Food Services is a People Business
Given that many of us spend one third of our day working, employers and employees have become acutely aware that the workplace can significantly affect our health and well-being. Irish people at work buy in or are served food and beverages every day and the choices they make can have a direct impact on their health and wellbeing including morale and productivity.
For some companies the provision of on-site food services at work is a necessary employee benefit but many do not realize that delivering meals and food to their people impacts employee wellbeing, employee engagement and can even work to improve employee satisfaction. Proof of this can be found in a recent Forbes article where companies were asked “What benefits work best to attract and retain talent?” The second most popular answer from HR directors was Staff Restaurants and the onsite food they provide.
The fact that it was the second most popular answer means that delivering food services is a people business, real people creating food for real people. In fact, employees surveyed valued the food they are served at work above time off and gym benefits.
In today’s modern workplace at least one in four meals is likely to be consumed at the office or during work hours. In fact amongst younger employees, they might even eat all their meals at work. Compared with the 1970’s, Irish employees now work an additional 200 hours per year.
Unfortunately, many meals eaten out of the home tend to be less healthy than foods prepared in the home. Studies show Irish people are cooking less and eating more ready-made meals which are contributing to the rise in obesity. So taking into account the cultural shifts in eating habits — and despite many challenges (cost, facilities etc.) – food services at work offers a great opportunity to promote health and wellbeing whilst also being recognized as a valuable and tax efficient employee benefit.
Although many companies are taking a more active role in promoting employee health and wellbeing with specific employee health programs, some companies are missing the vital ingredient – by not providing high-quality, nutritious food to employees at work. Businesses sometimes shy away from on-site catering due to the lack of knowledge and a misconception that food services are too expensive.
Ireland now attracts a number of world renowned Technology and High Tech firms many of whom offer free food from well-trained chefs as standard. They need to appeal to a talented and educated work force, yet some of these employees gain weight or develop health-issues, which can have a knock on negative effect on company productivity. Low end fast food type options in endless varieties leads to over eating, with potential implications down the road for Ireland’s workforce around obesity and related chronic illnesses.
So why should HR, Facilities Managers and Employers care about food services at work in the first place?
Think about the following two key points;-
- Absenteeism costs for one
The average level of absenteeism is eight days per employee per year or €810! Employees with poor eating and lifestyle habits are likely to represent a significant element of this cost. While studies on the Irish economy show an increase in lost work days due to health related absenteeism, many employers are developing measures to create healthy workplaces and minimize the likelihood of people developing health problems in the first place.
Many of the illness-related costs in Ireland are for illnesses that are preventable. The usual suspects include diet, alcohol, smoking, and increasingly physical inactivity amongst adults (behaviors that can be linked to sedentary working environments) as well as stress and longer working hours.
- Employee job performance is another strong incentive to deliver quality food services
Lack of nutritious food during the work day has been tied to difficulty concentrating and making decisions, fatigue, sickness, low morale, and greater risk of workplace accidents.
Consider the following benefits associated with Healthy Eating:
- Employee Engagement
Serving a wider variety of healthier foods is associated with an increased likelihood of a higher self-rated employee engagement.
In a people led food services industry companies should seek out cost effective proven solutions — such as staff restaurant’s designed to support healthy choices through nutrition education and healthy eating initiatives. By making it easy for employees to enjoy eating healthier food on a regular basis, companies are playing their part in helping employees to maintain a healthy weight.
- Supporting Evidence
To further reinforce the message that food services are a people business, the Vitality Institute conducted interviews with a number of businesses, ranging in sector and size, from 8 to 8,000 employees. They brought together business leaders, food and health experts, academic researchers, and HR professionals.
Some Key Insights from the Vitality Food Services at Work Report
The interviews conducted by the Vitality Institute learned that food is an important aspect of company culture. So to get employers to take a more proactive role in addressing some of the weight problems through workplace food programs, some recommendations highlighted include:
- To see food service providers at work as partners in encouraging healthy eating and work with the companies leadership teams in prioritising food at work. Maybe introducing a “Real Food at Work Charter,” which a lot of University’s around the world have now joined.
- Along with providing healthier food options at work, teach healthier cooking options and promote health and well-being through food.
- Use the power of Nutritional Education. Create a forum to share best healthy eating advice, recipe ideas and employee success stories.
Other Food Service Considerations
For companies constrained by budgets or other factors rolling out a completely new food program at work may not be an option at this juncture. However, there are other food service considerations that can positively impact employee engagement. These include:
- Installing healthy vending machines and consider subsidising healthier vending machine options to reduce price and increase uptake
- Deliveries of: healthy snacks; fresh fruit, and healthy prepared lunches
- On-site farmers’ markets in partnership with local farmers
While the cost of delivering food services at work will always be a major consideration companies should strive to see that it is a people business, that quality healthy food prepared by qualified people which is consumed by the people in your business makes a huge positive impact on the performance on not only your employees but on the performance on the business as a whole.
Your On-Site Restaurant – A place to: Rest Relax Recharge
In the words that your younger employees might use , your restaurant can become a place to ‘chillax’ as well as a “hub” where information and social interaction help employees communicate, exchange ideas and strengthen the company’s culture; it provides a place far from the desk or the workshop to make the most of break times and reduce stress levels.
Making changes in the types of food and beverages available in these settings can help improve the diets of people who eat there.
Promoting Healthy Choices
Food service guidelines are used to create a food environment in which healthier choices are more available for consumers. These guidelines are used to increase the availability of healthier food and beverages, and to display them more prominently so that healthier options are more accessible. Food service guidelines should be a part of a comprehensive strategy to promote health and wellness in the workplace.