The value of a healthy diet has been studied extensively and is widely accepted as an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. However, little research has examined if and how employee eating habits at home may influence their behavior at work. Unhealthy eating at night may cause stress at work the next day, in part due to physical symptoms like digestive discomfort, and in part due to the guilt or shame that comes from perceived personal failure.
UNHEALTHY EATING AND WORK OUTCOMES
Researchers (Cho & Kim, 2021) surveyed employees three times per day for 10 consecutive workdays. The surveys included questions about participants’ unhealthy eating habits in the evening, emotional reactions and physical strains in the morning, as well as their helping and withdrawal behavior at work each day.
The results of the study revealed that unhealthy eating at night often led to physical symptoms (e.g., stomachache, diarrhea) and negative moral emotions (e.g., guilt) the next morning. These physical symptoms and negative emotions were in turn related to lower amounts of helping behaviors (e.g., not helping a coworker with a task) and higher amounts of withdrawal behaviors (e.g., taking a longer break than allowed).
Importantly, the personality trait of emotional stability served as a buffer to these harmful effects—that is, employees with high levels of emotional stability were less likely to experience physical symptoms and negative emotional reactions as a result of their unhealthy eating.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The results of this study show that unhealthy eating in the evening may hurt next-day performance due to physical symptoms and negative emotional reactions. This is particularly true for employees who have low levels of emotional stability.
The authors suggest that organizations would benefit from recognizing the important role that diet plays in work outcomes. For example, they suggest that organizations could offer balanced meals at work or provide their employees with information about how to maintain a healthy diet. Furthermore, in order to combat the negative performance outcomes that result from emotional and physical strains, organizations should consider giving their employees opportunities to relax and recover at work.
Cho, S., & Kim, S. (2021). Does a healthy lifestyle matter? A daily diary study of unhealthy eating at home and behavioral outcomes at work. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.