This was the main takeaway from Brian Wansink during a session Thursday at the Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference, who said companies need to make small cultural changes to the workplace to encourage employees to be healthy.
Wansink, a behaviorial scientist, food psychologist and Cornell University professor, is a proponent of small lifestyles changes that will ultimately shift the culture.
"It's easy to think fitness plays a critical role in wellness, but it doesn't always," he told a room of benefits managers. "There are other components."
Wansink shared a few tips on how to embrace healthy eating and living in the workplace. Among them:
Get your workers away from their desks. One big problem is employees aren't leaving their desks at work, even during lunch hour. Not only do people who eat at their desk eat more and often unhealthier food, they will eat later, too, to reward themselves for not leaving their desk during lunch. This practice also has a bigger effect than just on the waistline: Employees who eat at their desk like their manager less, their company less and generally become disgruntled, Wansink said.
Give your break room a makeover. This one move can "dramatically change who of your employees sticks around the office," Wansink said. Think things like free (healthy) food and drinks, open seating and a table, TVs, and an open, inviting atmosphere.
Have a workplace cafeteria. Yes, it's time for you to consider a workplace cafeteria. Workplace cafeterias can fundamentally change the way your employees eat and think about food, as cafeterias can offer healthy foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables and sugar-free drinks, and offer half portions. Small changes that can only be done at a cafeteria can have a big and lasting, impact on your employees, Wansink said.
Think of healthy as a bad word. Though it may sound counterintuitive, when you are making healthy changes at the workplace, don't use the word healthy. "You don't want to use the word healthy. Healthy is often seen as a four-letter word," Wansink said. "It makes people think they are giving up something or not eating something that's good to eat or fills you up. Instead, use the word fresh or something else."
Have a contract. Consider having employees sign a "health conduct code." "Usually employees sign a conduct code about how they won't steal pens, so what about signing something that makes you responsible for some part of your health?" Wansink said. Then reward them for following it. If employees participate in a workplace wellness challenge or have healthy snacks at their desk or attend a session on healthy living, then they can get points. And they can use those points for a lower premium or an extra vacation day, Wansink said.