One of the most fundamental challenges to workplace mental health may also be one of the most overlooked: food insecurity. Amid a cost-of-living crisis and historic inflation, food insecurity now affects approximately 1 in 8 Americans. Workplace health and wellness efforts, including mental health, are likely to fall flat if this most basic need isn’t met.
Across industries and workplaces, food insecurity is a challenge for millions of workers, yet one that remains largely invisible and unaddressed. Even if someone is not always hungry, they can be food insecure if they lack easy access to healthy, nutritious food. The impacts take an unequal toll, disproportionately affecting communities of color and those at or below the poverty line.
Food security is foundational to mental health. Studies conclude food insecurity is significantly associated with indicators of psychological distress, stress, and trauma, including mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
As companies implement strategies for improving mental health in the workplace, they shouldn’t ignore this core issue. Access to healthy, nutritious food is essential for healthy, engaged workers. That, in turn, supports productivity and retention, while mitigating absenteeism and presenteeism.
While employers can’t solve food insecurity on their own, they can leverage tools and resources to drive progress, improve health outcomes, and support workplace productivity:
Implement benefit programs to target food insecurity directly. These benefits include stipends for groceries, meal delivery services, or community sustained agriculture programs, navigation services, health literacy and food education.
Promote mental health and physical wellness. Employers can take steps to center mental health and address employee financial stress. Solutions also include the use of Employee Assistance Programs and enhanced PTO and family leave policies.
Explore Employer Sponsored Volunteer Opportunities. Work with leadership to promote partnering with organizations that address food insecurity at local and community levels.
No one can perform at their best when they’re hungry. The far-reaching mental health impacts of food insecurity threaten employees and employers alike. Leaders can build a food secure workforce by starting with the basics.