Time to take away the tray?

Too many companies view food service as a commodity or a cost to their business, as opposed to a support service that nurtures people and can have a dramatic impact on culture, productivity and success. By Chris Sheppardson.

The steady demise of team culture across multiple industries and the rise of those affected by mental health issues in the workplace has become a major concern for many businesses today. Yet often in business, in our quest to turn the tables and make things right again, it’s the simple things we miss. The basic everyday human acts of community and culture that are often overlooked, even though they could in truth, hold the key to unlocking the problems many businesses face today.

Something that sits very centrally at the heart of business culture and productivity is food. But food doesn’t just make a difference to business culture, work and productivity levels – it can be the lynchpin. It can reduce stress and feelings of isolation or loneliness. The problem is, too many companies view food service as a commodity or a cost to their business, as opposed to a support service that nurtures people and one that will have a dramatic impact on culture and in turn, productivity and success.

The average lunch break is just 27 minutes long (and that is for those that take one) but this needs to be longer. If we know people are stressed the challenge is to increase this break to at least 45 minutes and up to an hour. At the same time, daily life has changed and food today is most people’s moment of self-reward during the working day.

Food is also of great psychological importance. When was the last time you had a great meal served from a tray? The argument here is that a tray changes the psychology of the service. Food impacts on health, wellbeing and mood; it makes people happy. Food can therefore have a positive impact on workplace culture, but we need to make it mean more – that means creating food as a service (but in the wider sense of occasion) not just a 'grab and go’.

But this has to be delivered with real thought so that any money that is invested get’s this right – from the welcome, to the food offering, to the break out areas, design and even the base culture. It all matters and businesses need to recognise the significance.

All the statistics tell us that the workplace is not in a healthy place. Productivity is down. One in 10 are reportedly suffering from depression. One million extra people should be on anti-depressants than actually are. A colossal 350,000 people resign from their jobs each year and the gig economy (which is not a natural social phenomenon) is hence on the rise.

How do we solve this? The logical answer lies in how we support individual “people” in companies today. We need to create different work environments that are more positive and food is a great place to start because it resonates with everyone.

We all need to eat. We can all argue over the reasons as to why culture, productivity and team spirit are diminishing but the hard truth is, they are. Part of the reason is that life is more pressurised and stressful, many of us don’t even take the time to have a proper lunch break anymore and we need to find new ways of elevating that stress; this is just plain logic. Never have the words “food for thought” meant more.

Chris Sheppardson is CEO of EP Business in Hospitality, which is leading the launch of a new industry board that will head up a nationwide business campaign designed to create a unified voice for the positive role and power of food in improving productivity in the workplace.

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