Food for thought

Food for thought

Tips and advice from our facilities management consultants on how employers can keep staff happy and healthy with catering facilities in the work place.

Keeping your workforce healthy

Nutrition and health are closely connected and how employees’ function during a day at work can be affected by when and what they are eating. With the working week in the UK being one of the longest in Europe, looking after the workforce should be an imperative for all employers. Employee well-being is essential to the smooth running of any company and employers have an important role to play in supporting their employees with a healthy lifestyle.

Working long hours does not correlate with increased productivity - in fact, it can have the opposite effect. People do not function efficiently if they are tired, hungry or thirsty. Sitting in an office at your desk does not make you productive. A balance needs to be struck for all employees, in looking after their own health and well-being, and at the same time being as productive as possible. This is where employers can help.

Helping employees learn how to really understand healthy eating whilst at work will impact on health and fitness levels across the business. Being healthy will reduce the amount of time taken out for illness – but more importantly, will increase productivity. Employees, who are productive in their job, are employees who are satisfied and feel that their contribution to the workplace is important and worthwhile. Physical health and well-being also has an impact on mental health. And in these days of ever-increasing pressures, our mental health is in danger of being compromised.

Happiness and self-esteem within the workforce feeds into more efficient and effective ways of working.

Where can employees eat?

Corporate Facilities Management Consultants, Ramsay Todd LtdMore and more studies have been done about where employees eat in the office environment. In the UK taking lunch at your desk is not the exception; it is often the rule – even though it is not a good rule to live by. Employees by eating and working at the same time are probably not achieving the best for their health or their work.

Helping with collaboration

When employees sit at their desks all day, they are missing out on socialising.  Arranging to meet up with co-workers at lunchtime can be a good way to move away from the desk.

TIP: Encourage all your employees to eat with friends. Improving collaboration within the company, building teams, and making a break so that going back to work is a positive and productive exercise.

Employers can help all their employees by providing designated areas within the office where people can relax a little, socialise and eat. Kitchen areas should have some seating – so that as well as making a cup of coffee, staff can sit and drink and eat as well. On site catering facilities are best for this though and if you need advice on how to deliver the best eating environment for your staff, contact our team at Ramsay Todd and we can offer lots of advice and share our knowledge with you.

The danger of over eating

Eating while distracted by something else, does not let the brain work on ‘eating’ and research shows that people can eat as much as 36% more while looking at a screen, or watching TV while eating.

TIP: Encourage all your employees to turn off their screens and their mobiles when eating at their desk – so they can concentrate on the act of eating.

It is important that everyone has a defined ‘lunch’ break.  Employees who do eat lunch at their desk may be impacting on their health and their productivity.

Multi-tasking in this instance does not help.

The need for a ‘brain break’

Everyone needs time to ‘recharge’ his or her brain – rather like a battery.  Working long hours does not make for more productivity.

TIP: Encourage all your employees to move from the desk, if only to get a glass of water while they eat.

Lacking variety in your diet

Habits are often not good for us – and always doing the same at lunchtime in the office, often means always eating the same. Using the nearest local cafe probably means choosing the same sandwich, because it is easiest.

TIP: Either encourage your employees to use your catering facilities such as your staff restaurant where they can choose different and varied meals each day or if you don’t have an onsite catering facility, encourage all of your employees to prepare a lunch at home once a week, to give variety to their eating habits, and to help with food budgets.

Essential need for fresh air and sunshine

Sitting in an office all day, without any fresh air or a change of scenery is not conducive to good concentration.

TIP: Encourage all your employees to take a walk at lunchtime. Setting up walking groups can be a good way to get a few people talking and enjoying their lunchtime. A brisk ten-minute walk can make a difference to work in the afternoon and will help with vital Vitamin D levels.

When can employees eat?

Employees have the right to one uninterrupted 20-minute break during a 6-hour working day. In an ideal world that would be away from their desk in an area within the office that is designed specifically for people to eat and drink, i.e. a catering facility or designated break-out area.

However whatever work is being undertaken there is a limit to the amount of time we can concentrate (this is true, focused concentration, not our attention span, which is often extremely short). People with longer concentration spans have been shown to be more creative, make less errors and are more likely to achieve their goals. Research has shown that for the average person, the time you can concentrate with your total focus is about 90 minutes to 2 hours. But it can be trained into longer intervals therefore work tasks that require your absolute focus can be performed for about 2-4 hours. This shows that we all need a break, and we cannot in truth work for 8 hours continually in an efficient way.

