Q&A: Offering healthy eating options in the workplace

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Q&A: Offering healthy eating options in the workplace

Q: I’ve noticed in the media there has been lots of news about portion sizes and calories of certain foods. How can I, as an employer, encourage employees to make healthy food choices in the workplace?

A: An employee loses 30.4 working days a year on average due to a combination of sickness absence and underperformance at work due to ill health, according to a Vitality Health study. It therefore, makes good business sense to take steps to ensure a healthier and, ultimately, more productive workforce.

Employers can look at the food which they provide to their employees. Those with a staff canteen should ensure they are providing balanced and healthy meal choices at lunch time. These are proven to provide a sustained energy source that prevents fatigue and allows employees to work productively throughout the day. To increase awareness of healthy meal options employers could list the caloric intake and nutritional benefits of the food’s ingredients. It is common for most menus to feature a vegetarian option to accommodate various religious beliefs and dietary requirements.

Those without a staff canteen will find most of their employees bring lunches from home or purchase food from nearby retailers, therefore employers can tailor their approach. One option would be to provide a selection of free fruit to employees as a nutritious alternative to unhealthy processed snacks and providing access to free drinking water.

Placing promotional posters in communal areas is likely to encourage employees to consider changing their eating habits for the better. Additionally, showing support for well publicised national awareness campaigns, may also be particularly effective in encouraging any change.    

Employers may wish to consider inviting a nutritionist into the workplace to talk with staff. Company bosses could also incentivise healthy eating by offering employees discount vouchers for a healthy food delivery service.

It is however, important to strike a balance when promoting healthy eating habits as companies must avoid discriminating against employees who are considered obese. While obesity is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, employers can be liable for discrimination claims if it can be proven an individual’s obesity qualifies as a disability, especially where it is linked to a medical condition. Therefore, employers need to exercise caution when implementing any changes to the working environment, focusing specifically on the benefits of healthy eating and avoiding criticism of alternative eating habits.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured