overly surprising for a first-year business owner, right?
But, there’s one more thing that needs some major improvement.
When you’re part of a company and you’re working in an office, there is usually a health and safety officer – someone responsible for the health and wellbeing of all staff.
"I’m the first to admit that I’ve had a range of unconventional work locations. They’ve included everything from the beach to the bathtub!"
Being a freelancer, I’ve just realised I’m that person for me. So, now I’m going to admit something. I’ve been a terrible health and safety officer.
What have I learned and what do I need to change?
1. Design a great work environment
I’m the first to admit that I’ve had a range of unconventional work locations. They’ve included everything from the beach to the bathtub! That’s the luxury of being a freelancer. However, after a couple of suspicious lower back twinges, I realised that maybe my creative digital nomad-ing wasn’t serving me as well as I had initially thought.
In Safe Work Australia’s Ergonomic Principles and Checklists for the Selection of Office Furniture and Equipment it states:
‘Apart from its influence on posture and hence comfort, poor ergonomics of a workstation can have a bad effect on job satisfaction.’
The report goes on to explain that workstations need to be treated as a whole. That is, having a top-notch laptop for example, but a crappy chair isn’t going to cut it. Workstations are like mini-ecosystems, all the parts need to work together to create a space that promotes an environment in which you can thrive.
2. Get up regularly
When you work alone, sometimes the only reason to get up is to visit the fridge or a bathroom break. Which is unlike an office environment where you are more likely to attend meetings, walk over to someone’s desk or go to the photocopier.
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Most of my communication is online. My printer is at arms-length. Even my meetings are held on Skype. Global studies show, on average, we sit 7.7 hours a day, and some results estimate people sit up to 15 hours a day. You can calculate your daily sitting time here.
A few ways to bring in more standing into a freelancing life include:
- Take phone calls standing up
- Meet clients/customers/colleagues fact to face where possible
- Get a standing desk
- Go for a walk on your lunch break
3. Good food makes for more productive days
We all know that food is fuel. When working from home, it’s easy to make regular trips to the fridge (and at hours you wouldn’t normally!). The problem can be that we become a little too comfortable with our food choices – did someone say cookie dough?
I’m not a food stickler, but I try to live by the 80/20 rule a nutritionist once told me: 80% of the time eat well, so there can be a little indulgence in the other 20%. That said, I’ve really noticed the 80/20 balance shift the other way lately.
Making a concerted effort to stock the fridge with healthier food options does seem to curb the urge to have sugar rampages in the middle of the working day. Foods like fruit, nuts, homemade dips and natural yoghurt are all top fridge-stocking options.
4. Lean on your support systems
Work related stress can cause fatigue, muscular tension, headaches and heart palpitations, just to name a few. Being a business owner is no doubt challenging and the stress that can come with it is a reality. I’ve often tried to battle through any problems that arise with a ‘nothing phases me’ attitude. The truth is, of course, some things do phase me.
Being part of support networks such as Flying Solo, face-to-face business groups and other online networks is as reassuring and comforting as that cookie dough (but I’m getting rid of that obviously).
5. Sick days and holiday leave
When I’ve been sick, I’ve just sort of muddled through. Or should I say, sneezed and spluttered through. While I may have got the job done, ‘pushing through’ set me back even further, and I ended up losing more than one day of work. The stress of not being able to complete a job can make us do crazy things, like not allowing ourselves to recover and never taking holidays. We worry the client may become annoyed, that we will miss the deadline and that they might take their business elsewhere.
You may work around the clock and never take a break, but aside from neglecting your health and wellbeing, how can we grow our businesses if we never have the contrast of being away from them?
So what was my biggest learning from year one of business?
Well, as balance coach, Renee Trudeau says, ‘nurturing yourself is not selfish – it’s essential to your survival and well-being’, and, I might add to that, being a thriving, happy and healthy freelancer.