Dependent upon the contracts with employees, and the type of work they are performing; busiest times of day can vary.

Employers need to take this into account when they are designing their office space and including a ’kitchen’ area for both eating and drinking This is due to the fact that in many offices, now, people get in and leave at different times.  So, the size and scope of the ‘kitchen’ area does not need to accommodate all employees at any one time.

Ensuring that there is an area designated for consumption of food will mean that all employees can take advantage of this space throughout the day. Giving employees the time and space to take a break, in pleasant surroundings is essential for their well-being, both physical and mental. With more flexible working hours for many, the area will never have to accommodate all employees at one time, rather work on the basis of a flow of employees throughout the working day. This could be a central hub, where people can relax and charge their batteries before continuing their effective and efficient work.

What can employees eat?

Catering in the office is a critical part of helping employees to live healthy, sustainable lives. Supplying an office catering facility within the workplace is seen as a perk for most employees, but this needs careful consideration and planning. 

If employees are preparing their own food within the office, then suitable equipment needs to be provided, together with a suitable space.

About 5% of all employees have a food allergy and different types of diets are gaining in popularity, for example plant based (veganism) is becoming more and more prevalent within the workforce. Read more on health benefits of veganism.

Many companies have a varied mix of people, who come from different ethnic groups, and have different rules around food – all of which need to be considered. Offering food within the workplace can be a challenge and an employee survey before starting any project can give good insights into what would work best in your environment.

The eating habits of the adult population in the UK are now more than ever under scrutiny, and everyone has much more information about diet and nutrition. Jamie Oliver, who has focused in the past on children’s nutrition in schools, is now moving his attention towards their parents – your employees. This is seen by many as yet another step in his quest for a healthy population.

One of the most popular dishes in the UK is still fish and chips, and there is advice that we should not eat ‘fast food’ more than twice a week. However with our busy life schedules, people are grabbing food ‘on the go’ more and more. Sitting down to eat a meal with the whole family is not a daily occurrence for many, and the need for good nutrition in the middle of the day is one of the ways in which we can keep control of our health and well-being.

Choice of menu and variety of food available is always required in any work catering facility. Quality of food is paramount, particularly if there are alternative food suppliers close by. The convenience of an in-house catering service will not compensate for poor quality food. Pre-packed, dull food will not satisfy the demands of many employees, when they have experienced high quality, interesting options elsewhere.

Researching, designing and planning your catering facilities for staff - with the expertise of our corporate facilities management consultants at Ramsay Todd - will help to inspire staff who will know that, as their employer, you have put thought and a conscious decision in to providing well thought out staff facilities which will be a factor in employee productivity and possibly even retention.

Some daily food and drink tips for employees

  1. Make sure you have several pieces of fresh fruit with you. Choose a piece of fruit rather than a biscuit when you are hungry mid-morning or afternoon.
  2. Try to take in your own prepared lunch once a week in order to give you a break from pre-made processed foods.
  3. Prepare extra when cooking an evening meal, and keep some back to bring into work the next day or alternatively freeze and use the following week.
  4. Choose wholegrain or wholemeal options for your sandwiches.
  5. Bring a flask of soup into work during the cold winter months, so that you can have a warming drink.
  6. Don’t forget to keep your water intake up. Drink regularly and aim to have at least one cup of water in between each tea or coffee.
  7. If you have sugar in your tea or coffee, try to cut this down over a period of time. One good way to see how much sugar you are consuming is to do a quick daily calculation – it may surprise you!
  8. Go online and use some of the helpful recipes on Healthy Lunches.  This will give you variety, and new menus.
  9. Eat regularly throughout the day – take small snacks when you have a dip in energy levels. Fresh fruit or nuts will give you a healthy lift.
  10. Take water into meetings to minimise your caffeine intake.

Employers - Ways to keep your staff healthy

Supporting your employees with information and choice around food is a very strong signal to the workforce that they are an important element of the business mix. Building a strong team ethic with your workforce encourages maximum effort from everyone and increases productivity. Therefore, caring for the health of employees is essential as they are the lifeblood of the business.

For more advice and help in keeping your workforce happy, contact our catering consultants at Ramsay Todd today.