We’ve all been there. In fact its de rigueur for the first speaker after lunch at a conference or seminar to make a particularly threadbare comment about the graveyard shift’. The implication is you will all be nodding off after stuffing yourself on the hearty food gulped down during the lunch break. This is generally aided and abetted by those delicious and tempting pastries served at morning tea. The fact of the matter is the speaker is right on the money and sure enough the audience will be dotted with people whose bodies jerk awake as they have caught themselves nodding off. It doesn’t have to be like that though. Imagine then, this phenomenon happening in the workplace every day outside of the conference circuit. Imagine it happening when high risk plant is being used on a site, precision manufacturing, or air traffic control. Imagine trying to learn key life-saving information on a training course.
An interesting article appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) this week on companies (NAB, Bupa and KPMG all got a mention) who are getting rid of sugar rich food in favour of healthy options. A big part of their rationale is productivity and wellness. If you think this is just high paid HR people running out of ideas think again. It has been estimated (AFR) that the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism (at work but not fully on the case) costs the Australian economy $44 billion per annum. Put that into perspective – Queensland spends $17.3 billion on its public healthcare system.
As many will know CTC has had a focus on worker well-being for some time. We are pretty proud of the initiatives we have introduced:
- 24/7 gym;
- Mindfulness training for staff and tenants;
- Relaxation and sleep centre; and
- Fitness classes.
In fact we were recognised for our efforts in 2016 winning the State Government’s Best Workplace Wellbeing Award. Our efforts have focused lately in the areas of nutrition and mental health and alertness. As I write this we are holding our very first Keto Klub where we will impart information and provide support to those wishing to explore the benefits of a new approach to diet (as opposed to dieting).
There are those who will argue that obesity isn’t a workplace issue, but I’m not sure I can subscribe to that view. With respect to our own position we provide an on-site café and from here we feed our tenant staff, our CTC staff, students, visitors and course participants. We have a captive market on our Precinct. What we serve everyday has an on-going positive, or not so positive impact on people’s lives, depending on menu options we present. Things are getting worse at a population level for Australians.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare who know such things state that one quarter (26% to be exact) of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2014-15. Alarm bells not ringing yet? They also estimate that two thirds of adults are overweight or obese costing our economy an estimated $8.6 billion in 2011-12. At the very least this is a health and social policy issue of huge significance so it’s easy to see how this could impact on the business world and why the business world may wish to intervene. Regular readers of my blogs will be familiar with my argument of businesses and corporations acting ‘in loco parentis’, as it were, with respect to what used to be the sole domain of governments.
As it happened we have changed our Café operator recently. While we were sad to see our previous operators depart after a number of years running a successful enterprise, that did provide us with an opportunity to re-think our approach to what we offer. How can we sheet home responsibility to the government to fix the obesity epidemic if we keep providing food that runs counter to a healthy diet?
Before selecting a new operator we sat down and worked through an ethos. We sought opinions from our tenants and the main building and construction Union. Guess what? They reported that they we grappling with exactly the same issues of the need for healthy food options for a workforce that traditionally has been eating food of lower nutritional value. Our thoughts can be distilled as:
- You are what you eat;
- Providing a range of healthy food that is both nutritious and able to sustain those workers who have manual jobs and who burn off significant kilojoules of energy through manual labour;
- Recognition of the fact that very few attendees at CTC actually undertake the physical work where they do the high burn of kilojoules. This occurs after they finish their course and leave the Precinct;
- Students are with us to learn – in many cases to get tickets for high risk work. We want them focused while training not drowsy from stodgy food;
- Offering healthier options may provide the customer with that ‘light bulb moment’ that may see them want to explore better diet options going forward;
- Buying local is better from a sustainability point of view and supports local businesses;
- Reducing food waste is a good thing (Australians waste nearly $10b per year with the average household chucking out 14% of food bought (Huffington Post Oct24 2017);
- Fresh food is better than frozen;
- Sugar is the hidden killer so less is more across the food and beverage range; and
- Fair trade is preferable because we know the provenance. Many attendees on courses belong to companies who have reporting obligations in the very near future under upcoming Modern Slavery legislation currently going through Parliament.
