Nearly 60% of American employees, 52% of Indian workers and more than 40% of Britons report that they’ve gained weight in their current role, with those who commute longer distances being the hardest hit in the scales department.
But what we eat and how regularly we move doesn’t just impact how we look and feel; it plays a significant role in our workplace performance, career development, and in the overall success - right down to the financial results - of the organisations we work for.
This article is edited from everywoman’s Partner publication, UPDATE, where we showcase the news and views of our corporate members. Download the latest issue.
According to one study, employees who eat healthiest throughout the working day are 25% more likely to be high performers. Those who eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables at least four times a week are 20% more likely to top the productivity charts. And overall, participants with the healthiest diets are 27% less likely to take sick leave.[iii] Another found that fatigued workers given multi-vitamins display more positive moods and demonstrate quicker response times, greater propensity for multi-tasking and higher degrees of accuracy than those given a placebo.[iv]
But while good nutrition and exercise can increase individual – and by extension an organisation’s – performance, the unpalatable reality is that the modern workplace is itself one of the biggest blockers to optimum health.
The impact of poor nutrition on our workplace performance is something corporate dietary consultancy The Nutrition Coach sees in countless clients.
“Increasingly we’re seeing senior executives walk through the door reporting anxiety, stress, low energy and concentration levels and adrenal fatigue on account of depleted cortisol – your get-up-and-go hormone,” says Lead Nutritionist Hayley Pedrick. “Very often they start the conversation saying ‘I eat really healthily’, but seldom do I see a client whose diet isn’t entirely at odds with their energy needs, this affects their ability to problem solve and think clearly in a high-pressure job”.
“Clearly there’s a vicious circle at play because with added stress comes less of a focus on wholesome food. If your lunch break consists of a two minute window spent huddling over your keyboard, it’s much easier to grab something from the vending machine than to think about the proteins or Omega-3 fatty acids that will power up your cognitive functions in the mid afternoon slump.”
Gone are the days, says Pedrick, when organisations can pay lip service to employee health and wellbeing.
As obesity levels grow, savvy organisations are investing in the vitality of their workforces with a range of innovative initiatives.
As a result, companies like everywoman partners IBM are setting a worldwide standard with their employee wellbeing policies. Local initiatives by the winner of 2014’s Global Healthy Workplace Award include staff wellness checks and health risk assessments for staff (Africa), unique peer coaching for health and dieting (Germany) and annual cash incentives of $300 for improved health (US).
Through such measures, IBM hopes to “address local and global health priorities; improve the overall health of our employees; provide safe and healthy working environments; design health benefits and health promotion programs to improve access, increase quality, reduce costs and drive innovation; [and] support business continuity.”[v]
Our corporate partner Virgin Media is also taking creative steps to address staff health. Following a British Heart Foundation report which suggests prolonged periods of sitting at a desk can lead to cardiovascular illnesses and type 2 diabetes, they teamed up with the University of Chester to monitor the health improvements of a group of 23 volunteers from the Sheffield customer service centre who’ve swapped traditional workstations for adjustable sit-stand desks, at which they will spend at least two hours standing per day.
Experts predict the additional 30,000 calories burned per employee will be equivalent to an 8lb weight loss by the end of the yearlong study. If successful, Virgin Media will roll out sit-stand desks to other centres, and introduce standing meetings.
Lack of physical activity is one of the top four leading causes of preventable death worldwide, ahead of high cholesterol, alcohol and drug abuse.
Virgin Media’s Chief People Officer, Maurice Daw
“In the UK the average person sits for 8.9 hours a day; we wanted to do something to help make it easier for our employees to be more active at work.
“But there is a huge challenge in breaking the habits of a working lifetime [which is why] wellbeing has become a key driver in 2015. Our employees spend most of their day at work, so it makes sense to make sure they are as happy, engaged and healthy as possible. If we can get this right, then there will be obvious benefits with regard to productivity and absenteeism.”
[i] CareerBuilder (May 2015)
[ii] American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2012)
[iii] Research by Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University and the Center For Health Research at Healthways (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: 2013)
[iv] Brain, Performance & Nutrition Research Centre (2010)
[v] Global Healthy Workplaces Summit Shanghai (2014)