I started my career working in the sales function of early-stage tech companies in London. The work was interesting and I was part of a really fun team. There was lots of socialising and of course lots of office birthday cake and after-work drinks. After a year of working in this environment and enjoying an active post-university social life, I started to feel low in energy and a bit run down. I understood that nutrition could be a tool to improve my life, but I didn’t know where to start. I trawled through online articles and social media, looking for answers. However, a lot of the conflicting information seemed at best, confusing and at worst, dangerous.
Like most people, nutrition education didn’t feature in my school curriculum. Visits to the doctor never included nutritional advice and the UK government’s Eat Well campaigns didn’t speak to me (they are also pretty nonsensical, if you ask me now as a nutritionist).
I grew increasingly frustrated at feeling both lethargic and disempowered when it came to my decisions around nutrition. I also knew that I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. So, I decided to study nutrition to improve my life and in the future, help others in the same way.
In this blog post, I’ll delve into the reasons why a comprehensive well-being strategy is critical to the success of a business. Exploring how businesses can start to piece a plan together.
Well-being has a huge impact on the productivity of employees. A study by Brigham Young University found that people with unhealthy eating habits are 66% more likely to demonstrate poor productivity at work. Do you do your best work when you feel mentally or physically unwell? Nope, thought not! Procrastination, low energy and low self confidence are all more likely if we don’t feel 100%. On the whole, healthier employees are generally happier and have more to give.
Furthermore, well-being support can dramatically reduce absenteeism. Frequent colds, low energy, painful periods, low mood and gut symptoms are just some of the troubles that can often be greatly improved through nutrition support. In fact, some businesses that I work with have identified a direct correlation between increasing well-being support and a reduction in sick days. In 2013, PWC found that sick days cost UK businesses £29 billion per year. How much are sick days costing your company?
Of course, caring for the well-being of employees also has a positive impact on both employee retention and attraction. When I worked in tech, I was thrilled at the prospect of a fruit basket and ping pong table! However, these no longer cut it in terms of perks. Nowadays, employees have higher expectations.
Lacking or non-existent well-being strategies can contribute to poor mental health amongst employees, of which the impact is huge. Resilience and self-confidence depend on good mental health. When employees struggle with these areas, leadership, collaboration and drive suffers.
One of the most important aspects in the creation of an effective workplace well-being strategy is the acknowledgement that a matured, 360 approach to well-being is necessary. A solid well-being strategy encompasses at the very minimum:
Engaging with all four of these pillars is key to the success of any given programme.
I often see companies basing their entire strategy around mental health alone. These businesses are missing a trick. Each previously mentioned pillar has a huge impact on mental health. Let’s take nutrition as an example. Our bodies are literally built from compounds found in foods. We quite literally are what we eat (and what we absorb, but let’s leave that for another day!)
Furthermore, our brains are physiological systems, and as a result, what we eat has a direct impact on them. Our gut is connected to our brain, and directly influences mental health. Nutrition also impacts our energy levels and our self confidence, both of which have a direct impact on mental health.
First, you should do an audit of any well-being practices you currently have in place. Create a spreadsheet with the pillars that we previously discussed; mental health, movement, nutrition and financial wellness. Make a note of how you’ve supported employees in each of these areas over the past year, if at all.
You could also send an anonymous survey to employees, asking for feedback and suggestions on how well-being support could be improved. Gaining data on key issues will help turn assumptions into quality data-driven management decisions. By discovering what is important to your employees will help inform future strategy, but it will also have the added benefit of making employees feel appreciated and seen. Some suitable areas to touch on include: current well-being programme(s), nutrition support, mental health support, movement support, financial well-being support, quality of experts, timing of sessions, etc.
Once you’ve gathered this information, you can look to fill in the gaps and get a more formal strategy in place. This is an exciting moment, as it means reaching out to experts who offer workshops and/or 1:1 sessions on well-being. Group workshops are fantastic for educating multiple employees on key topics in a scalable way, whilst 1:1 sessions allow individuals to work towards certain goals in the context of their life. A good facilitator should be qualified, professional and energising. And as always, you should aim to get a wide diversity of experts.
Again, if you’re not sure which sessions to choose - ask your employees. Many companies that I work with will post three options for talks on Slack, and ask their staff to vote with an emoji. This is fun, quick and effective! And whilst awareness days offer a more obvious reason to host specific events, remember that we should approach employee well-being support as a year-round priority, and there may be some relevant topics which do not and there may be some relevant topics which do not fall into this category.
When it comes to nutrition, companies should seek out an expert who can put a programme of talks on throughout the year. Ensure that you choose an expert with a balanced and realistic approach to nutrition. Companies can also offer employees the opportunity to use a per-head well-being or training budget for 1:1 sessions, should they wish to work on a particular health concern.
In the office, companies should be mindful of snacks. Whilst a consistent supply of biscuits and chocolate may seem kind, I see so many clients who struggle with this kind of office set-up. A selection of healthy snacks such as fruit, yoghurt, crackers, low-sugar popcorn and protein bars is a much better option. In the same vein, businesses should be mindful of the curation of their social calendar. Putting on some alcohol-free events can be healthier and more inclusive. Try some activity-based events to add some variety.
It is worth mentioning that embracing a culture of well-being goes far beyond bringing in external experts. A lunchtime yoga class will have little impact if employees are looked down on by managers for participating, or if they will have to stay in the office late to make up for it. Take some time to analyse the overall culture of your organisation, and the impact that this may have on your well-being efforts.
To conclude, well-being support is a vital component of any company’s success and a thoughtful and measured approach is key.
Sophie is a Registered Nutritional Therapist based in London where she works with businesses to integrate nutrition services into their wellbeing strategy, running group workshops on key topics like eating for sleep, energy, hormone balance, stress and more, as well as running 1:1 consultations with employees. She also has a private practice where she sees clients virtually and writes for several publications.