By Nicole Hrechka and Callie Woodley, Wellness Works Canada
Employee well-being has always been important, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, employee health and wellness is relevant now more than ever. Mental health initiatives, emphasis on physical health, and better work-life integration are all top of mind for employers. The last year has made us all realize how important employee well-being is, and in turn, has allowed us to recognize how much of an impact it has on organizational productivity and performance. When employees are supported in the workplace to feel their best physically and mentally then they can perform their best in all aspects of their lives. However, one piece of the puzzle that is rarely talked about is the importance of nutrition in the workplace. Nutrition in the workplace has been found to heavily influence both employee well-being and organizational productivity and performance. Here’s how.
Healthy eating improves employee productivity. Good, nutritious food provides people with vitamins and nutrients that the human brain needs to function properly. When our brains are fueled properly this helps to increase cognitive function, concentration, energy, mood, and self-esteem. This in turn creates happier and, generally, more productive employees. Because organizational success typically relies on the productivity and performance of its employees, proper nutrition that fuels employee bodies and brains is crucial. When employees are eating nutritiously, physical and mental well-being are enhanced, which can reduce absenteeism, thus increasing overall organization-wide productivity.
Providing healthy options in the workplace will lower your organization’s costs. Better nutrition can lead to a reduction in the likeliness of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer. A large portion of corporate healthcare expenses are chronic disease related, with many of these chronic diseases being diet related (or partially preventable through diet). According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through life habits, such as a proper and balanced diet. Investing and supporting employee’s nutrition increases the health of employees and the overall organization, while at the same time helping to reduce costs in the long run. Chronic diseases that stem from poor nutrition can lead to absenteeism in addition to productivity losses in the form of functional limitation. Healthy food options should be provided at the workplace! This will save employees the time searching for affordable, fast and nutritious lunches. Healthy foods that should be made accessible in the workplace include: fruits, vegetables, yogurt, granola and protein bars, and oatmeal.
How does the workplace influence nutrition? Now that we understand the benefits of healthy eating in the workplace, we have to recognize just how big of a role the workplace can play in fostering eating habits (whether good or bad). For many, work can be a stressor and can be physically and mentally draining due to unpredictable or demanding schedules. On top of this, the workplace is filled with other people and a culture that may or may not value healthy eating which influences the food choices being made. Think about how many times you’ve been to a meeting and the snack provided is donuts. Now think about how many times you’ve been to a meeting and the snack provided is vegetables or protein bars. Our guess is that more often than not we see more donuts pop up at our meetings rather than vegetables. However there are steps that we can take to help support and encourage healthier eating habits in your employees. Here are a few tips from AHS to better support good employee nutrition in your organization.
Make sure healthy snacks are available. Ditch the candy bars in the vending machine and stock it with snacks that are lower in salt, sodium, and fat such as granola bars or protein bars. Also try providing more options such as fruits, vegetables, granola bars, yogurt, and protein bars at meetings or workplace gatherings.
Ensure physical spaces promote healthy eating. Examples of this include providing plenty of seating, cooking appliances, refrigerators, microwaves, etc. In addition, ensuring that there is equipment to store and prepare food at work can encourage healthy habits.
Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk! Lead by example and practice healthy eating habits to encourage your employees to do the same.
Educate employees. Provide training on the importance of healthy eating and empower employees to improve their health at work and at home.
Schedule meetings outside of meal times. This ensures employees have the time to cook and prepare healthier meal options.
Create a healthy eating policy. Creating a policy around healthy eating ensures that nutrition becomes embedded within your organization's culture and that meetings and events have healthy options available. Take the time to celebrate healthy eating successes in the workplace!
Need support with creating a policy? Check out these local eat smart, meet smart guidelines. If we've missed one let us know and we will add it!
About the Authors
Callie Woodley: Callie is currently a Sports and Recreation Management student at the University of Alberta, completing her internship as the Social Media Lead with Wellness Works Canada. She is also in the process of obtaining her Social Media Certificate from the University of Alberta. Her undergraduate studies have given her the opportunity to explore many different fields, and through her internship with Wellness Works Canada she has developed a new strong passion for promoting healthy work cultures that value and support their employees.
Nicole is in her fourth year of the Bachelor of Kinesiology program at the University of Alberta. Prior to starting this program, she completed a Diploma in Business Administration with a specialization in Marketing from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Through her internship with Wellness Works Canada, she has developed a passion for workplace health and wellness advocacy. Outside of work and school, Nicole enjoys playing recreational sports, fitness and playing with her dog Gracie!