Most of us spend, on average, 60% of our waking hours at work, so it stands to reason that the workplace is a good place to encourage healthy eating and physical activity.
Employees who eat well are employees who feel better, have increased energy and are more productive. Healthy eating makes you feel better about yourself and worry less about weight. Employees who try to follow guidelines of good nutrition will be less likely to be obese, have heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Most Canadians consider nutrition to be an important factor when making food choices, yet study after study shows that few of us achieve the recommended servings set out in Canada’s Food Guide.
Workplace nutrition programs can play an integral role in fostering and supporting employee health. The use of existing channels of communication, social networks and administrative systems in the workplace can generate program interest, facilitate follow-up, and help to create a supportive environment for healthy eating.
Support and encouragement from co-workers can also help to reinforce positive eating behaviours. In addition, knowledge and skills learned at work, can in turn influence family members, friends and the home setting.
If you’re seeking to promote healthy eating in the workplace, particularly since March is Nutrition Month, here are five steps to consider:
- Act as a role model
If an organization, wellness committee, particular department or team manager models healthy eating behaviours, employees will be encouraged to follow that lead.
Some examples of how this can be achieved includes: keeping hydrated throughout the day; bringing food from home most days of the week instead of eating at the food court or cafeteria; making time for healthy snacking; and taking a lunch break instead of eating at your desk.
- Run awareness campaigns
A wellness committee would be a great resource to research, design and develop awareness displays or campaigns that introduce concepts of making healthy lifestyle choices with tips on “how” to do so.
Ways to develop these campaigns include:
- Using bulletin boards and displays that feature resources related to healthy lifestyles, healthy eating and the benefits of regular physical activity;
- Providing pamphlets and resources promoting healthy lifestyle issues, healthy eating and meal strategies; and
- Including short articles or helpful tips in an internal newsletter or emails to staff.
- Build skills and competence
Don’t assume employees know how to make healthy lifestyle choices. Sometimes, there is more confusion than confidence in this age of multi-media. Making educational opportunities accessible during the work day and encouraging healthy food and activity options whenever staff gather can begin to create a culture of well-being.
Some ideas include: offering workshops discussing issues such as stress, shift work, healthy behaviours for busy lifestyles and understanding label information on food packages; host healthy potlucks or offer fruit trays at staff meetings to encourage workers to participate, stay motivated and learn easy, healthy habits; and provide continuing education for management and employees to encourage healthy eating habits.
- Create a supportive work environment
Does your workplace make it easy for staff to make healthy choices or are their barriers preventing them from doing so? Conduct an environmental scan of the workplace to determine how supportive it is regarding healthy eating and physical activity.
Some key elements to provide include:
- Refrigerators for staff to store lunches and snacks;
- Microwaves, blenders or toasters for employees to prepare nutritious lunches;
- Time for employees to go to information sessions about healthy eating;
- Appropriate food in workplace cafeterias, vending machines and at workplace functions, and consider subsidizing healthy food options like salads;
- Discourage staff from eating at their desks;
- Make stairwells brightly lit and encourage employees to take the stairs instead of the elevator; and
- Look for ways to incorporate physical activity or movement into the workday and/or meetings.
- Develop healthy workplace policies
Develop healthy workplace policies suited to your particular workplace environment that endorse and promote healthy lifestyles (healthy eating, physical activity, stress reduction).
- Establish work schedules that are compatible with healthy eating and wellness programming, and consider the demands and responsibilities of workers outside of the workplace;
- Establish a healthy eating policy for your workplace and keep checking for healthy food and beverage choices available in vending machines, cafeterias, etc.; and
- Include healthy eating and physical activity programming in your facility, suited to your workers needs and interests.
The workplace has the potential to enable employees to make healthy choices every day in effective and achievable ways. What might your workplace do differently to help its workforce achieve its healthy eating goals?