Do employers have the appetite to offer free food?

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It has been reported that wherever you go in Google’s New York office, food is not more than 150 feet away. But this isn’t just the case at big tech companies. Many small and medium-sized businesses also have snacks — whether it be unlimited access to the vending machine, food coupons or even Friday bagels.

While providing food to employees is not new, there are ways employers can work to keep this benefit relevant.

See also: New app lets employers budget money to cover worker meals

The psychology of free food
When implementing a free meal program, employers must first understand the basic psychology behind eating. If employees skip out on meals for one day or even five hours, they will feel more agitated, grumpy, frustrated and may even feel sick. Having snacks in the office could help curb this, by allowing workers to focus less on how hungry they are and more on the work they are doing.

The word free on the other hand does something funny to our mind. Dan Ariely in his book “Predictably Irrational” says that people alter their behavioural patterns when they hear or see something free. Free is not just an indicator of price. It is a powerful emotional trigger that tricks our brain to like the feeling of receiving something for nothing.

But free food isn’t all positive. HR leaders should consider a few pros and cons before instituting the benefit in their office.

Food fosters community. Today, the majority of employees use technology to communicate within the office. Building an environment where employees can interact while eating can have a positive impact on company culture. Indeed, about 35% of companies provide office meals to encourage team building, according to a survey from office catering company ZeroCater.

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

Employees may consume too many calories. If employers do decide to offer food, they may want to consider the calorie content. If snacks are high in calories or unhealthy, employees may end up unknowingly consuming too many calories throughout the day. It may also cause workers to overeat.

Food encourages diversity. The workplace is becoming more diverse and one way to promote that is through food. Ethnic and country-specific food can help make a company more inclusive.

Food may help employers save money. Free food may initially seem like an added cost, but offering food in the office can actually help employees be more productive. When workers take a one-hour lunch break or five minute snack or coffee break outside the office, they may end up using more time than intended, and therefore be less productive. When workers don’t have to leave the office to get a snack, they have more time to focus on work.

Opt for healthy snacks. Sweet and calorie food might hit the spot with your employees, but it also invites unhealthy habits. Replace fried snacks with fruits and berries. Make meals wholesome and nutritious. Organizations who opt for healthy alternatives improve morale and productivity, while promoting worker well-being.

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Employee engagement Workforce management Workplace culture Workplace management Perks