Woman cooking



Promoting healthy eating in the workplace

02 December 2021

Many of us think carefully about what we eat outside of work, opting for eggs over pancakes for Sunday brunch but what about while we are at work. Does what we eat during the working day really matter that much? Turns out it does. Given that we spend more than half our waking week at work, most of us consume the majority of our calories during this time too. 

Most office-based employees have spent more than a year working from home where many of us have struggled with how and what we eat. Neuroscientific research by Allianz Partners showed that although we think we are eating well, in reality many of usreach for unhealthy snacks more than we would in the office. As many employees are in the process of transitioning back to the hybrid workplace, it is a great opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of how we fuel our bodies.
It does, more than most of us realise. The World Health Organisation reports good nutrition can raise productivity levels by 20%. Eating food high in fat, salt or sugar over a sustained period is likely to have a negative impact on absenteeism and overall employee wellbeing. This sort of poor nutrition is linked to serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and mental illness. Many employers are realising the importance of mental health in the workplace but physical health is important too.   

Everything in our body is connected, what we eat impacts the energy we have. Much of the food we eat is broken down into glucose when it enters our body. Glucose is the blood sugar that keeps us feeling alert and allows us to complete everyday tasks. 

Different foods produce different amounts of glucose. Sugar, for example, floods our body with energy for a short period resulting in a short burst of energy followed by a low when it is burned off. Useful if you need to finish a race but not so good for the kind of concentration needed at work. A healthy diet filled with whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables helps our body to regulate our glucose levels making it easier for us to concentrate for the sustained periods required to complete work tasks. 

Research shows that our diet not only impacts our weight, sense of wellbeing and increases our risk for a number of illnesses but also how productive we are at work. Eating a diet high in sugar and trans fats for a sustained period is likely to lead to weight gain and obesity. This in turn has been linked to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, where employees are not productive despite being at work. So, there are many benefits to encouraging everyone to eat well while at work.
Education: it’s good to begin a move towards healthier eating with some education. Arrange for a dietitian or nutrition expert in your country to speak to employees about the importance of eating well. Encourage employees to attend by providing a healthy breakfast or lunch. 
Set up a working group: successful change requires consultation, commitment, and consistency. Get buy-in from colleagues by setting up a healthy eating working group. Include colleagues at varying levels from each department and at least one member of the senior leadership team. This ensures the team has the authority needed to make real change.
Consultation: encourage members of the working group to ask their departments for ideas. Discuss them and implement as many as are feasible.
Communication: use all available communication channels to get the message across to employees. From notice boards to email signatures, the more touch points people see supporting a healthy eating message the more awareness it will raise. 

Provide a break area: your business doesn’t have to provide a full canteen service but work with facilities in your building to ensure employees have access to:

  • Kettle 
  • Fridge
  • Microwave
  • Crockery and utensils
  • Table and chairs 

To encourage use, this area needs to be kept clean and tidy by everyone who uses it. 

Healthy options: if catering is provided for a meeting or event ensure there are whole grain breads, salads and fruit as healthy options for employees.
Share healthy recipes: use comms channels to share healthy breakfast, lunch and snack recipes with colleagues. If you have an intranet, have a page dedicated to recipes that colleagues can add to. Download our  Feel Good Food e-book filled with wholesome recipes for a happy, healthy working week.
Fruit delivery: if you work in a larger office and have budget, arranging a regular fruit delivery is a great way to encourage colleagues to choose something healthy on their coffee break.
Vending machines: ensure vending machines contain water, low sugar cereal bars, nuts and baked snacks as healthy alternatives for the occasions colleagues are working late or need a snack.
Pot-luck lunch: encourage colleagues to try out some of the recipes by arranging a healthy eating pot luck lunch. If you are hybrid working, this is a great thing to do on a day where most people are in the office. It will also offer an opportunity to reconnect after a long period working from home.

Birthdays: if you work in a larger office, marking colleagues’ birthdays may mean there is cake in the office almost every day of the year! This can be challenging if you are trying to encourage healthier eating. Some alternative suggestions to mark birthdays include:

  • Watermelon/fruit cake
  • Sushi platter
  • Flowers
  • Tickets to the movies
  • Balloon bouquet
  • Protein bar tray bake

Encourage hydration: our bodies can confuse thirst with hunger causing us to reach for a snack instead of a water bottle. Encourage colleagues to drink more water by providing water bottles or herbal tea bags for employees who prefer something warm.

These are just some of the ways your business can encourage employees to eat better while at work. Has your business tried any of these options? Or has something else worked? Share your experience to the Allianz Care Facebook page.