Take a look at the food your employees grab for lunch next time you’re in the break room: bags of chips, fast-food leftovers, frozen pizzas. Whatever’s convenient, right? Though it’s been well documented that eating healthfully is critical to maintaining overall health and well-being — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being overweight or obese significantly increases a person’s risk for conditions such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease — employees often will make poor food decisions because there simply aren’t healthy food options available.
What you might not know is how your employees’ diets affect the financial health of your company. The CDC reports that employers lose $1,685 per employee per year related to personal and family health problems. Simply put: An employee’s food selection directly impacts your bottom line, and what they’re eating in the break room matters.
It’s impossible to play food police at all times, but taking control where you can by implementing a few simple initiatives can be a subtle way to promote healthy eating habits.
- Preventing obesity has a positive return on investment. According to the CDC, “Lifestyle changes that bring about 5 percent to 7 percent loss in body weight can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes for people at high risk for the disease.” According to research at the National Business Coalition on Health, an employee with diabetes costs approximately $4,400 more annually compared to an employee without the disease. Encouraging healthy choices is an easy way for you to prevent diabetes and keep your costs down.
- Remove junk food from your vending machines. If your company doesn’t provide snacks, vending machines are often the go-to source of energy when an employee is tired or worn down. Instead of the usual junk-food staples, choose healthy food options that are low in fat and sugar. There’s no out-of-pocket expense for the employer, and it sends the message to your employees that you care about what they eat.
- Provide healthy options for catered meetings and events. Even if it is just for a group of management, offer healthful options, including whole grains and lean meats. Or, for those that order in for lunch, provide menus from healthier restaurants. Again, this is unlikely to increase your out-of-pocket expenses because you’ll replace the cost of unhealthy snacks and meals with healthful choices. According to the CDC, consuming more servings of fruits and vegetables a day is one of the four most important activities individuals need to do to remain healthy, so if your company provides snacks, why not make them healthy?
- Ban the donuts. Do you ever have vendors come in who bring boxes of donuts or cupcakes? Consider having a “no donuts” rule or a policy that restricts the kinds of food you can have available in the breakroom. If vendors show up with sugary treats, tell them your company is committed to health, and the vendor will have to take the cookies home with them.
Providing employees with an opportunity to improve their diet can help encourage a ripple effect outside of work as well. Trying something new at work may quickly lead to a household full of healthy food options. In the long term, this benefits everyone.
Sandy Baker is a full-time freelance writer specializing in health, personal finance and Internet marketing. Her long-term history online has included publications with companies including Marriott Hotels, The New York Times and dozens of other small and medium-sized businesses. She is also published in print with award-winning books such as The Complete Guide to Estate Planning, Complete Guide to Early Retirement, The Complete Bankruptcy Guide for Consumers and Small Businesses and The Complete Guide to Organic Lawn Care.