When we think of health and safety in the workplace, we might think of workstation assessments to prevent bad posture, or heavy lifting training to avoid injury, but have you thought about what sort of access your employees have to healthy food?
What we eat certainly also has a place in a healthy workplace, especially considering the World Health Organization (WHO) finding that demonstrates the potential of optimal nourishment to raise productivity levels by 20%. Being able to sustain focus, concentration and energy levels requires nourishment beyond coffee and biscuits! Whether your employees are commuting into the office, working out on the road or are choosing what to pick up at lunchtime nearby, the office culture can play a big part in individual food choices.
Office culture counts
Do your staff bring in cakes and sweets for birthdays and on return from holidays? Do you provide an endless supply of biscuits in the tea room? Are you serving up sandwiches or pizza for lunch meetings? Does your workplace mark social events by going to the pub?
The culture around food is not an area that employers have traditionally given much thought to, but thankfully that is now changing. This is a positive step that needs to be taken if we are to avoid our workplaces unwittingly contributing to rising levels of obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes; never mind staff not functioning at their best.
In a recent article featured in The Times Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency, warned that “cake in the office should be viewed like passive smoking", somewhat controversially highlighting the connection between food and health. Whilst some would argue this is impinging on individual choice, the evidence suggests that it’s much harder to stick to a healthy eating pattern when we are surrounded by a culture that encourages us in the opposite direction.
It may sound like hyperbole, but what you eat really does have a huge impact on how you function throughout the day.
For instance, what we have for breakfast can either set us up well for a focused and motivated day, or it can promote poorer eating habits through unstable blood sugar, insufficient protein and unhealthy fats. Unfortunately, many of us fail to get a good dose of nutrients at breakfast-time. Some may not feel hungry first thing in the morning, eat on-the-go, or rely on caffeine until lunchtime; and typical choices of cereal and cereal bars can be full of hidden sugars even when marketed as ‘healthy’.
Indigestion and heartburn are common, and unfortunately eating on-the-go hugely contributes to these symptoms. Do your staff members have options for breaks to avoid eating at their desk? Are there enough storage, fridge and microwave facilities for staff to bring in their own food?
What are the lunch options nearby? Are there any options beyond a sandwich meal deal or fast food? Are there catering facilities on site? If so, when was the menu last reviewed for nutritional content? Are there options for healthy food provision for staff to try new foods, or would they know what healthy options on-the-go are? These are all incredibly important questions to ask as an employer.
Carving out time to eat
We might feel more productive working through our lunch break, but taking adequate breaks is essential for productivity, and engaging with our food through our five senses is essential for long term health. Do you encourage staff to take their lunch breaks or is their workload preventing this?
Your employees eating habits outside of working hours are also important. If members of your workforce are going home to the ‘Just Eat’ app, ordering take-out or stopping off for ready meals because they’re too exhausted to cook, there is a good chance that their bodies and brains are lacking in vital nutrients or being impacted by hidden fats and sugars. Is there a wider conversation around health happening in your workplace, beyond what the legislation accounts for?
Employees are hungry (pun intended!) for information around how to prevent poor health and improve their quality of life. Plus, healthy employees are happier, calmer, more engaged, better rested and get sick less often! So increasing the awareness, education and variety of options in your workplace, when it comes to healthy eating, really works in everyone’s best interests.
If you’d like to have a conversation about how to introduce healthy eating strategies in your workplace, Vagus Wellbeing can help. Get in touch here.