Help­ing em­ploy­ees to make the right health choices

Food, sleep and ex­er­cise – why your em­ploy­ees need all three to be suc­cess­ful at work

The Irish Times - Business - - WORLD OF WORK -

Poor di­etary, ex­er­cise and sleep habits neg­a­tively im­pact em­ploy­ees’ work per­for­mance and can cost com­pa­nies dearly in terms of lost pro­duc­tiv­ity, ab­sen­teeism and health­care costs.

A study pub­lished in the US jour­nal Pop­u­la­tion Health Man­age­ment showed that eat­ing un­healthily was linked with a 66 per cent in­creased risk of loss of pro­duc­tiv­ity, while a lack of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise was linked with a 50 per cent in­creased risk of low pro­duc­tiv­ity.

In­ter­est­ingly, smok­ing was linked with a 28 per cent in­creased risk of loss of pro­duc­tiv­ity.

The pos­i­tive im­pact of ex­er­cise dur­ing the work­ing day was high­lighted by a US Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health study, pub­lished ear­lier this year, which found that con­sis­tent ex­er­cise, even for just 15 min­utes a day, can im­prove men­tal abil­ity, with in­creased scores for fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion, men­tal re­ten­tion, speed of learn­ing, and men­tal stamina among the key find­ings. The mes­sage is clear, pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­er­cise dur­ing the work­ing day and en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to take them of­fers real ben­e­fits.

Tom Cole­man runs nu­tri­tion and health con­sul­tancy My Nu­tri­tion. He pro­vides health and nu­tri­tion ad­vice to a range of clients, as well as of­fer­ing the ser­vice on be­half of Vhi to its clients.

When it comes to diet, ex­er­cise and sleep, how­ever, much of it is con­cerned with what peo­ple do out­side of work, and em­ploy­ers have to find ways of in­flu­enc­ing that.

“I have seen a huge change and a par­a­digm shift in busi­ness.

“Many em­ploy­ers are in­cen­tivis­ing health, and are pro­vid­ing cre­ative and sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ments in the work­place for em­ploy­ees to make health choices,” he says.

The first and most ob­vi­ous area where em­ploy­ers can play a role is food and nu­tri­tion. Most of us are fa­mil­iar with the “3pm slump” when en­ergy lev­els crash to the floor and we feel an al­most over­whelm­ing de­sire to sleep. Low gly­caemic in­dex car­bo­hy­drates pro­vide a steady sup­ply of glu­cose to the brain and help us con­cen­trate and learn.

Brown rice, quinoa, sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and sweet potato are among the best choices.

An­other source of work­place fa­tigue is a lack of es­sen­tial fatty acids which we must get from our food. The most ef­fec­tive are omega-3 fats, which oc­cur nat­u­rally in oily fish. Other good sources in­clude lin­seed oil, soya oil, pump­kin seeds, and grass-fed beef.

Mood is also im­por­tant, and vi­ta­min B6, B12 and folic acid help the brain use glu­cose to func­tion as well as act­ing as mood reg­u­la­tors.

Low lev­els of B vi­ta­mins are also associated with in­creased stress, and they can be found in whole grains, dark green leafy veg­eta­bles, cheese, eggs, lean red meat, fish and nuts.

While there is ev­i­dence that peo­ple are mak­ing healthy choices in terms of the food they eat, em­ploy­ers some­times un­wit­tingly make it dif­fi­cult. Can­teens might use healthy in­gre­di­ents but some­times the food doesn’t taste great.

Some work­places of­fer free food. “If you give peo­ple a choice be­tween a donut and an ap­ple most peo­ple will prob­a­bly choose the donut. You have to re­ward peo­ple for mak­ing the healthy choice. Maybe look at it the other way and of­fer free fruit and charge for the donuts.”

Sleep­ing bet­ter

Cole­man also be­lieves that em­ploy­ers need to get in­volved in other as­pects of their em­ploy­ees’ per­sonal lives such as sleep.

“I know that it can be seen as a bit in­va­sive, but the over­all wel­fare of their em­ploy­ees is an em­ployer’s con­cern,” he says. “Sleep is a vi­tally im­por­tant pil­lar of good health, for ex­am­ple, and we give talks to em­ploy­ees in client com­pa­nies to give them ad­vice on sleep­ing bet­ter at night.”

Re­search has shown that adults over 45 years who sleep less than six hours a night are twice as likely to have a heart at­tack or stroke than some­one who sleeps 7.5 hours a night. Poor sleep has also been linked to obe­sity, which is strongly associated with in­creased rates of ab­sen­teeism. This is be­cause lack of sleep de­creases lev­els of lep­tin, which in­hibits hunger, and in­creases lev­els of ghre­lin, which in­creases hunger. It can also lead to a loss of con­trol of blood sugar lev­els, a pre­cur­sor of di­a­betes, and has a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the im­mune sys­tem and we be­come less re­sis­tant to colds, flus and so on

The ben­e­fits for em­ploy­ers are clear in terms of re­duced in­stances of mi­nor ill­nesses, and, in­deed, ma­jor health prob­lems like obe­sity and di­a­betes.

“Peo­ple think that the health­ier choice is less ex­cit­ing,” says Cole­man. “If or­gan­i­sa­tions can show their em­ploy­ees that the health­ier choice made them feel bet­ter in them­selves, al­lowed them to do more, and feel more en­er­gised, it could make a big dif­fer­ence.”

The first and most ob­vi­ous area where em­ploy­ers can play a role is food and nu­tri­tion

Vhi Re­bal­ance is a unique cor­po­rate well­ness pro­gramme that helps to en­gage your busi­ness in a cul­ture of well­be­ing. It is de­signed to nur­ture both body and mind for bet­ter per­for­mance and hap­pier em­ploy­ees. Search Vhi Re­bal­ance

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