Nutrition and Wellbeing Whilst at Work
The average employee will spend around 82,068 hours working over their lifetime.
That’s the equivalent of working a 9.4 year shift…
Or 3,420 days of non-stop working.
Inevitably, between the constant brew-breaks and team meetings that could have been emails, we also spend a lot of our time (and money) eating at work, too.
A life of packed lunches will set an employee back £14,746, but that’s nothing compared to the cost of the ever-popular meal deal.
Standing at 138% more expensive than a packed lunch at a staggering £35,110 lifetime cost, meal deals certainly take the cake.
But why does any of this matter?
Diet is an essential aspect of wellbeing
Though diet or nutrition only tend to arrive in workplace discussion in December as a result of prosecco and mince pie breakfasts, or January in the early year diet panic, the impact of our food choices is ticking away in the background regardless.
Our energy levels, concentration, productivity, mental health, and wellbeing are all correlated with our diet.
It’s a two-way street.
So, not only is food impacting our ability to work and our wellbeing, but our work is impacting our dietary choices.
Our dietary choices can be shaped by the workplace
Have you ever known a person in your workplace that always seems to be eating on the move?
You know, the grab a coffee and a croissant that they eat in traffic type of person?
Or perhaps the one who rushes to buy a meal deal that they eat at their desk whilst flying through work?
We’ve all had these moments.
After all, it’s not uncommon to skip breakfast in the morning rush and compensate by drinking an excess of coffee or tea and snacking until midday.
Even as wellbeing becomes a greater priority in the workplace, if the culture values fast output, employees are bound to resort to something faster and more convenient for lunch.
The best of intentions can still impact the diet/work relationship, such as after-work drinks or meeting and event incentives (we’re looking at you, Instagram-worthy table of cakes). There’s never the after-work gym, yoga session or team walks, is there?
The nutrition/wellbeing link
We’re all likely aware to some degree the impact our diet can have on wellbeing.
Caffeine, for example, has been associated with sleep disturbance, anxiety and depression symptoms, increased blood sugar levels, raised blood pressure, and can negatively interact with certain medications.
This isn’t to say that one cup of coffee a day is going to spell disaster. We simply need to be aware of the impact that our diet can have on our wellbeing.
We might not even be aware of how much caffeine we’re consuming, from coffee and tea to energy and carbonated drinks – which is why it’s so essential to acknowledge the link.
Caffeine isn’t seen as one of the most addictive substances we know of for nothing, you know!
Diets containing large amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugars can have a detrimental effect on psychological wellbeing, with data showing an association between higher dietary glycaemic index and the incidence of depressive symptoms.
Did you know that our digestive system produces over 90% of all serotonin? (aka ‘the happy hormone’ in our body.) This is why what we choose to eat can have a significant effect on our mental health.
The link between our dietary choices and wellbeing can’t be understated, and with the amount of time we spend at work, the workplace has a lot to answer for, too.
Workplace culture is integral
When focusing on wellbeing, employers might not immediately think of nutrition.
Similarly, many factors that play into our eating habits can be overlooked even though they are significant.
As an example for employers, do you encourage employees to always take their lunch break, and to take it away from their desk?
Being constantly attached to our work isn’t going to have a positive impact on stress levels, which is why having a separate space to eat and socialise can go a long way in reducing stress.
It’s about having a purpose behind the action, rather than simply hoping for a quick win (like the office fruit basket nobody touches).
So… how can nutrition be addressed in the workplace as part of wider wellbeing efforts?
As with most wellbeing initiatives and efforts, awareness is key.
Employees should be given information and resources that explain:
– The relationship between food and mood
– A positive eating mindset
– Examples of healthy lunches and snacks that can be kept at desks
– The importance of taking breaks to eat
Additionally, changes can be made around the food options for:
– Catering for meetings
– Canteens or on-site restaurants
– Vending machines
– Kitchen areas for food preparation
– Those all important “treats”
It’s important to understand how employees function in the work environment in terms of the nutrition/wellbeing and work link, which is why it might be beneficial for employers to seek the guidance of occupational health professionals or even nutritionists.
Primarily, it’s about making slow and steady changes that don’t require sacrifices from anyone, or rely on guilt and shame tactics.
There are a host of avenues to go down that will be dependent upon the type of company and the needs of the employees, from allergy testing to discounted gym memberships, and it can often come down to preference.
Employers have to remember that when their employees come to work, they aren’t in a vacuum – the workplace influences the employee, and vice versa – which means that you can choose to positively impact the employee, or ignore the multifaceted nature of wellbeing in the workplace.
If you’d like to read more about how the workplace influences public health, you can read our blog here.