Unmanageable workloads, excessive fatigue and inflexible hours are causing UK workers to make unhealthy eating decisions at lunchtime with many employees returning to the office. An average of 2 employees in every UK small business regularly skip lunch altogether*.

Pandemic pressures have meant that almost half of employees have found they have eaten more unhealthy food at work in the last year. Employees have expressed their concerns that companies aren’t doing enough to support them with a healthy lifestyle as 12% of UK companies said to have stopped offering healthy food choices to employees returning to the office.

6% of employees in the UK will skip lunch altogether, which is equivalent to 2 employees in every small business regularly skipping lunch.* In the UK’s largest public sector employer — NHS England — this is equivalent to 84,000 employees skipping lunch every day.**

The 2021 Lunch & UK Workers Survey was conducted by RAMONA’s, an award-winning Mediterranean foods manufacturer specialising in houmous and falafel. It asked employees from 133 companies in the UK about their eating habits in the workplace. Data from the study looked into why workers are eating more unhealthy food and how companies can better support their employees to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

The greatest impact on employee health choices was found to be from avoidable work pressures. Almost a third of workers have revealed that unmanageable workloads are causing them to reach for unhealthy lunches, with excessive fatigue caused by workplace pressures (30%) and inflexible hours in the workplace (28%) acting as contributing factors, a survey has revealed.

Companies are being encouraged to focus on supporting the health of young employees in particular. The data highlights that the majority (64%) of under 35’s picked up unhealthy eating habits, whereas 77% of those 35 and over have been on a healthy eating curve since returning to the office.

As many workers have returned back to the office since the first lockdown in April last year, employees are having to make an organisational shift and find a new eating routine to rethink unhealthy eating habits and foster more healthy ones.

What employees want from their companies:

  • A quarter of employees are calling on companies to encourage their staff to eat away from their desks. A further 25% want their companies to encourage workers to take a full lunch break in a bid to place greater importance on healthy eating in the workplace.

  • 2 in 5 employees would like their company to offer a lunch scheme that helps to promote healthy eating across the entire workforce. Workers also placed high importance on healthy snack options for the office now that many have returned to hybrid working.

  • 28% of workers would like to see their companies offer gym discounts and memberships to help employees achieve a healthier lifestyle

  • 23% wish for employers to encourage finishing work on time

  • 20% would like their workplace to offer mental health support to help with workplace pressures

  • 25% ask for increased flexible working hours to focus on healthy lifestyles

  • UK companies are falling short of being inclusive to alternative dietary choices — 40% of employees want their company to provide vegetarian or vegan food options.

  • One in eight employees would support their office becoming ‘meat-free’. For employees under 25 years of age, this figure rises to one in four.

Ramona Hazan, founder of Ramona’s, believes that our health should be priority for the food industry:

“Emotions and workplace pressures can take their toll on our diets and eating habits. The findings above show that workers are really struggling with healthy eating as a result of the pandemic. When routines are unstructured and work presents challenges, people often find themselves reaching for comfort food. Sweet, salty, starchy foods are worker favourites because they are accessible and convenient. However, workers need to retrain their eating habits to ensure their lunches are full of nutrients that will provide energy for the rest of the day, especially when work is causing a hectic schedule”.

“For those who find it easier to ‘grab and go’, supermarkets are presenting healthier lunch options for workers who are conscious to still eat healthily. Sainsbury’s ‘Lunch’ concept for instance, offers workers the chance to choose healthy and nutritious lunches that don’t compromise on taste and comfort. Otherwise, prepping your lunch in advance and organising your schedule are two first steps you can take to help towards a mindful eating routine”.

Tracey Hudson, Executive Director at the HR Dept, said:

“Over the past year, people have been grazing more because they have been at home and have unlimited access to their own kitchens – there have been a lot of conversations about how the nation has been putting on ‘lockdown weight’ so now we are back in offices, encourage your employees to have healthy eating habits by providing appropriate facilities where they can prepare proper food and don’t have to rely on buying pre-packed sandwiches or the local chippy at lunchtime.

Having a space that employees can go to eat their lunch is important because otherwise they will sit at their desks and usually that means they keep working whilst eating a sandwich at the same time so they don’t get a proper break and then are more likely to make mistakes. This might be a meeting room that you put a couple of sofas in with a TV for example, or maybe start a walking club so staff are encouraged to leave the building at lunchtime and get fresh air.

If companies ignore their employees’ wellbeing, both physical and mental, then they risk loss of productivity and high turnover as the two biggest concerns”.