Studies show that a strong relationship exists between the physical and social environments of the workplace and the health behaviors of employees. In other words, if there is an opportunity within the workplace to make a healthier choice, or if the work environment supports healthier choices, then employees are more likely to make it. If a healthier alternative is not offered and environmental supports are not in place, change will be more difficult. You can’t and should not try to control what your employees do or eat, but you can give them the resources to make healthier choices by offering a variety of food options and opportunity for physical activity.
Think about some of the meetings or conferences that you’ve last attended. What did they offer in regard to food and drink? More than likely you were provided with assorted pastries, muffins and bagels for breakfast, and wraps and cookies for lunch with coffee or soda to wash it all down. Does this sound familiar? It’s far more common for meetings and conferences to provide these quick and easy options, but they’re not the best choice, even for the generally healthy employee. But what about the employee who has a chronic medical condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure? Those high calorie, high fat/sugar, low nutritionally dense foods and drinks are not a good choice for them, either. The foods being served at meetings, offered in the break room and in vending machines can all contribute to the declining health of employees. Not to mention, most meetings and conferences provide little opportunity for physical activity, which is known to reduces ones ability to concentrate, and reduce productivity, as well as energy levels. But, what if those meetings served fruit, small yogurts, oatmeal, stretching or walk breaks, along with water and 100% juice, too? Now that sounds like a more balanced offering.
With that said, one easy way for companies to change their meeting or conference culture is to adopt what is known as the ‘Healthy Meeting Guidelines’. The New York Sate Department of Health and countless other organizations around the country have also adopted these guidelines, which were developed by theNational Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA). These guidelines are a blueprint to hosting meetings that support employees’, clients’ and members’ efforts to eat well and be physically active. As we know, every small, consistent change impacts company culture.
You can find the entire healthy meeting toolkit here, which also includes guidance on tobacco free meetings and sustainability. We’ve highlighted strategies you can implement at your next meeting to ensure that it delivers the message that you support the health and wellbeing of your employees. DO:
- Place healthier foods and beverages where they are most likely to be seen and more likely to be chosen. If you’ve got a buffet, put fruits and vegetables at the front of the line.
- Make water the default beverage
- Offer fruits and/or vegetables every time food is served
- Serve fruit as dessert
- If offering sweet desserts, cut them in half or order smaller portions
- Cut bagels into quarters
- Serve low-fat or non-fat milk with coffee and tea (in addition to or in place of half and half)
- Serve dressings or condiments on the side
- Periodically break up sitting time. Identify someone to facilitate a short physical activity break(s), and
- Let attendees know that it is fine to move within the meeting space such as standing or stretching
- Do not offer full-calorie sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda’s. Instead, serve 100% juice, fruit-infused water, or seltzer water.
- Don’t serve food during short breaks, instead encourage attendees to take a short walk or take the group through a short stretch
- Do not place candy or candy bowls on tables within the meeting space
You don’t have to implement everything listed in the guidelines at once. If you’re considering this, start with the “low hanging fruit” of offering fruit in place of dessert, cutting the bagels into quarters or removing the sugar sweetened beverages from the mix. Adopting these practices and modeling healthy behaviors not only sends the message that health is important to your company or organization, but that you support the health of your employees’, members’, clients’ and partners’.