Workplace wellness: How co-workers can influence healthy choices at work
Are your co-workers shaping your health choices at work? According to a recent study by scientists from the University of Cologne and Utrecht University, it seems that colleagues can have a significant influence on their peers' eating habits and exercise routines.
Gone are the days of blaming only family members, friends, or neighbors for our unhealthy choices. The study delves into how co-workers, who we spend countless hours with at work, can impact our behaviours related to healthy eating and physical activity.
The researchers used data from the European Sustainable Workforce Survey, analysing responses from 4,345 employees in 402 teams across 113 organisations.
Employees were more likely to eat fruit and vegetables and engage in physical activity when their colleagues encouraged a healthy lifestyle. However, when it came to physical exercise, simply observing a co-worker who exercised a lot did not necessarily prompt others to follow suit.
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"We found that colleagues' encouragement and behaviors play a significant role in shaping employees' health choices at work," said Dr. Lea Ellwardt from the University of Cologne's Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology. "Colleagues can act as role models and provide social support for healthy behaviours."
The study also highlighted that explicit encouragement from colleagues had a positive effect on employees' healthy behaviours, but physical activity, which often takes place outside of work hours, was less influenced by social cues from co-workers.
"The workplace environment and colleagues can contribute to creating a culture of health," explained Anne van der Put from Utrecht University. "When designing health interventions, it's important to consider the role of co-workers alongside other social actors like partners, family members, and friends."
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The findings of this study have implications for managers and public health policy makers, emphasising the need to consider the work environment and co-worker interactions when promoting healthy behaviours in the workplace. Colleagues can be powerful influencers, both through their encouragement and their own healthy behaviours, indirectly supporting the entire workforce.
With future research delving into the dynamics of co-worker influence on health behaviours over time, it's clear that our colleagues may have a more significant impact on our choices than we previously thought.