Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How to encourage healthy eating habits in the workplace

Healthy eating has a massive impact on employees in the workplace. A healthy, balanced diet reduces staff fatigue, improves productivity, and keeps employees fit and well.

Consequently, it’s important that employers encourage healthy eating habits in the workplace. Read on for a few ideas you can implement to build healthy dietary habits in your employees today.

Provide longer lunch breaks for eating, not working

By law, employers must allow at least 20 minutes uninterrupted break for staff working more than six hours a day. For workers aged below 18, this extends to 30 minutes when employees work more than four and a half hours per day.

For whatever reason, not all workers bring their lunch to work. Consequently, a shorter lunch break might mean time-strapped employees will seek quick but unhealthy options such as ready meals, fast food, or pre-packaged sandwiches.

While lunch break duration is ultimately at the employer’s discretion, providing employees with at least an hour for lunch gives them plenty of time to prepare and eat healthier choices. Longer breaks also encourage employees to get outside and stretch their legs, giving them a quick but valuable break away from their desk.

Similarly, discourage people from working through their lunch. Desktop dining is fraught with issues, encouraging unhealthy snacking and even food-shaming. If you are able to provide a sufficient eating area, do so.

Create accessible and factual guidance

There’s a lot of untruths and misconceptions around healthy eating and safe weight loss out there. This guide by the Independent Pharmacy provides good examples of how common weight loss myths (such as the alleged benefits of fasting) can actually do more harm than good.

As an employer, it’s important to provide understandable, fact-based guidance with practical advice on how staff can make changes to their diet and lifestyle. Create healthy eating guides that provide genuine and actionable tips your employees can use. Publish them on your company intranet or make copies available in a shared space for easy access.

Make healthy food readily available

Many businesses offer onsite catering facilities: canteens, subsidised cafes, and the like. These can either by problem areas for providing affordable and convenient junk food — or an opportunity to encourage healthy eating habits in your employees.

Highlight low-calorie options in your onsite canteen, making clear the calorific content of each choice. It’s also worth subsidising low-calorie options to further entice employees into making healthy choices.

And even if you don’t provide onsite food, you might have vending machines that offer crisps and chocolate. Consider removing them or alternatively switching to healthier vending machine options instead.

Transform your office design and processes

Sitting at a desk all day is a significant contributor to employee fatigue and unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, office workers are at higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain.

But changing your office design can help combat this. More than simply a fad, sit-stand workstations are proven to improve employee health and boost productivity. While the initial cost of installing these adjustable desks can be high, the benefits in terms of output far outweigh the costs.

Consider changing how you have meetings too. Rather than sitting around a table, encourage employees to stand instead. Walking meetings are another good idea. The combination of fresh air and gentle exercise boost concentration and creativity, as well as providing a welcome break away from your desk.

Lean on experts for personalised nutrition advice

As well as print or digital resources, why not invite diet and nutrition professionals into the workplace? A half-hour seminar on personal nutrition is an effective way to deliver office-specific health and diet advice.

Alternatively, you could provide each employee with a one-on-one consultation with a nutritionist. This gives staff a space to ask questions they might otherwise be reluctant to ask on a public forum, as well as providing personalised advice tailored to each employee’s situation.

Put your employees at the centre of your initiatives

Before implementing any health and wellness initiative in the workplace, it’s worth consulting with your staff directly beforehand. Even if the best intentions can fall short if they don’t meet your employees’ specific needs.

For instance, while a subsidised cafe with healthy options is a good idea in theory, if most of your employees bring their lunch from home then it might not be well received.

Hold an open meeting to discuss your prospective healthy eating initiatives with employees. Encourage them to offer their opinions on your plans, or even provide alternatives to consider. Accompany this with an anonymous survey to cater for staff members less willing to speak up.

No two workplaces are the same. First and foremost, your healthy eating plan should be tailored to your employees.

Don’t tell — nudge

When you’re encouraging healthy eating habits in the workplace, it’s important not to patronise your employees. Rather than dictating what they should or shouldn’t eat, instead simply nudge people in the right direction.

For instance, rather than removing unhealthy food options from the office altogether, offer healthier alternatives alongside them. As an example, if you provide pastries at meetings, offer carrot sticks, houmous, oatcakes, and so on.

Strict enforcement of healthy eating initiatives are draconian and feels condescending to employees. Nudging rather than dictating will encourage staff to eat healthier naturally.

While it’s important for employers to encourage healthy eating habits in their employees, there’s only so much you can do. But the ideas above all serve as a great starting point to build positive nutritional habits in the workplace.