Nutrition affects your employees more than you might think.
Poor food choices lead to sluggishness, fatigue, poor memory and concentration and less effective employees.
As well as that sick days for conditions that can be impacted by the food we eat cost your business money. It’s estimated between 10-20% of the population have IBS and £3bn is lost to sick leave related to IBS each year.
Supporting your employees to be healthier should be a workplace wide effort throughout the year and integral to the culture. Full time employees spend more time at work than they do at home, having at least one meal a day at their workplace.
Depending on budget and desire for change there are a range of measures you can take towards healthier nutrition at work as well as providing long-term benefits for the employee and the business, including:
· Focusing on culture change across the organisation.
· Ensuring food provided at work is healthy and balanced.
· Educating your staff about nutrition.
· Creating space to eat healthily (both physical space and time in the day).
· Supporting them with common dietary associated issues like weight loss, diabetes or fitness.
Creating a healthy culture of work/life balance can be tricky, but sometimes leading by example, and getting managers and leaders to take the initiative helps.
Most workplaces have a tradition of bringing in cakes, sweets, or chocolates for special occasions. As a caring employer, you don’t need to ban these customs, but it might be worth finding someone to lead a new way to bring in healthier options like energy balls, popcorn or vegetable sticks.
If people stay late in your offices to work, encourage them to get outside. We know that walking can make you more creative. In one study people were 60% more creative after a 30 minute walk. Encourage people to get outside in all weathers during the day.
Stress at Work:
When we eat mindlessly in front of a computer, or whilst talking in a meeting, it is more likely our body is in a state of ‘fight or flight’. When we’re in this stressed state our body doesn’t prioritise digestion. This means stomach acid, production of digestive enzymes, and gastric motility is reduced. This can lead to bloating, fermentation in the gut, and poor digestion which may exacerbate any IBS symptoms.
Managing stress levels at work can help people make healthier food choices. This may support other ongoing health conditions. When we’re stressed we tend to experience broken sleep, and then reach for the sweet treats to provide energy. Poor food choices focusing on simple-carbohydrates and quick energy sources dramatically impacts your blood sugar levels resulting in further stress on the body. Stress also contributes to common employee sickness issues such as anxiety, IBS and back pain.
Healthier food choices:
Making healthy food available at work will support staff members who prefer to buy food or need to grab something quickly at work. Your canteens/vending machines don’t have to be full of cheese sandwiches and chips.
Some ideas to support healthier food at work include:
· Opt for modern vending machines that can offer low sugar popcorn, seeds and nuts, protein bars, water and healthier crisps like vegetable crisps.
· Offer free fruit to your employees. Doing this on even one day a week would help to promote a healthier alternative to chocolate bars.
· Offer herbal teas alongside the tea and coffee options in the kitchen or staff room to help reduce caffeine use.
· Offer fridges and microwaves in the kitchen to allow people to bring in food from home. It’s cheaper for employees to bring in left-overs from last night and often healthier than what’s available from the local cafes.
· Provide nutritional information on food made onsite. You could ask your caterers what options they have to support healthy choices at work. Often, only pre-packaged food has nutritional information provided.
· Complete a nutritional audit of your food options looking at proportions of fresh food available, and the content of salt, fat and sugars available across all the foods on site.
It can be hard to strike the balance between providing support and being seen as ‘nannying’ your teams. Bringing in qualified nutritional experts can ensure you’re giving correct information, and educating in the optimal way. Other suggestions include:
· Create monthly themes for eating well at work throughout the year and give ideas for healthy foods that support the themes.
· Offer nutrition ‘lunch and learn’ sessions by bringing in qualitied nutrition experts to talk about key hot topics such as gut health, diabetes, high blood pressure, weight loss, nutrition for stress or nutrition for mental health.
· Create healthy snack and meal ideas that employees can try. Place these recipes in your kitchens or canteens. Some nutritionists will create a pack of recipes for your staff to try at home.
· Offer subsidised nutrition consultations with a nutritionist to provide targeted support for individuals.
· Create a physical space to eat lunch in the office where your staff feel welcome and comfortable so they choose to get away from their desk
Healthier and happier workplaces benefit not only the employees but the business as a whole.