Sam Hurst, chief grazer at Grazing Catering, reveals his thoughts on why employers should strive to offer free food in the workplace and the benefits it has on employees
When it comes to looking after people at work, the tech companies of Silicon Valley are the first to pop into our minds.
The idea of giving employees everything they could possibly need during the day might sound expensive.
But when the likes of Google and Apple made it part of their company’s DNA back in the early 2000s, there was method in their ‘madness’. The plan was to free up creative minds to dream up the next must-have idea.
We’re writing this on an Apple computer using Google Docs so it looks like those clever clogs might have been on to something.
It seems pretty clear to us that their success proves that supporting employees’ wellbeing can lead to a serious competitive advantage.
Of course, we know that not every business can provide nap pods and on-site hairdressers. But offering nutritious meals and snacks is a powerful – and affordable – way to have a happy and healthy team.
So, what do the workers think? Well it turns out that free grub is really rather welcomed. You didn’t see that coming, did you? In fact, it is often rated as one of the most desirable extras they look for from an employer.
It’s easy to see why. Not only do they feel more valued by their employers but it’s an epic way to save money, as well as time. Those packed lunches don’t make themselves, you know?
And for the companies that offer this pretty fantastic perk, the benefits to productivity are huge. People actually work harder. In fact, the return on investment of food provided to staff can be as high as high as 150 per cent, according to research by US caterer Eat Club.
A team that is more motivated, healthier through eating nutritious snacks, and is physically in the building for longer each day is able to achieve far more.
“A team that is more motivated, healthier through eating nutritious snacks, and is physically in the building for longer each day is able to achieve far more.”
Meals and snacks are an employee’s biggest work-related cost after travel. Some estimates say it costs each person as much as £2,500 a year.
That’s a hefty chunk of many people’s wages, so businesses that provide meals, snacks and drinks give themselves a major leg up when it comes to attracting and retaining the best people for their jobs.
It helps their reputation too, with 70 per cent of people in the Eat Club study saying they’re more likely to recommend a business that provides meals and snacks as a great place to work.
The secret of satisfaction
Maintaining a happy and motivated workforce is a fine art, but few benefits can match a company-provided meal in improving satisfaction.
It’s an easy and relatively low-cost way of showing how much employees are valued by the people they work for every day. In fact, according to a US study by staffing firm Spherion, 30 per cent of people say that free food greatly contributes to workplace happiness.
It’s all too easy for employees to eat alone at their desks. But encouraging staff to get together at lunchtime provides a breeding ground for cross-functional collaboration. And by serving up a free meal they are encouraged to sit together daily. Naturally the conversation will turn to work, leading to greater empathy and understanding of job roles as well as innovative problem solving. Can you say ‘win’?
We all know that work colleague who said they’re too busy for lunch and we also all know that surviving the day on caffeine and biscuits alone is not the way to go, right? According to a recent study by Workthere flexible working space, 52 per cent of office workers say they do so at least once a week.
It’s not healthy and – if continued – these unsavoury habits can lead to exhaustion and eventually greater susceptibility to illnesses. But if meals are ready and waiting there’s a much better chance of everyone taking time to eat something nutritious.
Eating a wholesome lunch has been proven to improve mental function and capability. But if that’s not enough, consider this:
Providing lunch encourages staff to stop and re-evaluate their workload. According to the Health & Safety Executive, 12.5 million working days were lost in the last year due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety. Encouraging daily breaks to eat well, relax and socialise can go a long way towards helping staff manage stress levels and demonstrates their value to the business.
Six ways to maximise the benefit of a free lunch:
- Variety is the spice of life
Free meals at work are a great perk. But don’t let repetitive and dull food put your people in the doldrums. Offer variety and seasonally inspired dishes to keep your team keen.
- Lead by example
Direction has to come from the top for behaviour to change. Everyone, from the leadership team to the work experience, should be seen to take advantage of the provided meals,
- Survey the team
Talk to your team. That’s the only way to make sure you’re giving the people what they want and taking into account everyone’s dietary needs. Ask them what they want and need and be assured, they shall answer.
- Make the healthy choices
Of course, while staff feedback is important it’s definitely worth remembering the main point of giving them meals and snacks: to support wellbeing. Meals need to be nutritious as well as delicious with plenty of fruit and veg.
- You are where you eat
A free food offer will enhance happiness, but to max out on all the business benefits go one step further and encourage your staff to eat together. It’s a much more collaborative way to dine than going solo al desko.
- Crunch the numbers
They can be pretty tasty. Especially when you spot which dishes have become firm favourites, that way you can adjust your offer to give employees more of what they want and keep them coming back for more.