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Eat to compete

Lynne Graham is HR Director at BaxterStorey and a member of the Business in the Community (BITC) Workwell Leadership Team, a campaign designed to create the most engaged workforce in the world. Here she explores the benefits of creating a holistic approach to engagement and wellbeing.

Employee engagement has developed as a strategic business issue over the past decade. Many companies are realising that in increasingly congested and homogenised markets the key differentiator in business performance is the willingness of their people to go the extra mile. And this has been endorsed through the influential MacLeod report, Engaging for Success. So although almost one in three workers report not feeling engaged at work*, the message clearly is getting through that having an engagement strategy, with robust plans supported by objective measurement can deliver hard results – and not just in the classic people measures of retention and absenteeism.

But what is surprising is that business interest in wellbeing is as yet undeveloped or siloed. Let’s start by defining what wellness is. Put simply it’s about the physical, psychological and social health of the individual. And maybe it’s the fact that wellbeing strays in to the arena of personal health that causes employers to shy away. Whilst it is a legal requirement that employers have a responsibility to protect the safety of their employees, with all that entails – the notion of getting involved with an individual’s personal choices around their physical or mental health, may seem a step too far for many organisations. So the default position for most of us is dealing with the consequences, managing absenteeism. Yet, for me it’s a straightforward question for every HR professional: “How can I be concerned about and invest in employee engagement if I haven’t considered what I can do to keep people safe and well in their workplace”?

As a caterer we operate in every sector of business and feed all different types of people, from city traders to distribution workers. We are seeing a rise in the number of businesses that recognise the link that offering nutritious, fresh food choices has on employee wellbeing and, therefore, on employee engagement. Interest in food and nutrition isn’t something that people switch off when they get to work. Providing freshly cooked meals from locally sourced produce provides a link between the values that people have with those of their organisation. And it’s not all about meat and two veg, simply offering an alternative to the ubiquitous pre-packed sandwich helps people to feel that their employer cares about their day to day wellbeing.

Companies invest heavily in the square footage devoted to employee restaurants, coffee shops and grab-and-go pods. So why don’t senior business leaders pay more attention to getting a return from this investment in the social space? Progressive employers recognise that in-house restaurants and coffee shops can go beyond just providing a food service to establishing a social hub and sense of community. Extending opening hours, providing flexible working and meeting space, encouraging social gatherings creates multi-use space which can act as a counter-balance to remote or virtual working. The sociability of getting together around food and drink can and does impact on the emotional engagement employees have with their colleagues, their workplace and their employer. And this will be directly reflected in any engagement survey. Many years ago I was struck by something Tim Smit, founder of The Eden Project said in a speech. I am paraphrasing, but it was along the lines that he never expected his team to make an important decision in the office. When big stuff had to be decided it was around a table and over a good meal.

*What do workers want? An agenda for the workplace from the workplace, TUC

www.baxterstorey.com

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