Learn about my job as a workplace food designer through a sports company journey from unsold snacks at the vending machines to a big culture change that impacted everyone in the firm.
This is the second article in the series “Learn How a Workplace Eating Designer Can Transform Toxic Company Food Cultures.” Read the first article in this series.
Last week we talked about this new title that I made up myself to describe my work and more about toxic food cultures at work.
Here’s a quick refresher. A workplace eating designer:
- is a culture specialist
- is a solid hand to management consultants and office architects and designers
- connects the organization and the workspace through food culture (how, what, and where employees eat in your workplace)
- looks at ways in which eating habits and gatherings may positively impact productivity, well-being, togetherness, and increase employees’ quality of life.
This week we’re going to dig into the more practical aspects of my job through a case study.
We all eat, even at work
If you have an office job, you eat in your office or at a food joint near your office. If you are a metalworker, there might be a dedicated canteen in your factory. If you are a gardener, you may eat in the fields (lucky you!). If you’re a sales representative, you eat at different restaurants every day or your car may be your intimate lunch place. You get the point; eating at work is the most universal experience no matter your job title, industry, or country.
However, most people never pay too much attention to that, unless they have severe food allergies, have been put down because of their food choices, body-shamed, or changed their lifestyle opting for healthier choices, which their workplace can’t offer.
In 2017, when I niched WE Factory to focus on the food experience in the work environment, I’d had many negative experiences of eating at work under my belt. I also kept hearing other people complaining about theirs. I noticed that bad eating conditions often reflected bad culture. That’s why my mission became to help organizations transform everyday practices like drinking coffee or eating lunch into meaningful experiences that enhance employee experience and help to boost employer branding.
Love your mission, Veronica. But what does it mean in practice? The following case study is going to clarify how transforming everyday practices can enhance the employee experience.
Case study: from vending machines to a big culture change
One morning I received an email from an HR manager at a sports company. His email said that he had noticed an unusual behavior around the vending machines; nobody had purchased any snack for a while and was wondering why. Right before contacting me, he had conducted a survey and the results had shown that people considered them too expensive and unhealthy. He asked: “Should we substitute the snacks with some other healthier snacks? And if so, which brand shall we work with? Or shall we remove the vending machine altogether?”
I decided to take the project, and to start with, I asked him to see the data he had collected. Changing the product would have been an easy fix. But the data showed some interesting insights about their organizational culture, which were worth exploring further.
Introducing the Workplace Food Check
We started with the Workplace Food Check, a session I designed to research into a company and its culture with a focus on eating habits and community. It’s basically an audit about food and eating. The Workplace Food Check is often the first engagement with a new company since it enables me to get under the skin of how a company eats and what may need to change.
By answering questions like “What does the food on offer communicate about your own values as a person?” Or “what does the food on offer communicate about your company culture?” the team at the sports company began to think about the links between eating, socializing, and their culture.
Undergoing a lifestyle change, some team members had created healthy eating habits and activities during working hours. At first, those seemed to be inspired by the company mission statement. However, I discovered that the organization never communicated or applied its value proposition to any aspect of the company. This is why it still offered unhealthy snacks despite being a brand that promotes movement and healthy living.
Changing food culture at work
This company was ready for the next step: embedding new ways of socializing at work in all teams to bring a significant culture change. To do so, I spent time with the team that kickstarted the shift, learning the motivation behind the change and how the company could support them. We experimented with new products and activities, learning what works, adapting, and making change stick through implementation. The goal was to introduce easy-to-do changes and arrange activities on a day-to-day basis, which could communicate what the company about in and out.
Wondering what happened to the vending machines? The company kept them, but they were moved to a different area of the workspace.
The next step to becoming an ambassador of healthy food culture in your workplace
Although many companies think that social gatherings like Christmas or birthday parties are enough to boost morale, those lack an essential aspect: consistency over time. Everyday practices, rituals, and habits make and tell about an organization and its culture. Fix those first. And only after that arrange a party to celebrate. But don’t forget your homework.
I hope this post helped you get a better understanding of my job. Read here the first article in this series.
Need help moving forward?
My goal is to help organizations improve how their employees eat at work and build more social and healthy work cultures. You can book a free discovery call with me anytime to talk about your project. And, if you thought this content was useful and you want to keep receiving new content from me in your inbox, then you’re very welcome to subscribe to my newsletter below.