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Optimal Living for Optimal Work Performance


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Optimal Living for Optimal Work Performance
Cory T. Flanigan
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Increasing capital is the cornerstone of every business. This successful foundation is directly dictated by employees’ performance, within the company. Significant contributions from an effectively working staff will ensure the prosperity of the company’s future. It can be challenging to supply employees with the appropriate tools that are necessary to continue successful performances and ensure a profitable company. The question that is often presented, what is the best approach for setting up employees for consistent successful performance? By enabling workers to make strong and steady contributions, it guarantees companies a chance to become more profitable. Much research shows a high correlation between one variable and the prosperity companies’ covet significantly more than other factors. That catalytic variable is optimal living. Optimal living is established by successfully embracing a healthy balance in all aspects of one’s life and implementing lifestyle adaptations to ensure this elevated level of wellness moving forward. Healthy living habits include: adequate rest, censoring stress, preserving quality social relationships, regular exercise, and quality nutrition. These behaviors synergistically working together will improve employees’ quality of life, as well as the quality of their work. The following are proven strategies from peer-reviewed resources that will enable employees to improve their quality of life, which in turn will lead companies into a more productive future. Optimal Living is generally an afterthought of employees, one that follows a promotion or other work advancement when time becomes available to be devoted to developing a healthy way of life plan. Recent findings are reordering these actions and provide evidence that when wellness and health are the primary focus; success and increased work performance closely follow. Ideal work/life balance is an important aspect of optimal living; it ensures adequate time for rest and recreation. Recent studies have shown negative correlations when the rest/recreation ratio need isn’t met. Higher rates of absenteeism, turnover, and healthcare costs as well as reduced productivity and job satisfaction, are all potential consequences of poor work/life balance (Hobson, Delunas, Kesic, 2001). This is partially due to lack of sleep and employees’ deficiencies in restful activities like meditation and yoga. Both of which are highly regarded as substantial healthy lifestyle practices. Another contributor to the risks listed above, is the missing quality social aspect of many people’s lives. Living in a society where time is highly associated with money, often the principal expandable activity is one of the most important, spending time with friends and family. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work carried out a twelve year study at Harvard College and much to his surprise, one monumental difference between successful undergrads and those that felt more stress and even increased onset of depressive symptoms was quality social relationships. Achor studied how people deal with stress, which is woven tightly into students’ college careers. He noted that when students’ felt stressed, some would retreat to isolated dormitories saturated with solo studying and melancholy. These students (who spent more time studying) actually performed worse in school. The students that embraced stress proactively saw the biggest benefit when they didn’t sacrifice time with friends, but actually pulled their social circle closer, spending increased time building quality relationships (Achor, 2010). Students at Harvard indirectly created support for Achor’s thesis. Happiness is not a by-product that results after success is achieved. Success is more often a result of people’s happiness. By implementing strategies to improve happiness and overall wellness, companies will safeguard their future successes. Striving for the ideal work/life balance is a monumental obstacle in regards to optimal living, especially with employees continuing to increase work hours every year (especially in America). As previously mentioned decreased sleep time and cutbacks on social/recreation time are amongst the first compensations employees’ make when overloaded at work. This creates serious negative implications carried into the workplace. A study of 3,122 United States workers focused on stressful live events showed that the top twelve stressful events in people’s lives were all of a personal nature (Hobson, Delunas, Kesic, 2001). Events circulated around personal illness and divorce topped the list, both of which can be closely related to personal care and potentially avoided by investing time outside of work in other social relationships and wellness. Negative consequences are guaranteed when work/life balance isn’t an employers’ priority and subsequently, the overall company suffers. Comparatively, a strong correlation also exists between companies employing comprehensive work/life balance programs and increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, as well as decreased stress levels for employees. The best offense is a good defense, and the forward thinking companies that embrace optimal living culture by improving work/life balance and lowering stress will continue to see lucrative returns on their investment. Progressive companies already enjoying improvements on their work teams include Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, and Eddie Bauer (Bankert and Litchfield, 1998). It should be no surprise that all three are near the top of their respective markets. Mental health namely diseases related to stress is another crucial aspect of optimal living and should be at the forefront of businesses’ health programs. Positive mental health can be a large contributor to people’s creative minds and elicit new innovations extremely beneficial to companies. Negative mental health has been shown to not only decrease creative ideas but also decrease overall productivity. In a study of 771 people, researchers discovered people suffering from even mild depressive symptoms saw a significant decline in work performance. Studies dictate that for every one-point increase on the depression scale employees experienced a 1.65% decrease in production (Beck, Crain, Solberg, Unutzer, Glasgow, Maciosek, and Whitebird, 2011). Most anti-depressants used to treat mild to severe depression are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s). This medication increases levels of serotonin, which is a “feel good” hormone in the body that creates a euphoric and happy effect. Exercise elicits a similar chemical reaction in the body