Healthy staff, hearty business

Healthy eating in the office

The majority of firms with employee wellness programmes see reduced sickness absence and a 15% increase in output

Fruit for the Office fruit box
Fruit for the Office delivers fruit boxes across London

The payoffs of making health at work a top business priority are becoming too great to ignore, so Produce Business UK looks at how you can create or be part of a happier, healthier workforce and reap the rewards of improved productivity, reduced absence levels and a healthier bottom line

Recent findings by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) that more than two fifths of workers believe their job has a negative impact on their health served as a stark warning to business owners up and down the land that to underpin their long-term success as a commercial entity, they have a responsibility to promote the wellbeing of their employees.

According to BHF’s survey, swathes of people feel their stressful working contributes to them following a poor diet, shirking exercise and drinking and smoking more than they otherwise would. It does not take a wild imagination to see that the impact is not only damaging for the health of workers, but also on company performance.

“Productivity loss as a result of heart and circulatory conditions is estimated to cost businesses £8 billion a year, according to European Cardiovascular Disease Statistics,” Lisa Young, project manager for the BHF’s Health at Work programme, tells Produce Business UK.

“However research by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows the vast majority of companies (82%) with employee wellness programmes see reduced sickness absence and a 15% increase in output,” Young comments. “Prioritising health at work can increase the productivity of your workforce, reduce absence levels, and improve moral so its win-win all round.”

Healthy eating is just one part of the equation, but it has nevertheless helped several firms establish themselves in the business owners’ psyche. Daniel Ox, director of Fruit for the Office – a fresh fruit delivery service operating directly out of London's Covent Garden Wholesale Market – says: “Promotion of healthier eating reduces the likelihood of sick leave when staff, and employer, are looking after their well being,” he says.

With over 5,000 employees in the UK and Ireland, food and drinks corporation PepsiCo describes committing to creating an environment that enables and encourages a healthy lifestyle as “future proofing” its business for long-term success.

“Healthier, happier employees create a great working environment that encourages productivity,” says PepsiCo’s health and wellness manager Kim Swift. “Our commitments range from education programmes and activity initiatives, through to regular health checks and increasing workplace physical activity – combining to help create a more health conscious workforce.”

Ox believes the UK population is already becoming more aware of and educated about the effects of healthy eating. As such, Fruit for the Office is seeing demand rise from a variety of corporate to creative businesses, as well as households, schools, shops, hotels and restaurants.

The firm already delivers fresh fruit to over 500 companies in London but with a high number of enquiries coming from areas such as Reading, Berkshire, Slough, Brighton and Essex, Ox says Fruit for the Office could expand its service outside of the city in the near future.

“No matter the size of the business, we find the importance of staff health is acknowledged across all employers,” he explains. “Incorporating a balanced diet into your 9-5, as well as at home, is more important now than ever. It leads to productivity, motivation, boosting morale and general wellness.”

Having fresh fruit available to staff on a daily basis offers specific benefits, he adds. “Its proven to motivate, increase memory, increase job satisfaction, acts as a fantastic alternative to snacks and rubbish food, saves on unnecessary 'runs to the shops', makes all employees feel valued by their company and, most importantly, creates a healthy business,” Ox says.

Tips for the workplace

Most of us would agree that after a full day’s work and the long commute home, it can be difficult to find the motivation to do exercise or cook a healthy meal. As such, the workplace can present the ideal arena to promote healthy lifestyles.

Employers can choose from a number of approaches, such as traditional healthy eating initiatives, health checks and travel to work schemes. Providing information on healthy living, offering advice and or counselling and focusing on promoting work-life balance are other ways in which companies can encourage health at work.

According to BHF, there is also an increasing trend towards holistic health and wellbeing programmes that focus on the physical and mental health of employees.

“Often physical activity initiatives are the most popular or those most promoted initially as they serve as a doorway to promoting healthier lifestyles to employees and providing a platform to touch on more sensitive areas such as smoking or mental health,” BHF’s Young explains.

Taking it further, PepsiCo has set itself so-called Performance with Purpose goals based on human, environmental and talent sustainability that guide all of the company’s strategy and operations. Within that, the firm offers a range of schemes to promote wellbeing at work.

“We have a number of successful partnerships to enable many of these initiatives and have signed up to eight Responsibility Deal health at work pledges,” Swift says.

