7 steps anyone can take to help improve mental wellbeing at work


Rachel Payne, ISCA

Employed adults are moving less and they’re increasingly struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. A global pandemic, hybrid or online work and lack of contact with colleagues have all presented enormous challenges to office workers and their mental and physical wellbeing. These challenges are persisting even though work life is settling back into a “new normal”. This European Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re putting the spotlight on the potential benefits (and obvious limitations) of using active breaks to improve mental wellbeing at work.

Modern work environments were already putting our minds and bodies under strain before the pandemic. “Time pressure or overload of work” was reported as the top risk factor for mental wellbeing in the OECD’s 2020 survey and “lack of influence over the work pace” was in fifth place. Both of these risk factors not only lead to stress and burnout, but they also lead to another risk factor for physical and mental health: many, many hours of sitting still.

Organisational structures and work environments are complex things to change overnight. And, as a regular employee, it can be out of our reach to address the most common systemic risk factors for mental wellbeing at work.

But as health-enhancing physical activity promoters – or MOVE Agents – we can introduce regular active breaks during or in between (online) meetings, or moments to take a walk or climb the stairs to refresh the brain. Every Move Counts towards our health and wellbeing (WHO) and these are accessible movements that can make a difference to someone’s work day.

We’re not talking about “wellbeing washing”, where companies use gym membership cards to sweep bigger issues under the rug (despite the good intentions and that providing free gym memberships is always a good idea – remembering that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution). We’re talking about employee-led positive actions that use a gentle touch to say “it’s ok to take a break from my desk and move once in a while”.

Simple actions you can take at work
So what types of actions are within the reach of employers, employees and physical activity promoters when it comes to improving mental wellbeing at work? Our practical toolkit Physical activity for mental wellbeing: A brain break guide for workplaces suggests 7 potential steps:

  1. Talk: Start the conversation about mental and physical wellbeing at the workplace
  2. Pause & MOVE: Make guilt- and consequence-free time for active breaks
  3. Work & MOVE: Integrate physical activity into some work activities
  4. MOVE to work: Encourage walking or biking to work or active parts of the route if the commute is long
  5. FindYourMOVE: Allow employees the flexibility to find the move that moves them; play with non-intrusive activity ideas
  6. Join other MOVEments: Days, events or campaigns that promote physical activity and mental health awareness
  7. Stick at it: Encourage peer-to-peer support and appoint motivators or ambassadors to keep the ball rolling

#FindYourMOVE by shining light on a serious subject
Our approach to this toolkit (browse it above) is to keep the tone light and fun – even though this is clearly a serious subject – because we’re all in it together to create healthy environments that support mental and physical wellbeing. 

Our emphasis is on promoting micro-actions that anyone can do in everyday work settings. We want to encourage a health promotion mindset at workplaces that not only cares about preventing people from getting ill, but fosters environments that are enjoyable to work in and, in turn, keep staff in good health.    

So why not take a warm, gentle, fun, empathetic and commonsense touch? It could be contagious…

Enjoy the journey and we hope it will help you:

  • Raise awareness in your workplace and present the evidence
  • Engage with your leadership and colleagues effectively on the topic
  • Appoint physical activity ambassadors in your organisation if you are a leader
  • Introduce non-intrusive and fun activities in your workplace
  • Encourage active transport to and from work
  • Have fun while being a #HealthyLifestyle4All ambassador yourself!

Visit ISCA Health to discover more practical guides for MOVE Agents