I just want to dwell on sugar for a moment. Advocate group That Sugar Movement tested 291 employees recently who had no known health issues and found around half (52%) had blood sugar levels out of range. Clearly added sugar in our food is a major culprit and the area that needs most immediate attention. Even if you think you have pared back by having a healthy meal you may just find yourself trapped by a -on the face of it -healthy drink. Common place in our industry are energy and re-hydration drinks, many of which are loaded with sugar. Even pure fruit juice drinks will be high in sugar. The rule of thumb I use is 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon…round it to 5 if your maths is not great! Let’s take Powerade or Gaterade, two popular sports drinks. Both contain 21 grams of sugar in a 375ml (12 ounce bottle) around 5 teaspoons of sugar. That’s probably the value of your hard workout gone before even leaving the gym!
So if you do want to provide food at a function/seminar/conference/training session, or be attentive at a session, what works and what doesn’t?
- Have breakfast. Certainly NOT the most important meal of the day but it is if you want to be alert after lunch;
- Eat smaller quantities;
- Colourful vegetables;
- Whole grains;
- Nuts and legumes;
- If rice make it brown;
- Blueberries and walnuts;
- If providing a sweet option consider sugar-free slices e.g. paleo treats;
- Lean proteins;
- Smaller portions; and
- Water – lots.
- White bread;
- Cherries – yeah go figure!
- Starchy food;
- Chips, wedges etc.;
- White rice;
- Sugar intensive sweets;
- Too much coffee – might keep you alert at the cost of dehydration; and
- Big portions.
For longer-term alertness in your day job, outside of the conference circuit, there are a number of rules of thumb.
- Don’t be pressured into having breakfast – being the most important meal of the day is propaganda – indeed intermittent fasting rather than being bad is good for you (seek medical advice first). It’s called autophagy and worth Googling.
- Don’t eat el desko! You spend enough time there, your meal breaks should be just that; breaks from your immediate work environment. Employers are required by law to provide lunchtime amenity to enable you to escape your particular chicken coop!
- Lots of water;
- Moderate coffee intake.;
- Green or other herbal teas;
- Oily fish like salmon;
- Berries especially blueberries;
- Leafy greens – perhaps avoid Kale if not organic as this ‘super food’ has an uncanny ability to absorb bad toxins from the environment;
- Bran cereal;
- Dark chocolate – really? Yes but has to be real dark i.e. ultra-high cocoa component;
- (this is my own particular addition to the list) left over food in your fridge at home. Depends of course what it is – a Domino’s pizza from Friday night may not do the trick – but we waste way too much food in Australia (see above).
Of course sometimes stress makes us less productive, so if you want to eat to combat stress add these to your list:
- Avocados (again!);
- Blueberries (again -these babies are amazing!);
- Camomile and green tea;
- Dark chocolate (again!);
- Oysters (not that practical unless you feel stress coming on in anticipation of how you might pay the bill);
- Walnuts (again!);
- Oatmeal; and
The transition from a poor diet to a healthy one is not one that will occur over night. Drastically removing sugar out of the food chain is a similarly long road to haul, but the UK has already introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks. Alison Watkins, CEO of Coca Cola Amatil, has recently acknowledged (AFR June 7 2018) that this lies ahead for us in Australia too. Change is never easy; there will always be resistance to it because what we know is a great comfort to us. We get used to certain things like our diet and our chips at lunch time for example. It will take a while before our new offerings in our CTC café are fully accepted by all.
We know one thing though and that is we are on the right side of history. Employers and those providing food into workplaces (as opposed to on the street food outlets where ultimately the free markets decides) have a duty of care to employees for their well-being. In fact, it’s a statutory requirement under our Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Everyone wants our workers to return safely to their families or friends each night. We should also want that they return home healthy so they are able to participate as fully as they wish physically, mentally and emotionally. A sound diet plays a key role in enabling this.
I also think, as a society, we want one more thing – that those who are attending courses to learn critical information, knowledge and skills to undertake high risk work activities have been alert all day and haven’t dozed off in that difficult first hour after lunch. Excessive secretion of insulin from starchy, sugar-rich food floods the brain with serotonin and melatonin and we inevitably succumb to that urge to join Noddy and the rest of his friends in la la land. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to us as they are demonstrating tying that essential safety knot!