But if you just want to start making steps in the right direction, fruit baskets offer one simple, yet effective change to the traditional meeting-room fare. “Hide the biscuits and provide bowls of fresh fruit around the office,” suggests Ox. “Brightly coloured, fresh fruit is more attractive than chocolate bars in most cases. Bananas are the most popular fruit that we supply.

“You could try a ‘Fruity Friday’ for a month and gauge the feedback from your team. Small 60g packs of nuts to snack on will also reduce the amount of time spent craving unhealthy foods.”

Increasingly, companies are also organising health and wellbeing days to promote the benefits of healthy lifestyles once a month or even annually, Ox says. “It does generally spark an interest for customers to order more regularly because the fruit is so well received. It’s a great perk for employees; not only for their health but it’s a talking point as well as breakfast, or a snack.”

To help workers kick-start a healthier lifestyle BHF is currently urging employers to join its Health at Work programme, including taking as little as 10 minutes every day to improve workers’ health at work.

“Taking an active role in the health and wellbeing of your employees doesn’t have to be difficult, neither does it have to be boring,” points out Young. “We can provide advice on setting up work-based activities such as pedometer challenges, healthy food fairs, healthy food weeks, fruit smoothie demonstrations and so on.

“BHF can also arrange heart health workshops, arrange health and wellbeing days, share success stories and first-hand accounts from our members to help keep your staff motivated, provide a range of free helpful resources and advice.”

This month BHF has put together 10 top tips for leading a healthier lifestyle at work, including various produce-based promotions such as trying a new or different fruit or vegetable, swapping an unhealthy snack for fruit or nuts and eating a rainbow meal with at least three different coloured fruits and vegetables.

To put those tips into practise employers could use the support of free healthy eating tools and information resources on retailers’ websites. Waitrose, for instance, offers an ‘Inspiration’ section where you can find simple breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack swaps that can add to five-a-day portions, save calories and add extra fibre, vitamins, omega 3 fats and protein to your diet.

Case study: Bakkavor Meals

More than 9,500 organisations have already benefitted from BHF’s programmes to help their workers get active, eat well and reduce their stress, including Bakkavor Meals, part of the Bakkavor group, which was looking for a more formal wellbeing scheme.

“Initially, the programme focused on nutrition, providing leaflets on diet, waist measuring sessions and themed promotions,” explains Bakkavor’s Wendy Henry. “Exercise has played a big part too, with free skipping ropes for staff and a 5,000 steps a week pedometer challenge that led to some determined competition across the company.

Henry says to start with employers should aim to get everyone involved, and then the key is to provide support throughout the process. “It’s important to keep up the momentum, and monitor improvements such as waist circumference and BMI – which we offer to measure every three months to help colleagues to keep on track,” she advises.

With senior management at Bakkavor offering full support, Henry says the programme has become more and more interactive, with colleagues contributing inventive new ideas for events to help everyone move forward together, as well as passing on their knowledge to their families and the wider community.

“Senior management came up with some brilliant suggestions for challenges, including static bike races, indoor golf, portable basketball hoops, table tennis and a boxing stand,” she reveals.

With National Heart Month taking place this February now is a great opportunity for fresh produce companies to safeguard their futures by engaging their workforce and inspiring staff to lead active and healthy lifestyles.

British Heart Foundation’s top tips for healthy eating at work:

Snack swap

Bring in healthy snacks to share such as grapes and nuts instead of unhealthy sugary biscuits and cakes.

Team picnic

Organise a healthy team picnic in the park packed full of healthy options such as fruit and vegetables, wraps and pitta pockets.

Smoothie tasting

Hold a fruit smoothie demo and tasting workshop to inspire your staff to make healthier choices.

Packed lunch

Pack a nutritious lunch to take into work to help keep you full and stop you reaching for the sugary snacks. Use BHF’s healthy recipe finder for inspiration.

Breakfast bar

Hold a healthy breakfast bar. Take it in turns with colleagues to bring in healthy options for breakfast such as fruit, yoghurts, and porridge.

Eat a rainbow meal

Challenge yourself to pack a lunch with three different coloured fruit and vegetables in.

Go alcohol-free

Hold an alcohol-free cocktail evening as a healthier alternative to the traditional after-work drinks.


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