Should employers provide food at work?
Wednesday, September 04, 2019
Work trends in Silicon Valley tend to get broadcast as the new standard, even when the space, budget and intent surrounding them are unrealistic or out of line for most companies. The good thing is, by the time those ideas make it to us on Main Street, they have been filtered through reality.
Providing food for employees is one of those corporate practices that has been around for a while but was adopted and reimagined by the Valley. As businesses look more at ways to attract and retain employees in a competitive market, food can seem like a no-brainer.
Whether you have a fully stocked breakroom or a lonely coffee pot, here are a few things to consider about providing food at work.
The idea of providing gourmet meals has a number of parallels with the open office concept. For example, they were both credited as ways to encourage spontaneous collaboration, strengthen relationships within and across teams, and attract and retain millennials. Like open offices, however, providing meals may not be as ideal or even as practical as it seems.
The first reason: most organizations do not have the resources or budget to feed the staff. Second, even those that do may want to analyze the costs and benefits of providing meals against other motivators like spot bonuses, more robust medical benefits, or even time off.
Another thing to consider is why the organization wants to provide food. If the offices are located in a food desert, then providing in-house lunch can save time and increase productivity.
However, if there are plenty of places to eat within the local area, then the organization should consider the benefits of keeping employees in at lunch as opposed to encouraging them to leave. Such midday breaks from the office can encourage creativity and increase productivity.
Similarly, if the organization has multiple shifts, or like the Valley, has employees working into the wee hours of the morning who need sustenance and either cannot or should not go out to get it, then providing meals in-house can be a real boon to morale and productivity.
Just like the idea of supplementing meals, supplementing snacks should be weighed against practicality and purpose. For example, organizations without easy access to cafes or snack shops should seriously consider providing vending machines at least, if not free snacks, drinks and coffee for all employees. It is a low-cost, low-effort way of acknowledging and supporting employees.
Conversely, donuts, chips, cookies and things that are clearly unhealthy should clearly be limited. While it is not necessary to ban them all together, it is best to either keep a cost associated with them (e.g. a vending machine that benefits a local charity) or limit the quantity or frequency. For example, donuts on the first Friday of the month are a little better than free donuts every day.
The bottom line is food can be a great motivator as well as expander of waistlines. Before rethinking the organizations approach to meals and snacks, consider the intent and the realistic return on the investment.
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