With the end of the holiday season and the start of a fresh new year comes a renewed focus on health and productivity. We make diet and fitness resolutions, straighten up our offices, and return to work with a sense of purpose. Or do we? 

With many teams still working from home, it can be difficult to get back in the swing of things. Holiday treats are still lying around, gyms are closed, and we don’t have the reset button of returning to the office after the new year. 

So how to shake the winter doldrums? One strategy to consider is adding food options to your employee wellness benefits. When we think about motivation and productivity, our minds often jump first to minimizing interruptions, reducing unnecessary meetings, or setting up an ergonomic workspace. What your team eats on a day-to-day basis, however, can have just as profound an effect on their performance. 

According to a landmark ILO report, a healthy diet can raise productivity levels by up to 20%. Another study found that employees with unhealthy diets were 66% more likely to report reduced job performance. Not convinced? Here are all the ways that healthy eating can improve your team’s productivity in 2021.

  • Increased energy, concentration, and alertness. Eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats is key to maintaining the energy and focus needed to get through the workday. Our bodies break down much of the food we eat into glucose, which our cells require for energy. (Fun fact: while the brain accounts for only ~2% of our weight, it uses ~20% of glucose-derived energy, making it the main consumer of glucose in the body!) So when we don’t adequately fuel our bodies, we feel tired and lack focus. 

But that’s only part of the story. It’s also important to remember that the body processes different types of food at different rates. Refined carbohydrates, like white bread or pasta, break down quickly, providing a burst of energy followed by a slump. On the other hand, a high fat meal like a cheeseburger provides more sustained energy but can make us feel sluggish as the digestive system works harder to break it down. A healthy meal of grilled chicken (lean protein) over brown rice (whole grain) with veggies and a small amount of an olive oil-based dressing (healthy fat) provides sustained energy without the slump.

  • Immune system health. Eating well is also critical to maintaining a healthy immune system, which boosts employee productivity by reducing sick days and presenteeism. Especially working from home, your employees may not call out sick, but they’re certainly not their most productive selves when they’re not feeling well. Research has established that poor nutrition impairs immune function, whereas healthy eating primes the immune system to more effectively and efficiently fight infection and disease.
  • Improved sleep. Food can also significantly impact sleep duration and quality, which in turn dictates how rested and focused your employees feel during the workday. Studies have found that high-fat diets can lead to more fragmented sleep patterns, while consuming spicy foods too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep by raising your core body temperature.
  • Improved mental health. Research has linked poor mental health with increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased cost to employers. Chronic stress also causes inflammation in the body, which if left unaddressed can increase chronic disease risk. 

This is another area where healthy eating can come into play. A recent systematic review found that following a healthy diet, and in particular a Mediterranean-style diet,  may confer some protection against depression. 

  • Promotes weight maintenance and reduced risk of chronic disease. According to the CDC, poor nutrition is one of the top four risk factors for chronic disease and obesity. Chronic illness such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and cancer impacts employee productivity by significantly increasing absenteeism and presenteeism. One study found that the economic impact of chronic disease is $1.3 trillion annually, $1.1 trillion of which represents the cost of lost productivity.

Now that you understand how nutrition drives productivity, how do you encourage your employees to adopt healthy eating habits?

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Connect your team members with a registered dietitian

Our registered dietitians regularly run webinars on a variety of health and wellness topics that can provide your team with the information they need to make the best food choices. Keep an eye out for new content coming this year and feel free to share with your employees!

Provide company water bottles to encourage adequate hydration

Another no-brainer. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and lack of focus - all of which reduce productivity. Providing your team with a fun new company water bottle is an inexpensive way to encourage them to stay hydrated.

Consider providing meal benefits as part of your workplace wellness program

According to a recent survey, 3 out of 4 employees said food benefits would increase their productivity at work. Think about the time it takes to plan and prepare a healthy meal. Chances are, your employees are either losing that productive time or relying on quick but likely less healthy options. Having quick, convenient, and healthy meal options will not only boost your employees’ health and performance, but also benefit your company’s bottomline. A recent HBR analysis found that employee wellness programs can have a return as high as 6:1 to the employer.

Whether your team is back in the office or working from home, DoorDash for Work has a solution that makes it quick and easy to eat healthy. DashPass for Work, a subscription that gives employees access to $0 delivery fees and reduced service fees, is an HR benefit that keeps on giving. There are thousands of healthy DashPass restaurants across DoorDash and Caviar, with more being added all the time. Additionally, our team of in-house registered dietitians recently launched a collection of curated healthy restaurants for DashPass for Work subscribers. Keep an eye out for future collections that will make it easier than ever for your team to find their new healthy favorites. 

Want to help your employees have their most productive 2021? Start the year off on the right foot with DoorDash for Work products, which will provide your team with the fuel they need to do their best work. Contact us today to get started or read our guide on Everything to Keep in Mind When Updating your Employee Wellness Program for 2021 and download The Ultimate Employee Wellness Checklist.employee-wellness-checklist

Anne Riggs, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian

Anne Riggs is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition. As a Nutrition Associate at DoorDash, she specializes in curating nutritious meals for corporate catering clients and launching health initiatives across DoorDash and Caviar products. Anne’s experience prior to DoorDash includes acute care, outpatient nutrition counseling, and corporate wellness. In her free time, you can usually find her trying new recipes or spending time outside with her husband, daughter, and crazy golden retriever.