This month’s Nutrition and Hydration Week from March 11-17 is an opportunity for employers to revisit employee wellbeing and health promotion messages around good diet and hydration in the workplace, but also reinforce the value of taking proper breaks and having a good work-life balance.
Employee health and wellbeing – the value of keeping your teams well fed and watered
This month will see Nutrition and Hydration Week taking place from March 11-17, the annual event designed to promote the value of good nutrition and hydration. For employers, it can be an opportunity to review or even kickstart conversations around the links between diet, hydration and proper breaks and employee engagement, wellbeing and productivity.
The week is run by a team with a background in healthcare and catering and hospitality and there are various resources on its website as well as a useful Nutrition and Hydration Week handbook that can be downloaded.
All this, of course, is a great starting point and can make the week a good calendar marker to promote as a way of encouraging employees to take stock and think about the food and diet choices they are making.
But perhaps the wider value of an initiative like this is the spotlight it casts on the role of good nutrition and hydration more generally and, in particular, the connections between good nutrition, diet, hydration andsleep and employee health, wellbeing, productivity and engagement.
Healthier options and snacks
At a practical level, this can mean ensuring there are healthier options and choices available on the works’ canteen menu. But it can also mean ensuring any snacks or vending options around the workplace are healthier and inclusive, especially if these are the only options available to employees working nights or shifts.
With hydration, the National Hydration Council has a useful factsheet for employers, which highlights the links between effective hydration and performance, safety and even mood, but also the risks of over-hydration.
Public Health England and Business in the Community’s Physical Activity, Health Eating and Healthier Weight toolkit for employers is also a useful resource in this context.
Of course, no one would suggest factors such as nutrition and hydration are more important drivers of engagement or productivity than, say, job role, relationship with your manager and colleagues, hours and demands, and remuneration.
But they can play their part, especially in terms of helping employees feel they are taking some “ownership” of their health and wellbeing and the healthy (or not) choices they are able to make day to day.
If, for example, the hours or demands of a role are such that it precludes taking a break at lunch or eating healthily in the evening (because you are home so late and exhausted) then that, clearly, will over time have an impact on health and wellbeing.
And this brings us to the final, and perhaps most important, value of focusing on nutrition and hydration within your organisation.
In a way, it is less the actual food, diet or vending choices that you make available though, as we have seen, these are important. It is more about the time and space and work-life balance that, by promoting healthier lifestyles, you will, almost inevitably, also be encouraging.
So, yes, encouraging a healthier lunchtime choice is important. But what is potentially more important is the fact that you as an employer are encouraging your employee to take a proper break, whether a sit-down meal in a works’ café or canteen or simply by getting out of the workplace or away from their sedentary desk for a period.
As Dr Lucy Wright, Optima Health Chief Medical Officer, makes clear: “It is of course not the role of an employer to ‘police’ employee nutrition and diet choices. Yet, at the same time, especially against the backdrop of rising obesity rates and increasingly sedentary lives, there is an argument to be had that, for forward-thinking employers, ‘duty of care’ is a conversation moving beyond its traditional narrow legal health and safety definition.
“Employers may not necessarily be directly responsible for an employee’s weight or lifestyle choices. But sedentary working environments, long hours, inflexible working, demanding roles, drinking cultures, long commutes, as well as unhealthy food or canteen options can all play their part in contributing to employees being unhealthy and/or overweight.
“Engaging with nutrition and hydration is therefore not just about helping employees to help themselves become healthier (which many may welcome in any case). It is also about potentially reducing absence and/or the need for medication, improving fitness and energy levels, engagement and productivity within your organisation,” Lucy says.