Free snacks won’t retain workers long term. Here’s what will

Free snacks at work can help workers curb late afternoon hunger — but will employees be more inclined to stick around because the office has free food? Probably not, according to a report from recruiting and staffing firm The Execu Search Group.

Offering free snacks at work seems like a good way to attract and retain workers, but it is a misconception that millennials, the largest generation in the workforce, want the benefit, the report says.

The trend of offering free snacks to workers started with big Silicon Valley tech companies — like Facebook and Google — and spread to employers of all sizes across the U.S. According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management, 32% of employers offer company-paid snacks and beverages to employees, up significantly from last year, when 22% offered them.

Free snacks can be a great addition to the office, but only if an employer offers others substantive benefits, says Edward Fleischman, CEO of The Execu Search Group. On its own, he adds, food offers little value.

“[Free food] is great. But some companies are using it as incentive to keep people there — and that’s not going to keep people there,” he says.

Instead of offering small perks like snacks, the report says that if a company wants to retain millennial workers, it should offer benefits that allow greater work flexibility, more vacation time, training and development, and opportunities to make a difference. In particular, employers should consider instituting benefits like a flexible work schedule and unlimited paid time off, Fleischman says.

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“That’s a key word now — flexibility,” he says. “The flexibility to work from home when they need to, or want to.”

Millennials in particular, he says, want the ability to work whenever and wherever they want. While there might be initial concern that allowing employees to work from home means they won’t be as productive, this isn’t the case. Millennials are very connected to their devices and will typically respond even after work hours are over, Fleischman says.

“They’ll respond on their iPhone at 11 o’clock at night. They may be at a restaurant, but they’ll respond to you,” he says.

Making changes like adding an unlimited PTO policy or a flexible work schedule could be difficult for legacy companies to institute, Fleischman says. It often requires trust that employees won’t abuse the policy. Additionally, older generations and executives may be used to stricter PTO policies, so it could require an adjustment, he adds.

But more companies are taking the plunge to offer these kinds of benefits. The number of employers offering unlimited PTO jumped from 1% in 2014 to 5% in 2018, according to SHRM. Employers including General Electric, Dropbox and Grant Thornton all offer the benefit, according to Glassdoor.

Fleischman says that in a competitive labor market, benefits are a key factor to recruiting and retaining a solid workforce. If a company is not offering solid benefits, it could mean the different between accepting a job and looking elsewhere.

“As a company, you have to really set yourself up nicely to recruit that person and retain that person,” he says.

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