Julie Sharp, FEI Account Manager

It is no secret that the American workplace is in crisis when it comes to our collective state of health and well-being.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that, as of 2015, more than 100 million people are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. If current trends continue, 1 in 5 Americans will have diabetes by 2025, and 1 in 3 by 2050. Estimates are “that the total cost in medical bills and lost work and wages due to diabetes and related complications adds up to $245 billion, up from $174 billion in 2010.” This trajectory is simply unsustainable and does not even consider the social and economic impact of high rates of attention deficit disorder, depression, anxiety or stress-related illness on the workplace.

As people look for answers outside the mainstream medical system, there is growing acknowledgment that the key to optimal mental and physical health can be found in the consistent utility of basic health practices like getting enough good-quality sleep, moving the body through exercise and activity, practicing good mental habits and maintaining a nutrient-rich diet of whole, real foods.

While these basic elements sound simple, even simplistic, anyone who has ever tried to change their habits knows that it is not as easy as it sounds in our complicated world. A complex interplay of factors – ranging from a food supply dominated by corporate interests, the limited availability of “real” food, our family and workplace cultures, personal habits, etc. – make it difficult to successfully diverge from the tellingly named SAD (Standard American Diet): A diet of sugary, highly processed foods that contribute to poor health.

In responding to this crisis, most employers have instituted wellness programs to educate and incentivize employees to pay attention to their personal health while moving the needle on the health of the organization’s overall population.

As leaders in our organizations, it may be time to ask ourselves if our day-to-day workplace culture is reflective and supportive of the wellness messaging and organization objectives we espouse. However unintentionally, could we be sabotaging our employees’ efforts to build a healthier life?

For example, is fast food frequently brought into the workplace so that people can continue to work without interruption? Are sugary desserts and doughnuts the norm for staff meetings? Do employees depend on vending machines to satisfy their hunger or need for refreshment? Are our workplaces full of stress and tension as people race against deadlines, handle intense client situations and deal with irritable coworkers?

Consider a work group collaborating on a project. In the morning the group enjoys doughnuts. Fast food is brought in for lunch, and in the afternoon – as energy drops and tempers flare – afternoon cookies and soft drinks are consumed to reach the finish line.

We know that sugary drinks and fast foods can cause blood sugar fluctuations resulting in low energy, brain fog and irritability. This is counterproductive to a group producing its best work as effectively and efficiently as possible. It can cause interpersonal tensions as members become irritable and impatient with each other, making the entire experience unpleasant and stressful.

Contrast that scenario with an intentional plan of choosing foods and snacks for the workday to support focus, sustain energy and facilitate positive interpersonal relations. Offer bacon and cheese cauliflower muffins instead of doughnuts. Have MCT oil, ghee, and cardamom or cinnamon available for coffee instead of cream and sugar, creating a drink to maintain mental focus and energy. Bring in superfoods or grilled chicken salads for lunch, and have nuts, cheese and fruit available for snacks. The outcomes of the workday are likely to be more successful, with a better-quality work product produced by a team of people who feel a sense of accomplishment and teamwork in the effort.

Of course, this kind of approach takes vision, intention and planning. Our daily choices in the workplace add to, or subtract from, the overall resilience and effectiveness of our teams as well as the quality of the work we deliver.

Leverage team members who may have resources in this area and develop creative, empowering solutions. The cumulative impact will be significant, creating a ripple effect that can extend beyond the workplace to our families, communities and larger society.