You are not a soulless machine at work. Human Factors guru and Singhealth Wellness Council member, Dr Yin Shanqing, shares how you can rise up amidst your circumstance to create a workplace that is great for you and your work mates.

Are you tired of your boss telling you to find ikigai or purpose in your work? Is more yoga not your preferred solution to a stressful day? Do ‘resilience’ and ‘mindfulness’ sound like ‘suck it up’ or ‘deal with it’ to you? Fret not. Wellbeing at work is more than just finding ways to heal from the daily grind. Here are some proactive strategies which we all should start practising in order to build a satisfying, health-promoting working environment. 

1. Make your workplace safe and comfortable

Workplace safety and health (WSH) is more than just dealing with injuries acquired during work. It is also about ensuring you reduce the likelihood of being physically and psychologically harmed in the first place. Nobody should have to feel afraid every day, in fear of the abuse they need to endure. 

Start by recognizing where harm occurs. It could be a problematic chair, a dangerous equipment, a troublesome work space, or even a rude person. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away – if left untreated, it can manifest into something more sinister. If you have your own work space, make it comfortable for you to perform your tasks: adjust the chair, remove clutter, use task lighting. Develop and rehearse a response plan for dealing with difficult people, just like you would with a fire situation. This may include step-by-step instructions such as ‘pause and take a deep breath’, ‘objectively analyze the rudeness’ or ‘stay calm, don't join the drama club’. 

2. Communicate about the culture you hope for

Our working environment is more than just the space in which we operate. It is largely defined by the people whom we work with. Our workplace culture is thus the shared assumptions, beliefs, and values that all of us share. While these assumptions, beliefs, and values can be inferred, culture is only built when they are communicated and practiced. Otherwise it is not really a culture if, despite the announcement, some of us still endearingly address Chief Executive Officer Professor Kenneth Kwek as ‘CEO’ or ‘Prof’.

Our beliefs and values are as diverse as our colleagues. Establishing a team culture isn't a free-for-all to see whose values remain standing. Rather, share your work beliefs and ethics with your team members, respect one another's views, and collectively agree on what's important. And do this over lunch or tea breaks rather than during your team meetings. Because culture is best built and exemplified during casual interactions. This is why bosses have it harder - as they risk appearing overbearing - if they do reminders at a formal meeting. Hence, Kenneth gently and patiently reminds individuals during chats with the phrase, ‘Please call me Kenneth.’. Please call him Kenneth.

3. Initiate positive social interactions

Many return-to-office surveys repeatedly showed that people yearned for collaboration and interaction with their colleagues. Strong social connections facilitate effective teamwork and create a sense of belonging. In turn, employees enjoy coming to work and feel more productive during their time in office. In time, these bonds become encouraging friendships that help tide us through tough times, together.  

Why wait to be invited to the anti anti-social club when you can build a supportive social circle for yourself and your colleagues? Eating with your lunch kakis has always been a great way to bond. So has been interest groups and casual small talk. Even as an introvert, you can do simple acts of kindness, such as sharing your favourite tidbits.  

4. Promote your own health during work

Work should never feel like trading your health for a paycheck. Don't make all that money just to pay for the recuperation you need from the damage you endured at work. Instead, you can take deliberate steps to maintain and improve your health. Clock your steps or calorie count where possible. Choose healthier food choices more often. Practice deep breathing exercises in between patients. Exercise with your colleagues, which is also a great way to motivate yourself and promote positive social interactions. 

There’s more to wellbeing at the workplace besides work-life balance and corporate benefits. While we expect our organizations to create a safe, caring, and healthful workplace for all of us, we can continue to practise good strategies for our own wellbeing. Start making positive changes today. You get what you tolerate. 

About Dr Yin Shanqing
Commonly referred to by his initials, SQ, Dr Shanqing is Assistant Director, Human Factors & Systems Design, KKH, and serves as the resident human factors specialist within SGH and KKH. For over 13 years, he has applied human factors principles and methodologies to healthcare research, innovation, and quality improvement. He welcomes anyone to consult him on problems or projects that might require human factors insights.