Ahead of this year’s National Work Life Week (3rd-7th October), Sue Wainscot, HR Director at Dine Contract Catering, looks at what employers can do to encourage staff to eat well – and live well – in the current climate…

“Over a decade ago, one of the first studies to investigate global workplace eating habits quoted: ‘Poor meal programmes and poor nutrition underlie so many workplace issues: morale, safety, productivity and the long-term health of the workers and nations.’[1] 

In the 11 years since this study was conducted, it’s become increasingly apparent that there’s an unhealthy approach to nutrition in UK workplaces.  This is certainly borne out by research by the British Heart Foundation[2], which claims that more than two-fifths of workers in the country believe their job is having a negative impact on their lives, with stressful working conditions leading to poor lifestyle choices such as eating unhealthily and avoiding exercise. 

What’s more, over a third of workers surveyed by the charity said they had put on weight because of their work, with regular overtime resulting in less time and energy to exercise and prepare healthy meals.

As most organisations will appreciate, employers not only have a duty to support their staff in reducing their stress levels and making healthier lifestyle choices, there’s also a compelling business case to do so…  The British Heart Foundation points to research showing that the vast majority of companies with employee wellness programmes (82 per cent) see both reduced sickness absence and a 15 per cent increase in output, whilst a study looking at the evidence of the effectiveness of workplace health initiatives found a 27% reduction in ill health and absence[3]

As a contract caterer, we serve 35,000 people every day and, as such, we appreciate the opportunity to encourage them to make healthy choices, both in and out of work.  In fact, our ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ ethos underpins everything we do as a company – including supporting our own employees to lead healthier lifestyles.

Based on our own experience, here are my top tips to employers on how to encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance:

Keep lunch breaks sacred

Enjoying lunch away from their desk not only discourages staff from overeating, but research suggests that those who don’t take their lunch break work slower and less accurately in the afternoon than colleagues who take at least 30 minutes away from their workstation[4].  Worrying, as a poll conducted on behalf of BBC Breakfast suggests that a staggering 52% of those surveyed indicated a widespread culture of working through lunch breaks[5].

Avoid fostering a culture where staff are likely to feel guilty for taking their lunch breaks – not only will you create a more positive working environment, you’ll also reap the benefits in productivity.

Similarly, if employees are working through lunch breaks without refuelling, it will compromise their blood sugar levels, leading to energy lows.  This increases temptations to visit vending machines or purchase sweet snacks to boost falling blood sugar levels.  A recent survey carried out by the British Heart Foundation reported that office workers often relied on chocolate and caffeine as an energy boost![6]

If food and drinks are available on site, help your employees to make healthier choices at times when they’re under pressure by offering low GI snack options such as sandwiches made with wholemeal bread, plain natural yogurt, fruit, nuts and low sugar cereal bars.  Run promotions on healthier options, such as a deal where diners get a free bottle of water with a higher fibre sandwich or ‘superfood’ salad, as a means of driving healthy choice.

Make exercise easy

The stress-busting benefits of exercise are widely known, plus physical health is closely linked to brain health, making a healthy body key to a healthy brain. Encourage employees to incorporate activity into their daily working routines through incentives such as subsidised local gym membership and cycle to work schemes. Many of our own clients have onsite gyms, which is great in terms of promoting fitness, but also allows us to link our food promotions with gym activities.

Get staff on board

Survey staff about what would motivate them to eat more healthily / take more exercise and use this knowledge to inform policies such as flexible working guidelines. For example, it may be possible to allow employees to adjust their work patterns to incorporate exercise into their day – even if it’s as simple as taking their lunchbreak early in the afternoon to allow for an off-peak gym visit – this could break down barriers to improving their fitness and, therefore, their overall productivity.

Promote healthy habits at home

Leaflets and posters in prominent positions such as rest areas are a useful way of offering quick tips on how employees can lead healthier lifestyles both in and out of work.  For example, this could include simple pointers on ways to incorporate more activity into their daily lives or advice on healthy meal planning.

If you have a staff restaurant or café, make recipes for popular healthy options available for people to take home and recreate for their families. It works in many of our restaurants and we’ve seen a real change in culture as a result.

At Dine Contract Catering, we create bespoke monthly ‘Live Well’ leaflets, educating diners on topics such as the health benefits of certain foods and ways in which they can incorporate activity in their daily lives to adopt a healthier lifestyle. 

Keep things in Perspective

Last but by no means least, we spend so much time at work that the problems and frustrations that we may encounter there begin to feel bigger than they need to. Try to foster an environment that recognises and values a work life balance. It's a job, not a life.

An estimated 27.3 million working days were lost in the UK in 2014/2015 due to work-related ill health, while days lost to stress in particular cost UK employers £1.24 billion each year[7].  By following these tips, you can go a long way to minimising the impacts of stress and poor health on your business.”


[1] Food at work: Workplace solutions for malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases, Wanjek C, 2005


[3] C3 Collaborating for Health. Workplace Health Initiatives: Evidence of Effectiveness, 2011

[4] A survey of 1,350 workers in office and industrial environments by AirConUK, 2015

[5] ComRes, BBC Breakfast Lunch break poll, 7th February 2013. Available from: (Accessed 8th February 2013)

[6] 1 in 5 workers don’t take lunch break, British Heart Foundation, 1st February 2013. Available from:

[7] Health and Safety Executive statistics, as supplied by Stress Management Society