Food Benefits At Work: Feast, Famine, or Productivity?

We’ve all probably worked for a company at one point or another that offered a great benefits package or something that kept us coming back, or even working longer hours to stick around for an on-site yoga class.

From free gym classes to pet insurance to the ability to work on a remote basis if desired (and nowadays, desk options that come in standing and flexible options), companies are getting crafty when it comes to attracting and retaining top C-level talent.

And of course, we all want to bring our dogs to work rather than invest in pet care.

These sentiments are echoed even louder by Gen Z’ers and the Millennial generations, as we grow tired of stuffy office spaces of the past and place expectations on employers to fulfill different benefits package desires.

But what’s the true way to any man or woman’s heart, even in the workplace? It may be cliche, but it seems to be the stomach.

Food benefits and perks at work are a common and growing trend, and we’re seeing companies use catering services, meal plans, free snacks, lunch and dinner parties, and even give daily employee food stipends to staff members.

But does free food work in attracting and retaining talent, and are there problems along the way with these benefits? Will healthier options keep employees more focused and productive (and at best, even taking less time off sick), or will they take advantage of the system?

We wanted to investigate some of the ways companies use food benefits and explore how these perks effect productivity, resources, and workflow.

Food Benefits At Work: Companies & Perks

Different companies, depending on location, size, and scale, have different policies on food benefits and snack options. Many companies simply have small snacks and a coffee maker (think startups that are quite new and smaller businesses), but still offer employees full benefits packages and opportunities for a lot of professional growth. In this case, the company usually needs to allocate these resources for its own growth and staff salaries.

With growing startups and mid-scale businesses, many companies offer snack options and free lunches (either on a stipend or catering) basis several days per week. This usually isn’t a Monday-Friday option, and may be limited to 2-3 days out of the workweek, but still seems very attractive to employees, especially in areas where food costs are high.

Some companies partner with other vendors and grocers to offer workers discounts (particularly large chain retail locations like Whole Foods), and some even have on-site cafes and restaurants where employees can get heavily discounted food and some free food options.

I’ve personally worked for companies with on-site cafes, but this is New York City, so my small coffee still came to $3. I’ve also had the luxury of working for a business that did provide free snacks and daily lunches with a set budget, the only drawbacks being everyone fighting for their fair share of food and the occasional “over-spender,” under the idea that going over budget was justified in celebrating work accomplishments.

But lets face it, this is a very attractive benefit, and it’s nice to not have to pack a daily lunch or face the long lunch lines on every corner store fighting for your overpriced salad.

So let’s get into naming some names (of companies) and looking at the “big guns,” who are dishing out extra helpings to their employees.

Facebook provides its employees with 3 meals 5 days a week, all for free. The main campus headquarters boasts a pizza stand, multiple cafes, salad shop, sweet shop, and burger bar. Suffice to say everyone who works for this social media giant is eating well on a day to day and not leaving anytime soon for many reasons, and we can assume this is also keeping employees around for extra hours. Because who wants to run out the door when you can get an extra helping of pizza in exchange for work till 8PM? You’ll likely still be up in the morning excited to get in for breakfast offerings.

Pinterest provides daily lunch and dinner, along with hosting regular “guacamole contests.” We’re not really sure what this means, but we’d love the chance to participate.

Goldbely, a company that delivers gourmet food to the U.S., provides all of its employees with unlimited free deliveries from restaurants local to their area (so they can eliminate those GrubHub and Seamless bills at the end of every month).

Zappos, the e-commerce shoe store, owns a 12,000 square foot Bistro that provides workers with free fruit and grilled cheese at anytime of the day (that means if you want one for breakfast it’s a no-judgment zone), and offers discounts on all food products, like $3 hot breakfasts.

Buzzfeed is another company that loves to integrate food and work, and if you watch any of their videos you’re probably already familiar with this. They provide workers with free meals twice per week, but always have a fully stocked supply of snacks, coffee, beverages, and have local food trucks and vendors stop by on a regular basis.

All of these companies make you hungry, and motivate you to either work in media or send your resume out to Facebook immediately for every open position.

Food Benefits At Work: Productivity and Workflow

So how do all of these free food options and snacks effect productivity and workflow? Or are they simply a means to attract and retain talent, and keep them in-house for longer hours?

While this may vary from company to company, workers who feel valued and receive better benefits packages generally perform better, so we can assume that all of these perks are paying off somehow.

On top of an employee feeling valued through different benefits options, with large-scale companies who offer the best meal plans (i.e. Facebook), there’s a strong motivation for workers to come in early and stay late, without feelings of resentment for working overtime.

Typically companies who offer benefits that seem fairly outrageous are doing so to meet the needs of workers who may be working overtime or experiencing stress, and this may even help burnout rates. Which is why the company also has exercise facilities on site for staff to decompress.

In terms of general workflow, this may also save some time in employees traveling back and forth to pick up lunches and staff may coordinate lunch hours easier (and even take shorter breaks in the process).

At the best, it may also foster a more positive company culture, where employees feel valued for the time they do put in, and can also share some time with colleagues over a lunch break.

So for smaller-scale businesses and newer startups, offering free food and snack perks may not be feasible, but for those who can afford to do this, it does seem to motivate employees.

This motivation and positive culture may then create higher productivity levels for the company and a more consistent workflow. And if a company offers healthy snacks along with health benefits options, they may even find employees taking less sick days and increasing productivity rates.

A very specific example of this goes beyond on-site yoga and gym facilities. Some companies even have on-site showers for employees to use if they want to ride their bikes to work rather than use public transportation.

While some may take extra helpings or attempt to “milk the system,” most workers are trusted on an honor based system. And at the end of the day, a healthy employee who feels valued is likely going to work 10 times harder for the employer and company making that possible.

Food Benefits At Work: Are They Worth It?

Food benefits, for employers who set ground rules ahead of time and ensure every employee gets his or her fair share of food or snacks, are generally worth it if they seem to make employees feel productive and more valued.

Plus who doesn’t want to munch down on a free grilled cheese at any hour or save money on grocery shopping?

For employers who can’t do this and would be better off allocating spending and resources, you can still attract top talent by giving opportunities through work or other types of compensation and benefits packages (so employees shouldn’t expect that these types of perks are a must, even if they’ve worked for an employer who has provided them in the past).

But for larger corporations with a lot of funds to spread, the driving home point is that investing in the health and providing quality food options to employees can certainly enhance productivity, foster relationships amongst colleagues and create a stronger company culture, and enhance a consistent positive workflow.

While this can be done in a lot of ways, food perks aren’t going away anytime soon, and it may be a wiser investment that letting employees use company cards at their own discretion for food spending (not including for travel expenses).

The only question we have left is, when will meal kit services and subscription companies get behind larger catering ventures to start bringing all of their boxes direct to companies and corporations?

Chowing down at work is simply fun any way you spin it, but it may also enhance the quality of work itself.

Beverly joined MFS with a diverse breadth of experience in writing and digital marketing. Throughout the years of placing recipes on MFS, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of “subscription boxes” for the cooking/food market. It was then that I decided to also include my own personal review of these subscriptions on MFS.

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