Byline: Zoe Watts, director, Vacherin

The workplace is the perfect place to raise awareness and transform mind-sets and behaviours towards healthy eating and nutrition. Employers have an obligation for the health and safety of their employees, and that’s universally accepted, but when it comes to general wellbeing this can often be overlooked.

Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet can contribute to a whole range of benefits for both employers and employees, including decreased stress and anxiety, boosts in mood and energy levels, and a lower risk of disease. We believe businesses have a duty to actively encourage their employees to change their eating habits, in order to have a healthy impact on the overall wellbeing of the workforce. Paying attention to the wellbeing of employees not only increases their overall happiness but actually has a return on investment for the company. After all, research has suggested that improved morale can increase engagement and productivity, not to mention reduce absenteeism – which translates into a healthy workforce and bottom-line.

We all know that a variety of social, economic, physiological and environmental factors can influence individual dietary behaviors; the built environment is one of them too. The WELL Building Standard®, the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness, recognises this and seeks to implement design strategies and policies to help with the endeavour to have ‘well’ workplaces.

WELL points out that factors – such as the distance and access to shops and other places that sell fresh fruits and vegetables; the use of behavioural economics in workplace canteens; increased availability of healthy foods; reduced marketing and availability of unhealthy foods; provision of nutritional information and many other strategies – all have an effect on our food choices and therefore our overall dietary patterns.

The consumption of packaged and processed food has led to an increase in the intake of refined flours, sugar and oils, which interfere with our bodies’ temperature, water content, carbon dioxide and blood sugar levels. All of these elements make it psychologically difficult to control hunger, harder to burn fat and increases the risk of numerous chronic diseases. Not what you want at work, or anywhere else for that matter. Busy lives and long working days tend to encourage unhealthy behaviour too. We’ve all been guilty of snacking on sugary treats at our desks and eating ready-meals for lunch. As per WELL’s recommendations for nourishment, workplace catering provisions need to offer fresh, wholesome foods, limit unhealthy ingredients and encourage better eating habits and general food culture.

The most fundamental way to encourage healthier choices at work is to provide healthier options. Fruit and vegetables should be made readily available in the workplace – even when there is not an on-site catering provision. Simple things like having a fresh fruit bowl can persuade staff to choose healthy snacks, as opposed to sugary treats. At Vacherin we have a monthly ‘Food in Focus’ programme which is an opportunity for us to help our clients understand some basic science and the truth behind certain key foods in our diet. By understanding what we eat, we can achieve a realistic dietary balance that is sustainable and the key to ensuring a happy, productive work day. What we choose to eat for lunch, for example, contributes to how we feel for the rest of the day. Wellbeing is also a key theme of our ‘Nutritious and Delicious’ programme, which focuses on the beneficial qualities of dishes and individual ingredients. Each item on the menu falls under one of the four categories (energising, food & mood, superfoods and well-balanced) so customers can make the choice that suits them.

While it’s not always easy to squeeze in a lunch break among the deadlines and demanding work schedules, it is necessary for employers to encourage their staff to take a break every day (away from their desks). People who are working to a deadline often eat at their desk or even skip lunch altogether. Time spent during lunch breaks can lead to better eating habits, boost social interactions and help reduce stress. The design of workplaces cafés should incorporate all of these things, as well as having a diverse and healthy food offering.

Time needs to be invested into the wellbeing of employees – it should be a priority on everyone’s business agenda. Creating a workplace which is entirely focused on wellbeing however is a slow process; it’s all about helping your staff to be comfortable, healthy and happy. Caterers need to lead by example in this endeavour, by offering a balanced menu and encouraging healthy nutritional choices. Being in the privileged position of keeping the workforce fuelled and nourished throughout the working day means we play a crucial role in the pursuit for optimal workplace wellbeing.

Zoe Watts is commercial director for specialist London caterer, Vacherin. She is in charge of leading all sales, marketing, and internal and external communications at the company. Before joining Vacherin, Watts held senior catering, operations and events positions in contract catering and at venues such as The Natural History Museum, four Tate Museums (Modern, Britain, Liverpool and St Ives), and The Royal Society of Arts.