‘Like taking candy from a baby’, just don’t try taking it away from an adult, or any other free office snacks come to that. In an era of corporate belt-tightening, organisations are cutting back on tempting treats to their pampered staff. Who’s going to miss the frivolous weekly doughnut delivery on a Friday morning, courtesy of the company? Or that ripe bowl of fruit in the communal kitchen to get Monday off to a flying start?
But cut them out of the budget and you may find out the hard way how these small, edible enticements are tightly connected to employee engagement and a healthy organisational culture.
Earlier this year, after its merger with Heinz and introduction of new management, Kraft took away perks to staff including free cheese sticks and Jell-O cups as part of a major cost-cutting exercise. This week, reports have emerged that Telecomms company Sprint has also withdrawn free office snacks for its employees that included yogurt and water bottles. The saving to the company is $US600,000 which might seem like small beans in the great scheme of things where Sprint needs to claw back $US2.5 billion from its total operating expenses, but clearly every cent counts.
But at what cost? The economic argument for offering free snacks really outweighs the meagre savings, believes Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at job review website Glassdoor. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that “they would never have given the snacks to begin with if they didn’t think it was helping boost productivity somehow.” He might be right. A US survey reported in USA Today says that while only 56 per cent of employees in workplaces without access to free food reported being “very” or “extremely” happy at work, that rose to 67 per cent in offices with free snacks.
If your office provides free snacks and beverages, then you are in an elite 22 per cent while the rest of us have to fend for ourselves. There could be a downside, however. In playground compounds such as Facebook, Pinterest or Google, where there’s a veritable harvest festival of food available, employees have been rumoured to put on weight, or what’s called a ‘Google 15’ once they start work.
From an employer’s point of view though, having snacks close to hand keeps employees on site and less enticed to wandering out when the munchies hit at 3pm. An excuse to pop out for a chocolate fix, a bag of chips or that third coffee is costing 2.4 billion hours in lost productivity in the US, according to a 2011 study by Staples.
Babies can have a tantrum when you take away their favourite snack, but it’s worth remembering that your adult workforce can extract a much higher price.