Promoting a healthy diet in the workplace: a guide for employers

Ensuring you eat a balanced diet is not just important for supporting good health – it can also be a game-changer for performance in the workplace.

James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.

Date

07 May 2024

Updated

12 June 2024
4 min read
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Promoting a healthy diet in the workplace: a guide for employers
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Ensuring you eat a balanced diet is not just important for supporting good health – it can also be a game-changer for performance in the workplace. Prioritising nutritious, healthy foods can give the body and mind the best chance to excel at work, increasing energy levels, concentration and focus.

Here are a few ways healthy eating can improve your productivity at work:

Boosted energy

Eating a balanced mix of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables provides your body with the fuel it needs to maintain consistent energy levels. This is a great way to prevent a mid-day slump that can impact productivity.

Sharper focus

Certain foods, like those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can enhance cognitive abilities by helping to improve brain function. A diet including these foods can help boost focus and concentration throughout the day, which can be great for meetings or thought leadership.

Improved mood

A well-rounded diet supplies the body with essential vitamins and minerals, which play a crucial role in regulating mood. Stress and anxiety can be significantly reduced when the body has the fuel it needs to create neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

Reduced sick days

Making sure there are plenty of fruits and vegetables in the diet gives the immune system a boost, reducing the risk of falling sick and needing to take time off.

 

Eating a healthy diet: the facts

Data from NHS Digital (2020)  indicates that a significant proportion (63%) of adults in England are classified as overweight or obese – a trend that has alarming implications.

Each year, approximately 90,000 premature deaths are attributed to poor diet, which highlights the severity of the issue. Younger generations are also increasingly becoming obese at earlier ages and carrying this condition into adulthood, posing a growing concern for employers.

A recent study conducted by Ramona, a Mediterranean foods manufacturer, sheds light on the eating habits of UK workers. According to the 2021 Lunch & UK Workers Survey, avoidable work pressures and inflexible working hours are resulting in an average of two employees in every UK small business regularly skipping lunch.

Examining 133 companies in the UK, the survey aimed to understand the factors influencing employees’ unhealthy eating choices, and how employers can support healthier lifestyles. Results revealed that 6% of UK employees routinely skip lunch – a statistic representing 84,000 individuals in the NHS alone.

The study also identified avoidable work pressures as the primary factor influencing unhealthy eating choices, with nearly one-third of UK workers attributing their dietary decisions to unmanageable workloads. Inflexible working hours emerged as the second most common reason for unhealthy lunch habits, cited by 28% of respondents.

Recommendations urge companies to focus on supporting young employees, as 64% of those under 35 have developed unhealthy eating habits since returning to the office. Encouraging employees to dine away from their desks was deemed beneficial by 25% of respondents, while an equal percentage advocated for companies to promote taking full lunch breaks.


How can employers promote healthier eating in the workplace?

Promoting a healthy lifestyle in the workplace not only benefits employees’ well-being, but also helps to improve productivity and foster a positive office culture. Employers can and should motivate workers to make healthier choices when it comes to their diet. Here are some of the strategies employers can implement to do this and to promote a healthier lifestyle.

Education programmes

Arrange workshops or webinars focusing on nutrition, healthy eating habits and the significance of a balanced diet, and how this can help workers to focus during the day. Providing employees with knowledge about the advantages of healthy eating puts the power in their hands to make informed decisions.

Give employees access to healthy food

Ensure the workplace offers a diverse selection of nutritious food choices in cafeterias or coffee shops if you have them, as well as vending machines and snack bars. Offer workers fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins on your company menu.

Offer free healthy meals

Provide subsidised or complimentary healthy meals to employees as part of their salary and benefits package. This could encourage employees to opt for nutritious options over unhealthy fast food.

Nutritional counselling

Offer access to nutritionists or dietitians who can provide personalised advice and support to employees who may have the goal of improving their eating habits.

Healthy eating challenges

Organise friendly competitions or challenges focused on healthy eating habits, such as tracking fruit and vegetable consumption, increasing water intake, or reducing sugar intake. Offering a financial incentive or prize can encourage participation.

Flexible break times

Offer workers flexible break times or longer breaks during the day so they can eat slowly and mindfully without feeling a need to rush. If a worker has more time to prepare healthy food, they’re less likely to reach for unhealthy options.

Provide healthy snacks

If you have a snack station in your office, make sure this is stocked with healthy snacks like nuts, seeds, yoghurt and fruit. Limiting the availability of sugary and high-calorie snacks can help guide employees towards healthier eating habits.

Lead by example

If you’re encouraging others to be healthy in your workplace, practice what you preach. Encourage managers and executives to demonstrate healthy eating and advocate for wellness initiatives throughout the organisation. Foster a culture that prioritises health and well-being. Encourage peer support and establish platforms where employees can communicate with each other about healthy lifestyle choices.

 

Promoting healthy eating challenges in the workplace

A workplace healthy eating challenge is a fun challenge aimed at encouraging employees to adopt healthier eating habits and make better food choices. These challenges typically involve setting specific nutritional goals – like cutting back on sugar or eating more fruit.

Participants may begin by setting individual goals related to their dietary habits. These goals could include increasing fruit and vegetable intake, staying hydrated, or preparing healthier meals. Those who take part can track their progress using tools like food journals, mobile apps or online platforms. They can also be divided into teams to foster a sense of teamwork and friendly competition. Teams can earn points or rewards for achieving milestones or demonstrating healthy behaviours.

At the end of a healthy eating challenge, participants can reflect on their experiences and share their achievements with others. Employers can also gather valuable feedback through surveys or focus groups to assess the effectiveness of the programme and how it can better support healthier eating at work.

It’s also worth mentioning that some health challenges, especially those linked to weight loss, are usually unsuitable for the work environment, as they may be triggering for people who have conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Food challenges, or the feeling of being unable to take part in them (or having to take part in them), can cause feelings of inadequacy, guilt and obsession with body image, which can impact mental health. Healthy eating challenges may promote unhealthy dieting practices.

To avoid this, focus instead on wellness programs that prioritise feeling good and eating healthier for mental and emotional health, without emphasis on weight or appearance. This will help members of staff who may have eating disorders.

 
We can advise on how to create a healthier workplace

Our team of professionals at Neathouse Partners can advise on actions and initiatives you can take to create a healthier and more productive workforce. We can also ensure compliance with health and safety legislation.

Call us on 0333 041 1094 today, or use our contact form.

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