Can your canteen affect your company’s productivity?


There’s little doubt that healthier workforces are happier ones. Happy employees contribute to more productive outputs, which everyone stands to benefit from.

Health check: Overall, how do we rate on the ‘scale’ of healthy living?

The short answer is that a considerable percentage of South African employees are not as healthy as we believe.

There is a distinctive difference between being more consciously aware of healthier habits and consistently putting them into practice; and the most recent Discovery Healthy Company Index Survey highlights this.

According to the survey results, at least 50% of the country’s overall workforce do not adequately meet healthy range standards. Around 63% fall short of recommended physical activity guidelines, 43% are not within a healthy weight range, and at least 34% have poor eating habits. These figures could explain why there appears to be an increase in
non-communicable disease (NCD) incidences.

While the results show that much of the country’s workforce are at higher risk of leading increasingly unhealthy lives, the solutions are not necessarily far from reach.

When we consider how much time we spend in the workplace, access to a canteen stocked with an array of healthier options can contribute to considerable improvements in the right direction. Most of us just need an encouraging nudge,” says Discovery Vitality dietitian, Terry Harris.

How can the workplace canteen better encourage healthier eating habits?

A fairly recent study conducted by The Netherlands Nutrition Centre assessed the eating habits of more than 2 000 participants. The study noted that around 43% admitted having trouble with resisting temptation.

The study also noted that at least half of their assessed participants had a strong interest in having a healthier range of foods made available to them, or at least being exposed to a more equal balance between options.

Taking this into consideration, challenges with willpower are potentially where a large chunk of the problem lies. Employees are aware of their eating habits and may wish to be exposed to healthier varieties, but are perhaps responding more strongly to what is on offer.

Six considerations for creating an ideal workplace canteen

According to the research results, The Netherlands Nutrition Centre recommends some of the following considerations when revamping the workplace canteen:

  • Identifying the most eye-catching spots within the canteen area to display healthier food and beverage options (i.e. along counter tops or atop display racks). If placed along countertops or near the cash desk, more nutritious food options can be placed here to ‘better tempt’ selections of a healthier nature. Chances are, this is where employees are likely to look first too. Other research studies support the suggestion that individuals may have a tendency to choose options which are more prominently displayed and can be accessed with ease.
  • Better utilising the power of the vending machine. Well-known to stock less healthy snack and beverage options, vending machines can be used to offer healthier options. Instead of many sweets and crisps options, packs of nuts or wholegrain crackers can be made more readily available in their place. Likewise, bottled water can replace high sugar content sodas and juices.
  • Making the most of healthier displays. People are visual creatures and naturally gravitate towards what most appeals to them. The intention behind a display is to entice, and in this instance, motivate employees to make healthier choices more often. The Netherlands Nutrition Centre suggests making at least 60% of the food and drink on display or in vending machines healthier options. This can be increased up to 80% if employees show enough interest. With such sizable increases, displaying healthier foods options can be used well in a canteen space. More individuals may select healthier options more frequently if these are more prominently available.
  • Encouraging employees to drink water when thirsty by making safe-to-drink water taps readily available within the canteen space. In this way more employees may be likely to see the benefit to them and choose water over other sugary drinks more frequently (especially since it doesn’t need to be purchased).
  • Presentation really does make a difference. If the display of healthier food and drink options is pleasing on the eye, chances are they will draw positive attention from employees. The more attractive a display (using colour and variety, for instance), the more likely they are to be selected and consumed. The majority of us do have a tendency to be drawn to that which catches our eye in an appealing way first.
  • Seating in the canteen area makes a difference too. When we dine, we like to be comfortable. For many of us, grabbing a quick bite also serves as ‘downtime’ during a busy work day. Layout arrangements with a café style or lounge-like feel offers employees a comfortable means to sit and enjoy their meals. Many may opt to make use of the space for informal meetings too. For those that don’t always have the time to take a full lunch break, ‘grab-and-go’ stations (placed close to entrance / exit points) can also work well for those requiring more flexibility.

“The setup of the workplace canteen is just one of various factors with an influence on the eating habits of office employees. Changes that address not so beneficial behavioural patterns can have a considerable influence. Over time, healthier eating habits may be adopted more consistently and this will contribute to improving the overall health status of us all in the workplace,” concludes Harris.

Discovery for Business

Employers benefit significantly from a healthier workforce. Find out more about our comprehensive Employee Benefits for businesses.


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