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I recently attended the 4th annual Culture Summit in San Francisco where leaders from some of the most successful global companies came together to share strategies, tools and resources on how to unlock the potential of every employee through culture building.  It’s been well-established that high employee engagement is inextricably tied to the organization’s culture and crucial to a company’s success. One that does not encourage employees to bring their best and whole self to work can make or break a company. To remain competitive in this fast-paced corporate world, leaders need a culture strategy that supports employee happiness. While some execs may find this a bit too soft, the data speaks the story. Findings from a Glassdoor analysis show that companies identified as a Best Place to Work outperformed the S&P 500 from 2009 to 2014 by 84%.  

As a nutritionist who has spent the better part of her career in corporate dining, I’ve seen the healthy-food-at-work conversation shift away from a focus on disease prevention and management of health care costs towards employee engagement. (Healthy food at work is a worthy pursuit, great for employees and yes, shareholders too.) Focusing on happiness, however is more interesting (and more fun) especially if it leads to an all inclusive, high performing, innovative workforce, aligned with a company’s mission to do good. When we are happy, aren’t we more likely to be better to each other, living more fully, doing better things for the world (and our employers)?

What if the conversation continued to evolve to include happiness (and not in the free food = happier employee sorta way) but in the healthy food = happiness kinda way.

A recent CDC study found that approximately 25% of employees’ intakes came from food at work, pushing nearly 1300 average calories per meal.  Meals lacked fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while being high in solid fats and sugar. Diet patterns like these are problematic for happiness and health:  

  1.  they lack antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that combat free radicals protecting the brain from cell damage and inflammation that can lead to depression and mood issues.
  2.  they are pro-inflammatory and can cause joint pain, arthritis and chronic health problems that impact quality of life.
  3.  they lack the fiber-full and fermented foods necessary to feed and populate your gut with good bacteria that impact brain chemicals associated with depression.

Similar to studies linking the Mediterranean diet to happiness, recent findings showed eating 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day increased subjects’ life satisfaction score (emotional equivalent to finding employment) while those who didn’t experienced a drop in happiness (emotional equivalent to losing a job). That’s a mind-blowing result! Imagine the impact even a small increase in fruit and vegetable consumption could have on a single employee. What about an entire workforce?

People can’t help but grow, develop and be their best in the right circumstances. How can employers create the right circumstances?  Start with letting nourishing foods be the foundation.

  1. Make them delicious – Offer chefs incentives to create crowd-pleasers that showcase fresh ingredients with a focus on plants. Check out the Harvard/CIA collaboration, Menus of Change for their exceptional culinary tools and resources.
  2. Make them more affordable – Reduce the cost of healthy options. The payoff in increased productivity alone makes the investment worth it.
  3. Market happiness over health – It’s a better (and easier) sell.
  4. Make them more accessible. What if your vending machines were filled with salads?

Leaders can ask themselves, “Are our employees better versions of themselves for working with us?” We recently celebrated our CEO’s birthday over fruit and acai bowls. I’d say we are on the right track. #culturebuilding #winning

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