The World Happiness Report 2018 has recently been published, and it makes for challenging reading for US employers. Despite an increase in income per capita, people’s happiness has remained unchanged or even declined. The report points to three main causes: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. None of these problems are good for individuals, but they are also a huge threat to employers trying to create stable, profitable businesses. It’s in your interest as a conscientious employer to play a part in thought leadership in this area and to find ways to motivate your employees to stay healthy. Food is an excellent place to start. As fuel for our bodies and brains, if we’re getting our diet right, we’re in a position to tackle the rest of life’s challenges.
Can eating well really make us happier?
It’s not new news to highlight the benefits of healthy eating when it comes to tackling obesity and improving physical health. However, a balanced diet as part of a healthier lifestyle can also help to boost your mental health, reducing the risk of depression and vulnerability to substance abuse. With an estimated 1 in 5 Americans experiencing mental health issues each year, according to the NAMI, that could be a substantial percentage of your workforce. A recent article by Health Magazine suggests that being healthy makes you happier. Happier employees mean more contented working environments, richer customer interactions, and fewer days off. It’s also an excellent way of differentiating yourself from the competition; if your company becomes known for supporting and encouraging its staff to lead healthier lifestyles, that’s a great advertisement for your brand to both clients and potential new talent.
Educating and empowering your employees
The basics of healthy eating may seem obvious, but it’s sometimes worth reminding people of the benefits of different food groups, and how to control portion sizes when they’re cooking at home. Tools for putting together a balanced plate can be really useful, as can apps through which you record your daily intake. It’s important not to be seen as patronizing; you might like to bring in a guest speaker on a given nutrition topic, as they can bring a fresh perspective and up to date knowledge. You can also empower your employees by setting out a company vision for better overall health; not just whittling waistlines but looking at the broader picture. After all, there are many factors in determining good health, not just someone’s score on the scales. Scheduling mental health days and annual physical health checks, for example, would show a commitment to all-round good health.
Making practical changes to what’s on offer
You’ve talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk. Review your workplace’s food offerings; are they as healthy as they could be? While treats are always fun, are there enough healthy alternatives? If you have a staff canteen, schedule a regular review of the menu to ensure that it’s offering a balanced range of food groups, and also that it doesn’t get stuck in a rut. No-one wants to be eating moussaka every Tuesday for the rest of their working life. If you have a staff break room, perhaps you can encourage people to bring cakes or biscuits in on Fridays only, or make fresh fruit or packaged nuts available too.
A herbal tea option is a simple way to show consideration for those who are trying to cut down on caffeine. You should also ensure that there is plenty of water available, ideally with reusable cups to save on plastic. Dehydration is a big factor in fatigue and flagging motivation levels and yet according to the USDA, around 30% of people who participated in recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys didn’t drink enough water. Company water bottles could be a neat way to encourage reuse and get your brand noticed for being environmentally responsible.
Encouraging everyone to get active
If you’re encouraging a more holistic view of health, then it makes sense to inspire your employees to review not just their eating habits, but their activity levels too. Again, this can be done in a non-judgmental way. From standing meetings to setting up company softball teams, there are ways to incorporate exercise into the working week at a level that will suit everyone. You could even try a non-internal email day once a week, where people are encouraged to walk over and talk to their colleagues instead. As a Forbes article highlights, building personal connections and relationships are much more effective when done face to face. Burning a few calories on the way is an added bonus.
With rising levels of obesity and depression, the US workforce needs a little help. These are problems which affect society as a whole, as healthcare budgets are increasingly thinly spread. If employers can step up to the plate and encourage healthy eating and better all round balance, they will be giving this generation and the next a huge boost. They’ll also be gaining happier, more productive employees in the short term. And that profits everyone.
Submitted by Freelance contributor, Lucy Moon.