What is your Food strategy at work? As reflected in the December 2016 edition of FMWorld food in the workplace is changing dramatically. As we head into the Festive Season I am republishing a post from my archive on the subject as I take a well-earned end of year break.

As new technologies progress, the office is only one of the places where work can be done. As work becomes ever more fluid in its nature and place, so the ties between the employee and organisation have grown weaker. The rise of employee engagement as an attempt to re-establish this relationship serves to emphasise this potential disconnect. As a workplace professional one of the tools in our arsenal is the role of food in the workplace.

As new technologies progress, the office is only one of the places where work can be done. As work becomes ever more fluid in its nature and place, so the ties between the employee and organisation have grown weaker. The rise of employee engagement as an attempt to re-establish this relationship serves to emphasise this potential disconnect. As a workplace professional one of the tools in our arsenal is the role of food in the workplace.

We have witnessed a revolution in food at home and in the media. Interest in celebrity chefs, cookery programmes, bake-offs and recipe books has exploded and brought the excitement of food into the mainstream. We must now do the same for food at work. People are demanding and expecting far greater choice and quality of food and drink at work, and are showing an increasing demand to understand the provenance of the food they are eating.

Dr Barry Varcoe, Global Head of CRE&FM, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd and a leading light in the REFM world together with Phillip Ross CEO of wrote Food at Work in an attempt to highlight the importance of food in the workplace. In that report they came up with the 7 ‘Peas’: People, Place, Product, Psychology, Performance, Productivity and Partnership as the key ingredients to be considered in a successful strategy in the workplace for workforce effectiveness, health and wellbeing.

Eating at work often conjures up the vision of staff bringing to work a lunch box consisting of last night’s leftovers to be reheated in the pause room microwave, and consumed by people eating alone, tied to their desks by computers, phones and so are sedentary for the majority of the working day, with only short walks to the lifts and toilets as exercise.

If by some chance, lip service is paid to the provision of sustenance by the employer, then vending machines are located in so-called ‘tea points’  that are usually hidden away in those unusable places on the floor plate next to the core (lifts, toilets and so on) where plumbing can be accessed (through wet risers) and nothing else can be usefully located. Vending is provided with little thought for the well being of the staff members with sugar and salt laden vending snacks with little nutritional value being dispensed for the unsuspecting staff to graze on during the day.

When a central catering provision is made for the staff the spaces created for us to eat in are normally uninspiring environments designed to move people through a conveyor belt of self-service, poor quality, one-size-fits-all ‘refuelling’. All too often, the spaces created do not conjure the magic and atmosphere of great restaurants, bars, pubs or coffee shops where we choose to eat and drink in our personal time. Outside of the lunch hours these valuable spaces remain idle, at best used for the odd discussion or meeting and all too often the coffee shop closes at 3pm, just when people are looking for a space to collaborate over a good coffee.

The World Heath Organisation acknowledges obesity as an unforgiving, formidable chronic disease, an eminent global epidemic, and the most significant independent risk factor for chronic disease. The number of people in the world who are obese or overweight has topped 2.1 billion, up from 875 million in 1980. The prevalence of obesity has exponentially escalated over the past 30 years. Estimates are that 26% of the global adult population is either overweight or obese. However, in South Africa, it is estimated that the prevalence towards obesity is nearly double the global average at a staggering 45 %

Medical research points to a range of health risks associated with sitting or being sedentary for more than four hours a day including heart/cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, muscle degeneration, backache and neck pain as well as osteoporosis. Unfortunately, an average office  worker now sits for 8.9 hours each day. And so encouraging activity is one of the key recommendations along with a recommendation that the provision of food and drink at work moves from being seen as a ‘service’ or amenity to a central part of the workplace, integrated into an agile work strategy.

The South African Government has spent more than R23 billion preventing and treating lifestyle illnesses associated with obesity in the past nine years. This should be of concern to all of us and in particular the cost of healthcare and production that is lost to preventable dietary related illness. But as an employer, we also need to understand the link between what, when and how we eat, and how we perform at work. Job performance should be another strong incentive, inadequate consumption of nutritious food during the work day has been tied to difficulty concentrating and making decisions, fatigue, sickness, low morale, and greater risk of workplace accidents.

