According to research conducted by the Center for Disease Control, the effects of obesity and poor health cost U.S. companies more than $225 billion per year in lost productivity. Many businesses are at a loss for how to take action. With most wellness programs, attribution is at best murky, and at worst programs can be invasive and overbearing, with negligible results.
While nothing is wrong with enjoying the occasional indulgent snack, making a habit of it can have deleterious effects on employee quality of life, productivity, and even morale. Employers need low-cost methods of encouraging healthy behavior, and those that do it well enjoy dramatic long-term business advantages.
“Improving the health and well-being of our employees… offers a ‘win-win’ all around,” said Steve Flanagan, Chief Executive at The Fremantle Trust. “Employees benefit from better support for their health. Companies benefit from less absence and improved productivity. And society benefits from improved public health.”
In other words, employee health is a big deal and has far-reaching effects. First, let’s take a look at how the quality of your employees’ diets can affect their lives and your company’s success. Then, we’ll cover about how you can help them make healthy choices at the office, where they spend the bulk of their waking hours.
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The Effect of Food Choice on Your Employees
Everyone knows eating healthy food is, well, healthy. But many people would be surprised just how much difference a healthy diet can make. Here are just a few ways food choices can impact your employees and company.
- Poor diet leads to increased absences: It makes perfect sense: if employees don’t eat well, they’ll be more likely to get sick and skip work, which not only means sick, unhappy employees but also means loss of money and productivity. One study reported that employees with poor nutritional habits reported 21% more absences related to illness than 11% less productivity than their healthier counterparts.
- Diet affects brain function and focus: Even if employees are healthy and working in the office, their food choices still affect the workplace. When employees are hungry or eating poorly, they tend to get distracted more easily. This makes them less able to focus, less productive, and even grumpy.Research shows that food choices actually affect brain function. For example, a 2011 study published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews discussed the “glucose memory facilitation effect,” which posits that maintaining an even glucose level fuels the brain and improves memory. If you create opportunities for your employees to eat snacks including fruits, vegetables, antioxidants, and essential fats, you’ll be helping them maintain proper glucose levels. Later in this article, we will suggest healthy snacks to keep in the office.
- The Afternoon Slump: We’ve all experienced this. Sometime between 1 and 3 p.m., sometimes you begin to feel sluggish and sleepy; your vision might blur; you might have trouble concentrating; you might even feel moody; you might get a headache or stomach ache. Most people will head to the kitchen to get coffee assuming they just need some caffeine. However, the afternoon slump is often caused by dehydration, skipping meals, eating too many carbs, and eating too much sugar. To help combat this issue, make sure you offer easily accessible water and healthy snacks for employees. That way it’s easy for them to stay hydrated and choose a suitable afternoon snack to keep them happy and productive.
How to Help Your Employees Eat Healthily
While you may not be able to follow your employees home and make sure they all eat nutritious dinners, research shows that workplace interventions involving education or changes in the environment can significantly influence employee eating habits. Here are a few ideas to champion healthy eating habits in the office.
- Host healthy potlucks: Try a (100% optional) monthly or quarterly potluck to encourage people to eat a healthy, home-cooked lunch. Employees will have the opportunity to both enjoy a good meal and fellowship with one another, strengthening friendships and meeting people they don’t usually interact with. Establish rules about cleanup beforehand to avoid a mess of dishes and garbage.
- Lead by example: Whether you realize it or not, you set an example for your team in both the way you work and the way you live your life. Are you presenting a model of a good lifestyle that people can follow? Eat breakfast. Don’t skip lunch. Eat healthy snacks. They might just follow suit.
- Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy snacks: This is very obvious, but people can only eat the food that is available to them. Of course, your employees are free to bring whatever they want from home, but you can do your part to offer healthy solutions by stocking the office with healthy snacks. See the next section for some ideas of what to bring in.
- Order a snack box: If you don’t have the time or wherewithal to go out and buy (or have someone else go out and buy) healthy snacks for the office, you can also order a snack box that comes full of a variety of options for your employees to enjoy. Snack Nation provides 150 single-serve snacks, and delivery is free. Nature Box offers unlimited snacks for a fixed price per employee.
Low-Cost, Healthy Office Snacks
If you decide to lead the charge for healthy living by stocking your office kitchen and pantry with healthy snack options for your employees, you have a lot of options! Here are just a few ideas:
- Fruit: Fruit can help keep your blood sugar at a healthy level so you don’t have to resort to more unhealthy sugary snacks like candy bars. This is also a good choice because many fruits don’t require preparation (for example, pineapples need to be cut, but apples are just grab-and-go) and can sit for several days without going bad. Good fruit choices include apples, pears, bananas, oranges, and clementines.
- Yogurt: If you have an office fridge, you can store a variety of yogurt options for your employees’ enjoyment. Yogurt, considered a superfood, is full of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. It’s good for digestion, bone density, the immune system, and blood pressure. Avoid yogurts with significant amounts of added sugar.
- Protein bars: These make great afternoon snacks to tide you over until dinner, and they can usually stay in the cabinets for several weeks before going stale. Here are some brands to try: Health Warrior Chia Protein Bar, Junobar, Zing Nutrition Bar, and Balance.
- Vegetables and hummus: You can buy pre-cut carrots sticks, celery sticks, and even bell pepper slices and combine them with hummus. Sometimes people eat vegetables with cream-based dip, which makes the snack less healthy. Hummus is made of chickpeas and is much healthier than other vegetable dips.
- Trail mix: You can buy this in bulk or get it in individual portions for easy distribution. Trail mix might include dried fruit, various nuts, seeds, and even mini chocolate chips.
- Healthy drinks: Unhealthy snacking isn’t the only problem: the stresses of the office might tempt employees to grab a can of soda in the afternoon, especially if they don’t have other choices. Besides ensuring employees have easy access to water, consider also including other beverage options like lemonade, iced tea, fruit juice, or sugarless carbonated choices like Ice.
Serving up Success at the Office
Now that you know how food can affect your employees, how you can help them make positive choices, and what you can bring into the office for healthy snack choices, it’s time to implement some of these ideas into your workplace. Before you start budgeting to provide your employees with 15 meals per week, take a deep breath. Small changes can make a big difference! Maybe start by bringing in a fruit basket on Mondays and planning a potluck for next month. Little by little, you can make a difference in your employees’ well-being and your company’s success.