19/02/2020

Eating Right Matters

Healthy employees are an asset, and one of the key methods of ensuring that they stay healthy is by making sure that they eat right. As of right now, numerous studies have shown that having a more balanced diet can help reduce the risk of:

  1. Coronary heart disease
  2. Type 2 diabetes
  3. Hypertension or High blood pressure
  4. Hyperlipidemia or High blood lipid levels
  5. Obesity

Healthy eating can also change our mood, energy levels and mental health for the better, more than what most people would think. In fact, nutritional psychiatry is on the rise, with research linking food with brain health1.

As an employer, you are in a position where you can strategically and positively influence the eating habits of your employees, which in turn boosts their physical and mental health, as well as their work performance. The hormone ghrelin, for instance, is released when we get hungry, and goes on to impact impulsivity and decision-making capabilities (more on this below)2.

When it comes to making changes, it is important to consider the different options that are available to you. Beyond implementing company policies, changes can be made in the form of creating supportive workplace environments or providing more opportunities for your employees to make healthier food choices. When healthy options are deemed too inconvenient or difficult, people lack the motivation or time to go out of their way to find better alternatives. By making it easier for them to access cheap, healthy food, we are also taking the quick and often unhealthy options out of the equation, or at least making it less likely for people to give in to temptation. With that said, here are 4 ways to get you started.

1. Pantry Equipment

pantry-equipment

Surroundings that foster and promote healthy eating are crucial in encouraging employees to adopt healthier habits. An easy way to do so is by making sure that your company’s pantry is equipped with the necessary appliances. For a start, consider having sufficient refrigerators and microwaves at work so that your employees will be able to bring, store and prepare their healthy, homemade lunches with ease. The opposite also holds true, with messy, crowded refrigerators being one of the reasons why people avoid bringing in prepared meals. Further investing in better equipment and crockery can also encourage employees to branch out and start preparing quick healthy meals, like oatmeal, salads and sandwiches. In other words, upgrading your company’s pantry can be one of the easiest ways to increase access to cheap, healthy foods.

2. Pantry Food Options

pantry-food

Naturally, having a well-stocked pantry goes hand in hand with a well-equipped one. It is no surprise that snacks are the number one source of temptation when we are faced with a bad case of munchies. In times like these, we resort to eating whatever that is available to us within our premises. And if all we have access to is junk food, that could spell trouble for our health in the long run.

Stocking the pantry with the right food options is one way of making healthier alternatives more readily available in the office. This way, when the time comes, employees can deal with hunger pangs in a manner that is both nutritious and desirable. It can even be a huge plus in preventing them from overeating during meals. Likewise, if your company has vending machines, a similar solution would be to replace its products with healthier alternatives.

As a general rule of thumb, food and drinks with Singapore’s Healthier Choice Symbol are a good indication of some of the healthier options out there. The following are some of our top picks:

  • Trail mix
  • Low-fat yoghurt
  • Dark chocolate
  • Granola bars
  • Wholegrain bread and crackers
  • Edible seeds (E.g. sunflower, chia, pumpkin seeds)
  • Nuts (E.g. almonds, walnuts, pistachios)
  • Fresh fruits (E.g. berries, apples, bananas)
  • Veggie sticks (E.g. celery, carrot, cucumber)

Learning to snack smarter constitutes a considerable part of the healthy-eating journey, and can ultimately help set the tone for your employees’ eating habits in the long run.

3. Daily Meals

daily-meals

For the average working adult, lunch is a daily conundrum - where to go, what to eat, and so on. Being faced with the paradox of choice can mean that your employees are experiencing more stress and indecisiveness when it comes to making food choices. However, this also means that you have a greater capability to influence one-third of their daily meals for 5 days a week.

One way of approaching this is to shift the excess of information to your advantage. Consider selecting and posting a list of nearby shops that offer balanced food menus, dietary options, and dietary information such as calories per portion. This way you can filter out specific, desired information to make healthier options more prominent, and therefore easier to opt for. If you have the budget to do so, consider also providing subsidies for food options, such as by offering discounts or company-specific meal plans to further incentivise healthy eating.

In the event that your company has an on-site cafeteria, you can swing things in your favour by liaising with caterers to include healthier alternatives. Be sure to also bring in a range of healthier options whenever food and/or beverages are offered at meetings or company events as well.

4. Lunch Duration

lunch-duration

Our last tip does not concern what your employees eat for lunch, but rather how they take it. Creating a work culture where employees are encouraged to take the full length of their designated lunch duration is something that is often overlooked, even though the importance of doing so is undeniable. Typically, having a proper lunch provides us with the perfect opportunity to:

  • Experience a change of environment, which helps boost creativity, innovation and productivity3
  • Stop sitting all day - humans are not meant to do so, and sitting constantly for extended periods of time can lead to health problems in the long run4
  • Meet our innate human need to socialise and network, which also helps to foster more positive employee relationships

A shorter lunch break might mean that time-strapped employees will seek out quick but unhealthy options to eat at their desks, such as ready meals, fast food, or processed, pre-packaged food. In extreme cases, they may even skip lunch altogether. Doing so can only exacerbate the negative effects it has on individual health and productivity, as it works in direct opposition to the positive aspects mentioned earlier5.

While the lunch duration is ultimately up to your discretion, providing employees with at least an hour for lunch can give them plenty of time to get out of their workspace in search of healthier lunch options while also getting in some exercise all at the same time.

Over to you

Upon embarking on this journey to help you and your employees eat better, consider starting slow and nudging them in the right direction instead of dictating choices. For instance, simply providing a selection of healthier options alongside the unhealthy ones can prove to be more effective than drastically cutting out unhealthy food and drinks right from the get-go. While such subtle changes may not have immediate effects on your employees’ eating habits, the side-by-side comparisons will certainly make them think twice, and allow them to make more informed decisions in the long run. Eventually, the benefits of eating better will also help you meet bigger goals of having a healthier workforce as well as improved company productivity.

At the end of the day, each workplace is unique, and the changes effective for each will differ depending on your company’s needs. Remember, we work how we eat, and change starts from the top.

 

Sources:

1Selhub, E. (2015). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Blog.
2Stahl, A. (2019). 3 Ways Your Diet Impacts Work Performance. Forbes.
3NPR. (2015). We're Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That's Bad For Business. NPR.
4Harvard Publishing. The dangers of sitting. Harvard Health.
5Holub, A. (2017). Why you should never eat at your desk again. Business Insider.

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