When it comes time to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones, there’s nothing quite like cake, but a new toolkit issued recently by Business in the Community and Public Health England is recommending that UK employers seek healthier alternatives for celebrations in the workplace. The Independent highlighted the toolkit’s recommendations earlier this month:
“Employers have a responsibility to provide safe workplaces that do not damage an employee’s health and environments that support healthier lifestyle choices,” the guide reads. “Healthy employees drive a healthy business.” … Instead of bringing in treats with a high sugar content, the guide proposes offering free fruit and vegetables around the workplace for people to take at their leisure.
Public Health England has calculated that the cost of an unhealthy workforce costs the UK taxpayer more than £60bn a year, which is why it is crucial that employers take better care of the health of the individuals in their workforce.
The organizations’ suggestions caused some controversy after some media outlets erroneously reported that Public Health England had banned cake in the workplace (it hasn’t). This is not the first time UK employers have been urged not to let them eat cake, as it were: Last year, the Faculty of Dental Surgery warned that the abundance of sweets in the workplace could be hurting productivity, along with employees’ physical and dental health. As People Management‘s Georgi Gyton reported at the time, office cultures that encourage unhealthy snacking could be having a negative impact on employee wellbeing at the precise moment employers are being called upon to do more to promote it:
In August 2016, a study in Food, Culture & Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research chronicled the emergence of so-called ‘food altars’ – areas in the office where cakes for someone’s birthday or leftover food from meetings is placed. The research suggested pressurised workloads were a key driver of increasingly poor decisions about what employees eat at work, and said this was having a negative impact on productivity.
[Charlotte Stirling-Reed, nutrition consultant at SR Nutrition] said employers could try and tackle an unhealthy eating culture in a number of ways – for example, by starting a food policy that restricts the amount of cakes, biscuits and less healthy food that is brought into the office; encouraging healthier snacks to be brought in and suggesting what these could be; adopting a monthly ‘bring and share’ lunch, which adds a social aspect to workplace food without the need for sweet treats; encouraging employees to set goals, such as going for a walk at lunchtime, avoiding the lift and reaching their five a day; or sticking to a combined once-a-month celebration of birthdays.
Diet has been a growing area of focus for many organizations’ employee wellbeing programs in recent years, with interventions such as making more healthy food available in cafeterias and vending machines, or even selling it at lower prices than unhealthy options. Technological solutions are also emerging in this space: Back in 2016, the New York Times profiled a small digital startup called Zipongo whose app and website help employees set health goals and find choices on their company’s cafeteria menu that meets their needs.
CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can access a range of research and tools on designing an effective wellbeing program here.