“I’m here for the snacks” – Are workplace snacks the key to success?
10th December 2020
Author Christina Goodwin
Free workplace snacks are the new avocado toast. Complementary snacks and drinks are becoming more prevalent due to the likes of Uber, Google and Facebook, and are often touted as the secret to increase productivity and employee happiness. However, it can be argued free breakfasts, snacks and Friday drinks are not signifiers of good culture, and are simply a tokenistic perk. This begs the question – is ‘snack culture’ a fad, or the way of the future?
The usual criticism of free food is that it is a ploy by organisations to get employees to work for longer. Often, free meals are provided by companies that expect long hours out of their staff, hoping to keep employees at their desk until a certain time. While this is typically associated with organisations providing meals rather than snacks, we’ve all heard the expression there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
A commonly cited reason for providing free snacks is that it fosters a collaborative atmosphere and encourages breaks away from the computer screen. By coming together in the kitchen or shared eating areas, snacks can promote positive interactions between employees and facilitate the water cooler effect. It has even been suggested free snacks can make employees excited to come to work, as well as ensuring meetings are more stimulating. Organisational psychologist Steven G. Rogelberg has stated ’snacks help build an upbeat mood state and foster camaraderie that can carry into the substance of the meeting itself’.
An argument against snacks in the workplace is that it can incur a high cost, and this money could be used to give employees a higher salary instead. Some studies have estimated organisations of 100 people spend roughly $78,000 and $208,000 per year on snacks alone. Nonetheless, increasing salary may not have the desired long-term impact – compared to snacks, monetary benefits don’t improve employee productivity as much. In Dan Ariely’s book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, an experiment measuring output from factory workers found the biggest increase in productivity occurred when they were offered free pizza, compared to a cash bonus or rare compliment from their boss. It should be noted that a genuine compliment came a close second to free pizza, and was shown to have a greater impact over time.
As well as improving productivity, the availability of snacks in the office has also been linked with happy office workers. According to a 2015 study, where 1000 office workers were asked if they were happy at their job, 56% of respondents answered very happy, or extremely happy. When respondents had access to office-provided food, the number rose to 67%, an 11% increase of happiness based on snacking alone. It goes without saying that if your employees are happy, this will encourage a supportive workplace, which, in turn, can improve job satisfaction.
Despite making employees happier, free snacks may contribute to the expansion of their waistlines. A 2018 study from researchers at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that the average working adult consumed approximately 1,200 calories per week from food and drinks obtained at work. The majority of these foods were high in calories and sodium, and there was a lack of whole grains or fruit. According to Harvard Business Review, food choices can define workplace success as it influences motivation and cognitive performance. Undesirable nutritional choices can negatively impact employees’ energy levels, memory and critical decision-making ability.
However, most studies don’t suggest all office snacking is a bad idea; only the unhealthy variety. When blood sugar drops, workers have less willpower and are less focused, suggesting healthy snacks are crucial for productivity and motivation. Including healthy snacks as a tool in their wellness strategy is a way for organisations to demonstrate care for their employees. Nutritious eating is also known to support a reduction in sick leave.
One way to promote good food choices is to ensure healthy alternatives are more visible than treats. In Google’s New York office, they put healthy snacks (such as dried fruit and nuts) in glass containers and hid sweets and chocolate in coloured containers. After seven weeks, 3.1 million fewer calories were eaten. This proves that employees will eat what is available, so if you are providing snacks, ensure your kitchen is stocked with fruit, hummus, trail mix and other healthy options. Better beverage options such as green tea and sparkling water can also stop employees reaching for that can of Coke.
Simply put, free snacks can make employees feel appreciated and is an easy way to improve job satisfaction. From my personal and completely biased experience, having the opportunity to snack on a banana pre-run, grab some almonds when lunch just isn’t enough or have a cup of tea after a stressful meeting really does make you feel better, and has got me through a couple of 3pm slumps. The kitchen (and associated snack and beverage selection) at Davanti contributes to the exchange of ideas, sparks conversations and even helps establish friendships. I believe workplace snacks are a worthy investment, but only if they’re healthy – positive impacts to company culture won’t happen with a few bags of chips.
Food culture at work shouldn’t be overlooked – it can impact individual happiness, make employees feel they are supported and improve productivity. However, for a workplace to be successful and have engaged employees, culture needs to go beyond snacks – where leaders are trusted and employees feel they are valued. Bear in mind that if you do take snacks away, this is what you want your company to be remembered for.
Free work snacks are likely to remain a popular perk, especially due to the perceived benefits to workplace culture. For organisations looking for ways to positively impact productivity and improve employee wellbeing, healthy snacks may be something to consider as part of a holistic approach to employee wellness. With fewer sick days, greater engagement and job satisfaction listed among the many benefits, office snacks can certainly play a role in an organisation’s success.
Christina Goodwin is a Consultant in Davanti’s Transformation & Consulting team. She joined Davanti as a graduate in 2018.