"Research by the British Heart Foundation claims that more than two-fifths of workers in the UK believe their job is having a negative impact on their lives, with stressful working conditions leading to poor lifestyle choices such as eating unhealthily and avoiding exercise. What’s more, over a third of workers surveyed by the charity said they had put on weight directly because of their work, with regular overtime resulting in less time or energy to exercise and prepare healthy meals.
As most businesses will appreciate, employers not only have a duty to support their staff in reducing their stress levels and making healthier lifestyle choices, there’s also a compelling business case to do so. The British Heart Foundation points to research showing that the vast majority of companies with employee wellness programmes (82 per cent) see both reduced sickness absence and a 15 per cent increase in output.
At Dine Contract Catering, we work with a number of businesses across the North East and Yorkshire to help encourage healthier lifestyles among their employees. Based on my own experience and from working in partnership with our in-house nutritionist, Roz Witney, here are my top tips on how you can do the same:
1. Encourage healthy eating
The hormones stimulated by stress, together with its impact on mood, can lead to an indulgence in foods that are high in sugar and fat. However, these foods are often poor sources of the extra nutrients your body needs during times of stress, and won’t help to keep blood sugar stable – low blood sugar can exacerbate anxiety and irritability – exactly what staff should be avoiding at times of stress.
If food and drinks are available on site, help your employees to make healthier choices at times when they’re under pressure by offering low GI snack options such as sandwiches made with wholemeal bread, plain natural yogurt, fruit, nuts and low sugar cereal bars. Run promotions on healthier options, such as a deal where diners get a free bottle of water with a higher fibre sandwich or ‘superfood’ salad, as a means of driving healthy choices.
2. Keep lunch breaks sacred
Enjoying their lunch away from their desk not only discourages staff from overeating, but research suggests that those who don’t take their lunch break work slower and less accurately in the afternoon than colleagues who take at least 30 minutes away from their workstation. Avoid fostering a culture where staff are likely to feel guilty for taking their lunch breaks – not only will you create a more positive working environment, you’ll also reap the benefits in productivity.
3. Make exercise easy
The stress-busting benefits of exercise are widely known, plus physical health is closely linked to brain health, making a healthy body key to a healthy brain. Encourage employees to incorporate activity into their daily working routines through incentives such as subsidised local gym membership and cycle to work schemes.
4. Get staff on board
Survey staff about what would motivate them to eat more healthily / take more exercise and use this knowledge to inform policies such as flexible working guidelines. For example, it may be possible to allow employees to adjust their work patterns to incorporate exercise into their day – even if it’s as simple as taking their lunchbreak early in the afternoon to allow for an off-peak gym visit, this could break down barriers to improving their fitness and, therefore, their overall productivity.
5. Lead from the top
When it comes to health and fitness, leading by example is a positive way to encourage all employees to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. From sponsored walks to tougher physical challenges like climbing the Three Peaks, taking part in physical endeavours pitched at different levels of physical capabilities are a fun way to foster healthy lifestyles while potentially raising money for charity at the same time. Make sure members of the senior management are involved in these activities to lead by example!
An estimated 27.3 million working days were lost in the UK in 2014/2015 due to work-related ill health, while days lost to stress in particular cost UK employers £1.24 billion each year. By following these tips, you can go a long way to minimising the impacts of stress and poor health on your business."