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Can Chocolate Make You More Productive at Work?

Can chocolate doled out by your boss make you and your coworkers happier and more productive at work? (Hey, who doesn’t want to enjoy their job more?)

That’s the theory that economists at the University of Warwick in Britain wanted to test. They recruited more than 700 participants, and then created a series of math problems that participants had to complete. The task was timed at 10 minutes, simulating work under pressure.

A “Shock” of Happiness
In order to create what researchers called a “happiness shock,” some test subjects watched a stand-up comedy video before taking the test, while others were offered a buffet of chocolate and fruit first. The control group either watched a generic video or were asked to sit and wait for 10 minutes ahead of testing.

Overall, the groups who got the happiness incentives were 10 to 12 percent more productive solving the problems than the control group. And follow-up tests showed that unhappy test subjects -- those who’d recently experienced a major life trauma -- were less productive overall.

Several studies have shown that a stressful work environment is bad for business. The Gallup Organization estimates that unhappy workers cost businesses about $350 billion every year in lost productivity, absenteeism, accidents, employee turnover and medical costs. There’s growing evidence that stress at work is contagious, spreading like a virus and undercutting a corporation’s bottom line.

Is It Your Manager’s Job to Keep You Happy?
Previous studies have found that work-related stress leads to lower productivity and reduced job satisfaction. Researcher Eugenio Proto says the real take-away for managers isn’t to ply workers with chocolate, but to embrace the fact that fostering a good mood among workers won’t lead to an office full of happy slackers. In an interview with the website The Conversation, he said, “More happiness will not result in more distraction.” Instead, management should “strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy.”

How to Make Chocolate “Work” for You
Whether your boss leaves a bowl of M&Ms in the office kitchen or you dip into your own supply of chocolate at work, Will Clower, PhD, a neurophysiologist, nutritionist and Sharecare expert says chocolate is a healthy super food that can boost your mood and -- wait for it -- help you lose weight too. His latest book, Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight details the science behind chocolate’s health benefits.

The key, Clower says, is to eat only high-quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. “Studies show that eating 40 grams of chocolate (about an ounce) high in cocoa polyphenols every day for two weeks lowered stress and anxiety and delivered higher measures of contentment and satisfaction.” After 30 days feelings improved even more.

Here are some of Clower’s rules for eating chocolate the right way:

  • Darker is better: All of the health benefits of chocolate come from the healthy compounds in pure cocoa. Higher cocoa content equals higher benefits. Plus, research shows that adding milk and sugar (as found in milk chocolate) could interfere with the body’s ability to absorb cocoa’s antioxidants.
  • Eat some dark chocolate every day: But size does matter -- keep your portions to about an ounce. The good news? Choosing a higher cocoa percentage chocolate makes it okay to up your portion size a bit. Eating chocolate doesn’t make you fat, but eating too much will.
  • Don’t chew -- let chocolate melt: Slow down and let chocolate linger on your tongue as long as possible. High quality chocolate melts slowly, which gives your brain time to register satisfaction and dial down cravings.

Bottom Line: Enjoy Chocolate
Ideally your boss sets the stage for a workplace where employees feel valued and respected. Without that as a starting point, no amount of chocolate will boost productivity. But the next time you could use a pick-me-up of your own, let yourself indulge in a piece of dark chocolate. Then smile, sit down and get back to work!

Related: Healthy Ways to Boost Happiness