The Covid-19 pandemic has considerably impacted most of our daily life’s habits. According to Eurofound, 37% of workers in the EU started working from home during the first lockdown. The adoption of teleworking has resulted in the impossibility for many workers to spend their lunchbreak in corporate canteens, restaurants or other catering facilities which commonly aimed at improving employees’ working conditions and well-being. This new working life has forced people to change their lunch break and food habits while dining from home.
Even though this teleworking new routine may have offered flexibility and autonomy to workers, it has also blurred the boundaries between professional and private life. For many, that has meant staying reachable at all time and working longer hours. This constant connectivity, as well as skipping lunch or eating quickly in front of a screen can have negative consequences on employees’ well-being. Rest remains indeed essential for mental, physical health and productivity.
On top of this, malnutrition can cause infections and diseases that lead to sick absence. This is why, nutrition at work is a central factor contributing to the good regulation of the body weight and studies show the correlation between meal skipping and the risk of obesity. According to the International Labour Organization, workers who have access to adequate nutrition can be up to 20% more productive and less prone to accidents. For a strong immune system, a nutritious diet is important, especially in the framework of Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, higher absence rates among workers are to be expected post-Covid, in part due to the suspicion of infections, but also because of mental health problems. Which is why employers have a key role to play in ensuring their employees have access to healthy food.
Unfortunately, a healthy diet is not accessible for all yet as the current crisis has exacerbated pre-existing food insecurity inequalities. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) food price index showed that food prices increased by 24% between May 2020 and January 2021 and reached the highest level since 2014.
By increasing social inequalities, the crisis has also increased health inequalities: people with higher incomes eat better after the pandemic, while the diet of young people and lower incomes have been negatively affected. Since the cost of a healthy diet is considerably higher than the less healthy options, the people most affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic have seen their food budget affected and their food insecurity increase.
Therefore, it is necessary to secure the food budget. Meal vouchers can bring an interesting solution as they secure the dedicated purchasing power and are still accessible to employees while teleworking. 50% of Europeans said meal vouchers increased their purchasing power, in a crisis where food prices are on the rise. Data also show that Meal Vouchers beneficiaries have been less concerned by food insecurity and have been able to maintain a satisfactory diet, and even to improve it for some of them. Indeed, according to the FOOD Barometers, 55% of Meal Vouchers beneficiaries have declared having maintained the same diet, while 33% responded eating healthier. Only 12% declared having shifted for a less healthy diet. Similarly, 32% of Swedes and 31% of Argentinian said they would have poorest eating habits if they no longer had Meal Vouchers.
Indeed, when looking more specifically into the topic of nutrition and health in the work environment, international experience suggests that meal allowances, and meal vouchers in particular, prove to be efficient in promoting preventive health measures and facilitate the access to healthier and more affordable food options for workers.
Investing in workplace nutrition is a high return on investment for employers and can increase workers’ health, work attendance, well-being, efficiency, productivity and loyalty. Giving fair access to food can also be a social equalizer, helping to correct the difference in dietary habits caused by income gaps and enabling the promotion of health enhancement to all the employees regardless of their status.