by releasing serotonin as well as neurotransmitters called endorphins that chemically help people feel blissful, energetic, and focused. Embracing this holistic approach and increasing the exercise volume of employees will decrease depressive symptoms (and the negative side effects often associated with medications) and increase production. Implementing a comprehensive exercise program is a major contributor to optimal living. However often times, (as with sleep) exercise time can be scarce. Empowering employees with increased autonomy of personal schedules will help increase number of exercise bouts throughout the week. When employees have more control of their own schedule studies show they exercise more, which decreases stress and anxiety levels while improving cognition and self-image (Moen, Kelly, Tranby, Huang, 2011). Setting up corporate wellness partnerships with local health clubs for discounted memberships as well as group personal training rates will help optimize exercise time. Many employees sit for long periods of time, creating flexibility imbalances in their lower extremities and pelvic musculature that may cause chronic injuries over time. Poor posture, most often resulting in kyphosis and low back pain are among the known side effects of continuous deskwork. By taking a few minutes to actively move around employees can offset this potentially dangerous trend. Other benefits of exercise include decreases in: blood pressure, cholesterol, and cortisol, which is representative of stress and anxiety levels (Moen, Kelly, Tranby, Huang, 2011). Consistent exercise also elicits increases in energy and cognition levels which both directly help to improve overall productivity. Sedentary deskwork is often tedious and tiresome. Employees can increase blood flow to the brain and work more efficiently by taking periodic walk breaks or doing body weight squats by their desk. The opportunity to improve physical and mental health is a direct reflection of the fuel people put into their bodies. Studies continue to show a direct relationship between quality nutrition and increased levels of health as well as productivity. Employees suffering from hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes miss more days of work compared with those that don’t. The onset of obesity in addition to these diseases exponentially increases days missed as well as production lost (Katcher, Ferdowsian, Hoover, Cohen, and Barnard, 2010). People’s specific nutrient needs vary by genetics and daily habits; however, certain standards have been recognized as beneficial for the entire population. Some of these daily practices are: water consumption (ounces) equal to your body weight in kilograms, 25-40 grams of fiber, avoiding concentrated doses of sugar and processed foods, and eating as many vegetables as possible, with a minimum of four to five servings. A potential solution to enable companies to establish quality nutrition programs for employees is to hire a licensed nutrition coach. Employing a coach educated in current nutrition and lifestyle trends will ensure adequate intake of: vegetables and fruits, water, fiber, and lean proteins. This comprehensive nutrient profile will insure healthy blood glucose levels conducive to heightened cognitive ability, focus, as well as overall energy. Controlling blood sugar will also help keep cortisol levels consistent, which when out of balance contribute to fat storage in the body. Controlled blood glucose and cortisol levels also help to regulate employees’ daily energy and mood swings. This consistency improves employees’ productivity by assisting in increasing cognitive function and focus as well as enhanced problem-solving abilities. A study conducted by Katcher, Ferdowsian, Hoover, Cohen, and Barnard implemented some of these foundational concepts. The study analyzed 119 employees and put fifty-five percent of the sample on a vegan diet. While in the author’s opinion vegan diets are often low in optimal levels of protein and quality fats, they are proven to significantly increase the amounts of fiber and water in a person’s diet. Vegan diets are comprised of mainly, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts, most of which are generally high in both water content as well as fiber. The experimental (Vegan based diet) group results showed increases in social function, mental health, sleep quality, digestion/gut health, as well as overall production. Many of these benefited variables are expressed in the optimal living definition. By embracing quality nutrition, companies ensure quality internal health of their employees and a stable infrastructure overall. This inside-out stability will provide the company with the best opportunity for external growth and increased profits. As previously mentioned, people are spending more time at work every year. While increasing work time doesn’t necessarily equate to increased performance, it does provide a captive audience for program implementation, which simplifies finding groups to study. Seventy percent of diseases are preventable by practicing healthy life behaviors on a consistent basis (Michaels and Greene, 2013). These behaviors include monitoring and controlling stress levels, getting adequate rest, pursuing quality social relationships, regular exercise, as well as following a quality nutrition program. Worksite health promotion programs are in a unique position to embrace these preventative health care techniques to increase capital but more importantly prevent disease and ultimately save lives. By initiating defensive wellness strategies such as promoting exercise programs by supplying funds for gym memberships and rewards for consistent participation as well as providing healthy food options at meetings/conferences companies can put their employees’ health first. By increasing focus on work/life balance and accounting for adequate rest and social outlets facilitated through on-site meditation and yoga practices, companies can raise mental health awareness and prevent the onset of disease that would hinder production. Jim Collins, famed author of Good to Great is known for being a brilliant writer and often on the cutting edge of the best business trends in circulation. He was quoted challenging the old saying, “people are a companies most important asset.” Collins instead insists that not just people but, “the right people” are the key to make up a stable workforce that can provide an opportunity to enjoy ultimate success. Studies have identified what separates the “right/best” people and the former. Focusing resources on regular exercise, quality nutrition, adequate rest, censoring stress, and preserving quality social relationships will grow companies from the good to great threshold. Optimal living involves making lifestyle adaptions that will lead companies to increase their bottom line and become more productive than they ever imagined.


Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY US: Crown Business/Random House.
Bankert, E., & Litchfield, L. (1998). Business Week's work and family corporate ranking: An analysts of the data. Boston. The Center for Work & Family.

Beck, A., Crain, A., Solberg, L. I., Unützer, J., Glasgow, R. E., Maciosek, M. V., & Whitebird, R. (2011). Severity of Depression and Magnitude of Productivity Loss. Annals Of Family Medicine, 9(4), 305-311. doi:10.1370/afm.1260

Chopra, P. (2009). Mental health and the workplace: issues for developing countries. International Journal Of Mental Health Systems, 31-9. doi:10.1186/1752-4458-3-4

Dewa, C. S., Thompson, A. H., & Jacobs, P. (2011). The association of treatment of depressive episodes and work productivity. The Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry / La Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 56(12), 743-749.

El-Ghoroury, N., Galper, D. I., Sawaqdeh, A., & Bufka, L. F. (2012). Stress, coping, and barriers to wellness among psychology graduate students. Training And Education In Professional Psychology, 6(2), 122-134. doi:10.1037/a0028768

Hobson, C. J., Delunas, L., & Kesic, D. (2001). Compelling evidence of the need for corporate work/life balance initiatives: Results from a national survey of stressful life-events. Journal Of Employment Counseling, 38(1), 38-44.

Innstrand, S., Langballe, E., & Falkum, E. (2012). A longitudinal study of the relationship between work engagement and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Stress And Health: Journal Of The International Society For The Investigation Of Stress, 28(1), 1-10. doi:10.1002/smi.1395

Katcher, H., Ferdowsian, H., Hoover, V., Cohen, J., & Barnard, N. (2010). A worksite vegan nutrition program is well-accepted and improves health-related quality of life and work productivity. Annals Of Nutrition & Metabolism, 56(4), 245-252. doi:10.1159/000288281

Michaels, C., & Greene, A. (2013). Worksite wellness: Increasing adoption of workplace health promotion programs. Health Promotion Practice, 14(4), 473-479. doi:10.1177/1524839913480800

Moen, P., Kelly, E. L., Tranby, E., & Huang, Q. (2011). Changing work, changing health: Can real work-time flexibility promote health behaviors and well-being?. Journal Of Health And Social Behavior, 52(4), 404-429. doi:10.1177/0022146511418979

Riedel, J. E., Lynch, W., Baase, C., Hymel, P., & Peterson, K. W. (2001). The effect of disease prevention and health promotion on workplace productivity: A literature review. American Journal Of Health Promotion, 15(3), 167-191. doi:10.4278/0890-1171-15.3.167

Schwarz, U., & Hasson, H. (2011). Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels. Effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise. Journal Of Occupational And Environmental Medicine, 53(8), 838-844. doi:10.1097/JOM.0b013e31822589c2

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