In our last study we looked at an overview of the relationship of psychological skills in elite sport and business – specifically London’s financial services industry. Working in any of the major global financial centres such as London, Frankfurt, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai could be compared to the business equivalent of elite sport. Competition and standards are high in London’s financial services industry which is a reflection of traits of professional level sport.
As well as the mental demands of working in business, physical strains are commonplace in London’s financial services industry. Roles in banking, asset management, insurance as well as consulting, law and accounting (to name a few) often combine long hours, difficult duties and challenging targets. These roles, like many in elite sport, are often high pressure in nature.
Typically workers have an early start and commute by rail, tube, bus, bicycle or on foot. On top of the transport options the morning would usually involve walking to stations and offices, up and down stairs and generally expending energy from ball one. Combine this with a day at a computer, participating in meetings, talking on the phone, talking to colleagues and clients and you can get an indication as to how performance could be affected by energy consumption. Think about how exerted you typically feel after you get home from work, despite usually having been sat indoors for most of the day. Being in a good state of physical fitness is a nigh on guarantee to help cope with this toil – so the theory goes.
Workers in the City and Canary Wharf are frequently seen heading to the gym or out jogging before work, prior to heading home or even on their lunch break. A survey would likely reveal numerous reasons as to why individuals keep an exercise routine. Many people who are shedding unwanted post-Christmas baggage or getting in shape for beach season would be exercising but their performance at work can benefit from this, even if they are unaware. Perhaps going unnoticed are some sporting conventions than could have great use in the workplace.
Professional athletes are known for mixing individual fitness programmes with nutrition and consequently sports performance-related practises are becoming common in the business world.
One area that London, in particular, has rapidly grown in is the breakfast market. Amid the traditional cafes and sandwich shops offering traditional morning rolls and pastries a densely populated array of chains are serving meals more associated with professional sportsmen and women. Salmon, scrambled eggs and porridge are among the dishes likely to be on the menu for cyclists and footballers – slow release food which increases productivity during the morning. These dishes are now commonplace in London with fresh fruit, yoghurt, granola and nuts the choice for many over bacon and egg baps or even bowls of (sugary) cereal.
The ‘marginal gains’ that are a consequence of this type of sporting nutrition has been well highlighted and the British Olympic Cycling Team have been excellent demonstrators. Sir Chris Hoy is noted for his eating programme and how he was able to improve his performance and maintain high standards through gains achieved in eating the right things at the right time in the correct quantities. Exercise and diet are generally noted for their effects on the body itself and another area that is sometimes undervalued is sleep.
Sleep is a huge factor in performance and getting a good rest every night will prove invaluable in performance in the workplace. This is not just about getting the right amount of sleep either but the quality of sleep has importance. Team Sky were noted for having a strict routine in relation to the cyclists’ hotel rooms every night of a race or tour. A member of staff would travel ahead to that night’s destination and replace the hotel bedding with individually tailored sheets and mattresses. On top of this the air in the room would be conditioned to ensure that the athletes slept in as similar climate as possible every night – presumably to aid recovery and ensure maximum rest. Of course this is likely unpractical for workers but gives an indication as to how your next day’s performance could be improved by making simple changes to your evening routine.
Likewise in the morning it is important to make sure that getting up means getting up. While this seems like an obvious remark it is crucial to begin every day well and think of how easy it can be to lie in bed after your alarm goes off. England and Yorkshire legend Geoffrey Boycott provides an excellent analysis of his morning routine and how it bettered his performance in the TV series Brass Eye. Whereas he spent his working day facing deliveries this advice can apply if you have a day filled with meetings, calls and seminars – all of which are physically demanding.
Staying active helps to keep the body going and power naps are the most effective way to properly rest in short bursts. This technique is widely used by professional footballers, cricketers and cyclists. When the brain and body need to recover a coffee simply delays the body’s want and thus it is more effective to have 10-15 minutes of sleep than have energy drinks or even take caffeine tablets.
In the afternoon there is a tendency amongst workers to snack, perhaps a few biscuits with a cup of tea or a chocolate cookie and coffee. Again there are alternatives that can be beneficial in performance. Steve Bull (2006) talks about how dried fruit and nuts are a better alternative to chocolate bars, crisps and sweets, particularly when it comes to energy. Chocolate is great for an instant surge but fruit and nuts offer a slower release and can sustain for longer.
As a consequence of these developments, many companies in today’s economy are implementing measures to combine performance increase through nutrition. A notable example is General Electric’s Health Ahead programme which has been introduced to encourage GE’s employees as well as families to increase productivity through traits that can be put into practice during the (working) week.
The relationship between elite sport and business is a thought-provoking concept and one that will continue to be highlighted in daily working life. Changes in diet, sleeping habits or exercise routines all have effects on performance in the workplace and it will be interesting to follow progress in this area.
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ref - Dr. Steve Bull, The Game Plan: Your guide to mental toughness at work, 2006