Successful business in today’s world require a quality product or service, creativity, organisation, determination and excellent customer service skills. According to entrepreneur Richard Brandson “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business”.
My key message to employers is that supporting better nutrition practices for workers is proven to improve overall wellness, drive productivity and reduce absence statistics. Employees who have higher levels of wellbeing are more likely to be loyal, more productive and provide better levels of consumer satisfaction than individuals with poor standards of wellbeing. A full time worker, generally consumes at least 60% of our total daily intake in an average working day, therefore workplace nutrition has the potential to significantly impact on our health. Many employers offer health screening programmes, however these “checks” aren’t usually backed up with the necessary support programmes to facilitate meaningful lifestyle change.
Up to 10% of sick leave and higher levels of productivity loss at work are attributed to lifestyle behaviours and obesity. According to the 2015 NICE guidance on workplace policy and management practices to improve the health and wellbeing of employees, obese employees take an average of four extra days sick per year. For company employing 1000 people, this could directly result in €160,000 a year in lost productivity due to a range of issues e.g. back problems and sleep apnoea. The positive news is that workplace health interventions may improve productivity by 1-2%, which is likely to more than offset the costs of implementing interventions.
The food we eat and the timing of meals can have a huge impact on our performance “on the job” i.e. nurses who consumed a healthy breakfast daily had lower stress levels, fewer cognitive mistakes and minor accidents at work. Conversely, unhealthier snack choices were associated with higher stress and more minor injuries outside of work. Other examples of the effect of nutrition on employee performance include hydration. Our hydration levels are affected by many environmental conditions in the workplace, such as air conditioning, hot physical conditions and wearing protective clothing. Poor hydration practices during the working day can cause headaches, tiredness and loss of concentration and impact on mental as well as physical performance. Adequate hydration and regular eating patterns however can support staff in accurate decision making and help prevent dips in concentration levels and lowers fatigue and anxiety.
A report published by the World Health Organisation in 2007 found that there was a 25-30% reduction in medical and absenteeism costs over an average period of three to four years for both physical activity and diet-related interventions. A study involving 16,000 German construction workers tracked their weight and health over a ten year period. The research found that Body Mass Index levels of normal weight and just a little over normal weight for height were associated with the lowest levels of work disability absenteeism most commonly due to osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease. According to the 2015 British Dietetic Association’s White Paper on workplace wellbeing, Intel Corporation invested $11 million internationally over a three-year programme, the total labour cost savings were US$18 million, making Intel’s return on investment 1:1.64. This demonstrates the short-term cost-effectiveness of employer investment in comprehensive programmes.
The key aspects of a good nutrition intervention include:
Employees are involved in planning and delivering the intervention (through needs assessments). Senior management are consulted on the planning of an intervention in addition to being visibly committed to the intervention. Multi-level approaches work best e.g. group workshops alongside small improvements to catering provisions. People certainly don’t not like being told what to do! A collaborative approach and behaviour change strategies are essential for facilitating change. A follow up at one year is recommended to review the success of the intervention – absenteeism rates etc. INDI Registered Dietitians are the gold standard when it comes to nutrition and food professionals to guide workplace wellbeing initiatives.