A healthy employee is less likely to take time off sick and will be more productive and energetic while at work – both of which can have a valuable impact on your business’ bottom line.
Many things can affect workplace performance and, in spite of technology that makes life easier, today’s world seems to place more and more demands on employees. Food quantities and types have a direct impact on energy levels. Replenishing the body’s blood sugar levels helps to sustain mental and physical energy, so the regular consumption of food and fluids is vital.
Energise Nutrition has recently carried out extensive research into the eating and exercise habits of employees working at several companies across the UK and is now assessing the data. It will soon be published in a report: The Employee Energy Report – Is Your Workforce Running on Full Power? We believe the report to be one of the largest and most extensive nutrition surveys of its type ever undertaken in Britain and the results will hopefully play a major part in influencing and encouraging better nutrition education in the workplace.
Preliminary results highlight some key areas where employers can easily help improve the health of their workforce. Where better to start than breakfast?
Breakfast is essential as a fuel for the body, which can then be used gradually throughout the day. Research has shown that breakfast eaters have more energy than breakfast skippers. This explains why breakfast is often described as the most important meal of the day. All too often, many people dash off to work without eating, claiming lack of time or lack of hunger. Employees should be encouraged to eat before they leave or have something on arrival before they start. Setting the alarm clock 10 minutes earlier and planning to eat should do the trick.
Air-conditioned offices are another hazard. Employees can become dehydrated without realising it. Long meetings offering only tea and coffee can compound the problem. Ensure that water is easily available from water coolers placed around the office and that plenty of jugs of iced water are provided at meetings. Employees who wish to take their own water will require access to a fridge to keep bottles cool. The report research found that the more water people drink during the day, the more energetic they feel at noon, in the afternoon and in the evening.
The mid-afternoon slump is now thought to be normal and hormonally induced rather than the result of a big lunch
Snacking can be a good or bad habit, depending on what is eaten. The report concludes that large afternoon snacks with a high content of protein and fat (and calcium and iron) are associated with lower energy levels in the afternoon. Conversely, the more fruit and vegetables people eat, the more energetic they feel in the morning. To encourage healthy snacking, companies can provide fresh fruit such as pears, apples, bananas and oranges in the café and on the canteen tea trolleys. Employees should also be encouraged to keep snacks such as rice cakes, low-fat crackers, plain biscuits, bread sticks and dried fruit handy, ready to eat when the snack attack occurs.
Employers should encourage employees to take a break at lunchtime rather than sit at their desk munching their sandwiches. The mid-afternoon slump is now thought to be normal and hormonally induced, rather than the result of a big lunch. Overall sleep patterns, age and body cycles can also contribute to post-lunchtime drowsiness. Workers should be offered the opportunity to go out for a walk or attend the in-house fitness facility if there is one.
If business lunches are unavoidable, employees should be offered guidance on menu choices and they should be advised to avoid alcohol. Alcoholic drinks can affect work performance and can be dangerous if the job involves handling equipment or driving. Employers could consider offering lunchtime seminars about healthy eating inside and outside the workplace.
People who expend more energy throughout the day need to eat more calories. If the work is very physical, such as that done by construction workers on site, then to perform effectively, they must ensure they eat foods high in carbohydrates. All too often, the only choice is the “greasy spoon” café with fry-ups that are high in fat and protein – hardly ideal.
The best survival tactic for construction workers is to take a lunch box to work. It should contain doorstep sandwiches, bananas, pasta, pot noodles, cartons of low-fat rice pudding or custard and plenty to drink.
Drinks can offer another source of carbohydrate, and for this reason water, Coke, lemonade, isotonic sports drinks, diluted fruit juice and squash are all good options. The important point is that the workforce must rehydrate, particularly if the weather is hot and humid.
Penny Hunking is managing director of Energise Nutrition. She can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org