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Scientists from Cologne and Utrecht have found that employees are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables and engage in physical activity when their colleagues encourage a healthy lifestyle. In addition, the healthy eating behavior of employees is positively correlated with the fruit and vegetable consumption of their colleagues. However, if a colleague exercises a lot, it does not encourage others to imitate him. Thus, with regard to physical exercise, explicit encouragement has a positive effect, but employees do not tend to model their behavior on that of other more physically active colleagues. Overall, the scientists conclude that encouragement from colleagues and their own healthy behaviors have the potential to help create a healthy workplace culture and help all employees make healthy choices.

The study was conducted by Professor Dr. Lea Ellwardt from the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology (ISS) at the University of Cologne and Anne van der Put from the Department of Sociology at the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Cologne University. University of Utrecht. Their article “Healthy eating and physical activity of employees: the role of encouragement and behavior of colleagues” was published in BMC Public Health.

Exercising and eating healthy are not just individual choices, they are influenced by family members, friends or neighbors. However, little is known about the role of colleagues, who are another important interpersonal influence. People spend many hours at work, mostly surrounded by the same colleagues, which could therefore significantly influence the (un)healthy choices of employees. Scientists investigated the extent to which co-workers can play a role in each other’s eating and physical behaviors by focusing on two pathways: co-workers can encourage a healthy lifestyle or serve as role models whose behaviors can be observed and copied.

The team used the European Sustainable Workforce Survey, with data on 4,345 employees in 402 teams across 113 organisations. “Our study showed that employees are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables and engage in physical activity when their co-workers encourage a healthy lifestyle,” Ellwardt said. Contrary to their expectations, however, van der Put and Ellwardt found a negative correlation between employee and co-worker physical activity when no explicit encouragement was involved. “One explanation for our negative result may be that physical activity typically takes place outside of working hours, where it is barely visible to co-workers,” Ellwardt concluded. People often eat at work every day with colleagues, while physical activity takes place in private, making it less subject to social influence.

The study considers both co-worker encouragement and actual behavior, addressing behavior-specific encouragement rather than generic social support, and examining behaviors that also take place outside the workplace. Ellwardt explained: “The study is one of the first to address the role of co-worker behaviors using a network approach incorporating direct co-workers. This allowed for finer analysis than aggregating individual-level metrics or connecting employees who may not be working nearby.

Overall, encouragement from colleagues and their own healthy behaviors can help create a healthy workplace culture and help all employees make healthy choices. The authors believe this makes it promising for public health managers and policy makers. “Our study implies that when designing health interventions, it is important to integrate the work environment alongside other social actors such as partners, family members and friends. Colleagues are relevant sources of social support when it comes to healthy behaviors and can serve as role models,” Ellwardt concluded. Fundamentally, co-worker encouragement and behaviors not only help create a culture of health in the workplace, but they also indirectly support the entire working population, including those who do not use dedicated programs on work place.

Future research would benefit from using longitudinal data to examine influence processes over time, the authors say. Since individuals internalize cues from their environment to shape their intrinsic motivation, this research could show how long it takes for a new employee to adapt to the current norm of occupational health.

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Material provided by University of Cologne. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Co-workers can influence healthy food choices – CNET