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Healthy Workplace Eating Habits Begin with a Nudge

March 22, 2018 / Corporate Wellness

Most U.S. employees spend at least eight hours each day at work and are bound to get hungry. Unfortunately, when hunger strikes, humans tend to gravitate towards options that are quick, filling, and, more often than not, empty calories and full of sugar. This is why healthy workplace eating habits are so important.

The key to success lies in focusing on small changes in the work environment that actually encourage healthy choices rather than just telling your employees, “this is how to be healthier.”

Here are three key tips to nudge your workforce towards healthy workplace eating habits.

#1 Create Healthy Opportunities

Many organizations are providing their people information to foster healthy habits, but solely providing and disseminating is rarely enough to lead employees to act on it.

How can you create small easy-to-follow suggestions that employees will notice? If you have a large office, consider placing markers on the hallways floors encouraging individuals to take the “long way” to meetings. Place a fruit bowl in common areas that employees might frequent for unhealthy snacks.

Takeaway: be creative, and use the space you have to make change.

#2 Position Unhealthy Items Alongside Healthier Alternatives

We all know that it’s essential to form healthy habits that last; but, it’s equally as important to break unhealthy ones, especially when it comes to food choices and inactivity. Although it’s impossible to control your employee’s eating habits outside of work, influencing what your workforce eats in the office can nurture a development of healthy habits that are more likely to flow into their personal lives as well.

Forward-thinking companies are beginning to reduce the amount of unhealthy foods available while increasing healthier options, making them more appealing and accessible, and creating healthier “default” foods.  

“Choice architecture,” or the way choices are presented to an intended audience for decision-making purposes, is all around us. We experience it’s impact every time we walk down the aisles of a grocery store or check out at a cashier’s counter.

Richard H. Thaler, a professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, states, “the combination of loss aversion with the mindless choosing implies that if an option is designated as the ‘default,’ it will attract a large market share. Default options thus act as powerful nudges.”[1]

If your workplace provides snacks, consider the ratio of options that are healthy versus less healthy. Try to create a balance where 75% of snacks offered are healthy. If your workplace doesn’t provide snacks, consider company get-togethers like an all-company (or all-team) lunch. For example, if you’re considering ordering from a caterer with less healthy proteins (like fried chicken) supplement the meal with three or four salad options.

Takeaway: you don’t want to erase all the fun that comes with having a snack or a company get-together, but rather transform your workplace into an environment where healthy habits AND treats can co-exist.

#3 Portion Control

It’s all about small tweaks.  

For example, an experiment was run in Google’s micro kitchen where bulk M&M’s originally poured into four-ounce cups were replaced with smaller individually-wrapped packages. This simple change “reduced the average serving by 58%, from 308 calories to 130.”[2]

The size of serving dishes, plates, or kitchenware often affects the overall amount of food eaten. Related to Delboeuf’s Illusion, larger plates trick our minds into naturally consuming larger portions and thinking we ate less. Simple changes such as this will not only reduce waste, but also plays a crucial role in portion control.[3]

Takeaway: Another great way to position unhealthy foods alongside healthy food is to control the portions

Although non-verbal cues can foster a healthy work environment, the combination of both consistent support and providing your employees with the opportunities to make healthy choices day after day, will ultimately nudge your workforce in the right direction of healthy eating and overall wellbeing.

–  Brendan Lau, Content Marketing Intern for Virgin Pulse (and all-around cool guy)

Further Reading:

Webinar Replay: The Business Value of Employee Wellbeing

Webinar: How Charitable Giving Empowers Wellness at CDM Smith

White Paper: Proving the Value of Wellbeing Investment (FREE DOWNLOAD)


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2535409-nudge-improving-decisions-about-health-wealth-and-happiness


[3] https://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/research/plate-size-and-color-suggestibility-delboeuf-illusion-bias-serving-and-eating-behavior


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