How companies can use nutrition to improve employee benefits

The average British adult consumes a third of their daily calories at work. Although employers rank ‘improving employee wellness’ as a top priority, only 183 companies in the UK have signed up to the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal.

So, how can businesses support employees in making good nutritional choices to improve workplace health and wellbeing?

Use technology to improve nutrition and fitness

Companies are increasingly moving towards technology innovations to modernise benefits and promote healthy lifestyles. It is estimated by 2021, more than 500m wearable devices will be given out by businesses to boost employee health.

Many studies have shown technology, such as fitness trackers, can be a great way to promote healthier employee decisions. Increased activity through additional steps, networking and healthy lifestyle nudges means these tools are a constant reminder to ‘stay on the right track’. Businesses can even create a competitive element, giving employees points they can redeem for incentives.

However, it’s important to invest in platforms that allow all employees to upload and share fitness updates to integrate with wearables they already have. This means everyone can be included in ongoing health programmes and employers won’t have to spend additional budget putting everyone on the same device.

Promoting the use of healthy eating apps can also provide employees with additional information on nutrition, which is easily accessible. Google Play and iTunes are brimming with apps that can help employees eat better or work around food allergies.

Provide free or subsidised healthy food

One of the biggest clichés in business is there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But this is fast becoming false in many workplaces. Google is rumoured to have a 150-feet rule, stipulating no worker is further than this from a food outlet. It’s something most would love, rather than having to spend hundreds a year on sandwiches. But what do businesses get in return?

Free or subsidised healthy food improves morale and being well-fed and watered provokes a sense of wellbeing. Free lunches can also have a more direct impact on employee productivity. Instead of leaving work and becoming stressed waiting in line for ‘fast’ food, your employees can access lunch internally and continue to chat about business with co-workers or let off some steam during their lunch breaks instead.

Another benefit is the money businesses spend on lunches can often be tax deductible. There are some requirements that must be met but, in general, when an employer provides lunch, snacks, and/or drinks to employees on the premises, these costs can be fully deducted.

Small businesses can use nutrition offerings as employee perks too. A cost-effective option is serving staff free continental breakfasts a few times a week. Muesli, yoghurt, coffee and similar fare make for a pleasant start to the day and are cheap, with UK supermarkets selling muesli packs for around £3 – very little compared with a firm’s overall costs.

Review in-house facilities

Over half of employees never leave the office at lunchtime, meaning it is essential to offer healthy food and drink options in the canteen and in vending machines to support employee health.

Providing free or subsidised in-house catering is all well and good, but we must be careful about this. At the extreme, it can make employees feel they need never go home. It’s a perk people want, but it’s not a good thing if employees end up working 24/7, never leaving their desks.

One way to combat this is to ensure there are areas where employees can go to take a proper break away from workstations. Not only does this provide space to relax, but it also helps form stronger connections with colleagues. Interactions with other employees and management are easier to come by in this setting and create relationships between colleagues who otherwise wouldn’t interact.

When picking an in-house caterer, flexibility regarding menu options is key. Any catering professional should have different options that are constantly updated to keep up with current trends. An ideal caterer should be willing to handle special requests such as preparing vegetarian, vegan or kosher meals.

Invest in wellbeing workshops

Wellness workshops allow businesses to communicate health education in an interactive and engaging way. They are an effective tool in creating positive changes and cementing wellbeing initiatives within your organisation.

Whether your goal is to lower absenteeism, reduce claims on health insurance or decrease smoking, educational workshops can help achieve this. Once your employees have a greater understanding of work initiatives, you can work together to plan actionable goals, maximising the workshop’s effectiveness.

Offering employees workshops from nutrition experts, qualified chefs or fitness specialists will inspire them to cook from scratch, diversify their diet and participate in physical activity. Wellness workshops show you appreciate staff and care about their well-being. This can improve business morale, leading to greater staff retention and productivity.

Integrating nutrition education with company benefits is beneficial for many reasons. However, younger generations are creating an inherent social networking framework in the workplace, meaning the next steps for companies must be focusing on modernising benefits to ‘gamify’ wellness and encourage social interaction at work.

By Emma Davidson, area retail manager – City of London, Express Vending

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