A study published in the journal Population Health Management shows that eating unhealthily is linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of productivity, while rare exercise is linked with a 50% increased risk of low productivity. By contrast, sticking to healthy foods has been associated with a 25% greater likelihood of a high self-rated job performance rating.

So as workplace professionals we are all aware that health and wellbeing are high on the corporate agenda and our understanding and appreciation of food outside the workspace has moved on. Sadly this has unfortunately been lost in most workspaces.

This situation can be improved dramatically by redesigning the spaces as WorkCafés which focusses on the space and how it can be used for an alternative work-related collaboration space. In addition and through the research done by Varcoe and Dunn, they have identified what they refer to as the ‘7 Peas of Food at Work’.

These set the approach and articulate the range of influences and ingredients that must be brought into the mix to set and create a food and drink strategy. Each ‘pea’ has an impact on the approach to food and drink as well as the outcomes of a successful strategy.

7 ‘Peas’

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1. People

Food and its role in bringing community and society together is the foundation of culture and ethnicity and can be used to positively enhance productivity, innovation and collaboration in the workplace. Focusing on the needs of the workplace population together with their well-being enhances engagement and is a signal of management attention to the needs of their staff.

2. Place

As highlighted in my blog post last week, the design of the food and drink space is often limited in its creativity, with predictable furniture, planned in unimaginative layouts adjacent to a ‘cattle crush’ servery designed for efficient throughput. The contrast between the places we eat in the office and those we choose in our personal lives, great restaurants, cafes and bars, to spend our money are plain to see.

Why shouldn’t the office have space that is as good as the places we choose to use on the high street or in the mall? The places we create for food and drink in the workplace can be positively identified with productivity and creativity and used as a relief from typical austere working environments that are integrated into the broader dynamic working model.

3. Product

The product is the food and drinks served, including the range, choice, brand positioning, price and ‘value for money’ as well as freshness, quality and ingredients. The produce needs to reflect the diversity of the people it serves including sourcing sustainable, healthy and locally produced fayre.

Clearly, the establishment needs to be commercially viable but it has to positively compete with people bringing their own food to work and so the variety and price point are critical for success. For most employees, this is the only occasion where they spend their own money inside the workspace and food is, therefore, a very personal and emotive decision and it needs to be respected.

4. Physiology

Food and drink changes the chemical balance in our bodies during the day and it is in the self-interest of the organisation to ensure that there are alternatives on hand that can have a positive benefit on mood, behaviour, concentration, energy levels and productivity.

With the advent of Banting, we are all much more aware than we perhaps were 3 years ago of the effect of carbohydrates on our levels of energy particularly when refuelling in the middle of the day. Historically our day to day foods were geared towards convenience and practicality and this generally involved the overindulgence in sugar spiking, energy sapping complex carbohydrates.

Furthermore other than fuelling our bodies for the particular rigours of work there may be safety issues at hand. In particular in the mining industry, adequately nourishing the workforce has a positive benefit to the overall safety of the workforce underground where gruelling condition can take its toll on insufficiently nourished members of staff causing potential safety incidents for not only for the individual but all members at the rock face with the inevitable damage to the company brand along with the subsequent loss of production.

5. Performance

The report recognises a number of different behavioural types for how people choose to consume food and drink as well as their interaction with others. This is based on psychometric profiling or personality types and should be recognised in the planning of space that is aligned to the profile of the work population and how they choose to consume the product on offer.

6. Productivity

This needs to be the primary objective for the strategy of the provision of food at work, even if it is only to providing a viable alternative for staff members not to walk out of the door at lunchtime.

More than this we are constantly bombarded with the negative impact of eating on productivity in the workplace. Eating unhealthy food throughout the working day was linked to a 66% rise in risk of low productivity at work, while lack of regular exercise is linked with a 50% increase risk of low productivity

The study went on to estimate that health-related productivity loss, closely related to food, accounts for 77% of all productivity losses at work and costs employers ‘two to three times more than annual healthcare expenses’

With sedentary work and long commutes contributing to the staggering rise in unhealthy populations just by getting people to move to the Workcafe promotes well-being through movement and encourages the continuance of work in the food setting.

7. Partnership

Food service is fundamentally now part of workplace strategy and the expertise of the service provider needs to be engaged to look and bring together the component parts all the food and drink provision and connect these to the overall workplace strategy and company objectives.


What has been your experience with Food at Work? Please leave a comment below….