Providing employees with basic pointers on nutrition and sleep can work wonders with the bottom line.
Most employers wouldn’t dream of putting the wrong fuel into a company car or other vehicle or consider using it if it wasn’t roadworthy, but when it comes to their human assets they don’t always follow the same logic.
An employee’s body and mind simply won’t perform to their optimum without adequate nutrition and sleep, and there are a range of steps that even the smallest employers can take to help ensure they have this.
Most of these are not exactly rocket science but they can help boost employees’ immune systems, enhance energy and efficiency and make them less susceptible to physical or mental illness.
Not all employers can afford an expensive private medical insurance (PMI) scheme but prevention, as the old saying goes, is better than cure. It tends to be much less expensive than cure as well.
A positive and healthy culture can also benefit the bottom line by greatly increasing the chances of retaining staff and avoiding the costs involved of continually having to recruit and retrain.
There are plenty of sources of online information on diet and sleep that employees can be directed towards, and firms with more than around 20 staff can consider offering workshops and seminars delivered by external wellness consultants.
But there also some basic tips that the very smallest employers can impart themselves. They can let employees know that eating every three or four hours, and snacking healthily in between, controls their blood sugars and regulates insulin and cortisol production – which assists with managing energy and stress levels.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), for the average person eating healthily daily means five to seven portions of the brown starchy complex carbohydrates, five portions of fruit and vegetables, three portions of dairy – for calcium – and two portions of protein, with lots of good fat coming from oily fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
It also emphasises that staying well hydrated by simply drinking water or herbal teas can minimise the risk of headaches and manage hunger pangs.
Experts tend to stress the importance of having food that is in season and of avoiding too much sugar.
They also highlight the dangers of consuming sweets, biscuits and sandwiches as they are full of the wrong types of carbohydrates and will lead to a sharp energy drop around an hour after eating.
Hence the reason why so many employees find it hard to concentrate in the afternoon after eating such things at lunchtime.
Practical steps that employers can take to promote the right habits include offering free fruit bowls in the office or subsidised fruit in the canteen – perhaps with a fruit of the month promotion – together with encouraging employees to have water bottles on their desks and ensuring that water dispensers are widely distributed.
Those wishing to go a stage further could perhaps introduce a Grow Your Own Rocket Pots theme or give tips on how to make nutritious smoothies, soups and salads.
Providing employees with fitness tracking devices can help them follow correct diets by monitoring how many calories they are burning off, and some of these devices can also be used to monitor sleep patterns.
According to the CIPD, the average adult needs between seven and eight hours sleep a night, and losing 90 minutes of sleep may decrease productivity levels by a third. So, anything employers can do to help ensure employees sleep soundly is likely to prove a good investment.
One message they can try and get across is to stop using iPhones, laptops or other devices at least an hour before going to bed. These emit a blue light that hinders the production of melatonin – the hormone needed for sleep.
Another is the importance of employees finishing their last main meal – and any vigorous exercise – at least three hours before bedtime. Anyone snacking after this should stick to a high complex carbohydrate and low protein snack such as turkey on brown bread or natural yoghurt, nuts and fruit – which promote melatonin.
Larger employers may also wish to consider offering sleep seminars and mindfulness courses, or even relaxation rooms to promote power napping – which can restore productivity.