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Should You Provide Food for Your Employees? editorial staff editorial staff

It's easier to treat a small workforce to a meal, but there are ways to feed large teams.

  • Free food in the workplace is a great incentive for your employees, especially when they are putting in extra time.
  • You can offer free food and continue to encourage healthy choices by limiting what is available.
  • You can provide items in the workplace that prompts your employees to make better decisions when it comes to healthy eating.

Free food in the workplace is an incentive that most employees can get behind. Yogurt and granola for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, coffee and tea available at all hours – what more can you ask for? (You know, aside from health insurance benefits and a 401(k).)

Tips for offering food in the workplace

As with anything, the way you approach providing free food in the office can make it a positive pick me up, but when executed poorly, it can quickly turn into a negative. 

Whenever you can make sure the food you are providing is healthy. Whether you have a cafeteria, a vending machine, or just food available in the break room, keep more healthy options than unhealthy ones. You can have some options that taste great while remaining on the healthier side. If those are the only snacks available, your employees will eat them. Focus on granola bars, boxes of cereal, yogurt, and trail mix. 

When you have a meeting, do not always opt for donuts. Try getting fruit or bagels instead. If it is a lunch meeting, consider offering a soup and salad bar, or sandwiches that are a little healthier along with fruit and veggies. 

Since you lead your organization, you should also lead with the way you eat. You can model better eating habits and your employees may begin to follow your lead. Do your best to stay away from fast food. 

Make sure your break room has a refrigerator. This allows your employees to have a place to store healthy food that they bring from home. Provide them with a microwave where they can heat up food. Not only does this encourage them to bring in healthy choices from home, but they can also save money by not eating out every day. 

Encourage your employees to take a break and get up to go to where the food is located. This prevents them from eating at their desks and also encourages movement. 

If you want to celebrate the birthdays or special events that happen in the office, pick one day per month to celebrate all of those special occasions. This limits the number of items like cake or desserts that are available in the office. 

Perhaps you can have a farmers market on your site. They could come on a regular basis and offer fresh fruits and veggies. This helps to support the local farmers and gives your employees a chance to purchase fresh fruit and even learn about when to buy certain items. 

Promote healthy nutrition and good choices in your office. You can educate employees on how to make better choices. You can have a newsletter, or speakers, or even a regular email that provide helpful tips on how to make healthier choices.

Discounts and gift cards

If you're in the food business, you can offer discounts to your employees on or off the clock. If you aren't, purchase gift cards to your workers' favorite eateries.

Consider extending these incentives to your workers' families. Laura Rose, owner of Rose Coaching, said that it's important to acknowledge the support system that allows your employees to work extra or late hours. These perks show that you care about your team as people, not just as workers.

Overtime rewards

Offering meals every day might not be doable for many businesses. However, using it as an incentive for hard work is a win-win situation. If a worker is willing to come in early or stay late, you should bring in or reimburse breakfast or dinner to compensate for their time.

"In my experience, when salaried employees work 'overtime' … the company provides free meals to the employees during those 'over and above' hours," said Rose. "This was in recognition for helping out in a moment of crisis or in a critical client situation."

Make it clear that you appreciate their hard work and dedication. Your employees will be willing to maintain this effort if you acknowledge it and demonstrate your gratitude for their work.

Office snacks

Instead of four-course meals, provide snacks for your workers to nosh on throughout the day. This is attainable for businesses of all sizes. You can lay out fruit and yogurts, stock granola bars or nuts, and make sure there are beverages available. (Pro tip: Coffee is just as important as water, no matter how jittery it makes your workers.)

Steven Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps, said that supplying free healthy snacks is especially effective at establishing a health-conscious work environment, which ultimately makes workers happier and more productive. When employees are nourishing their bodies with fuel, they're more energetic and alert, and ready to tackle their to-do lists.

However, sometimes we all need to splurge on a pick-me-up. Candy, cookies and chips, while not the best food choices, are great treats in moderation.

Company outings

Treat your team to outings or order catering for special occasions. Birthdays, promotions, new hires and anniversaries are all causes for celebration. The frequency of these company meals is up to you (and your budget), but there's no right or wrong. Not only will your employees appreciate the free meal, but they'll also have the chance to bond with their co-workers and connect with you in a casual setting.

Image Credit: Gaudi Lab/Shutterstock editorial staff editorial staff Member
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