There’s a rumor about Google, according to ABC News, that the company’s employees are never more than 150 feet from food. The company provides for so many of its workers’ needs that one employee managed to live in his car for 60 weeks, surviving entirely off office perks, according to the BBC.
Free food, drinks, and leisure activities like table tennis have become de rigeur at tech and digital companies. For those organizations, the benefits far outweigh the costs—perks boost office morale, and employees that feel happy and appreciated are motivated to work harder.
Inside a Google office. (Photos: Flickr/Ahmed Zizoo)
They’re also less likely to leave the office if all their essential needs have been taken care of. “Although it no doubt happens from time to time, I never saw a single person leave campus for a meal. EVER,” said an anonymous Google employee in a Quartz article. For companies that offer free food and other services, the benefit is clear: Minimize absence, maximize engagement, and improve overall productivity for less than it would cost to increase salaries.
But workplace perks are most effective if employees don’t get too used to them, says University of Kent lecturer Pamela Yeow. She cites free tea and coffee as something that once motivated people to come to meetings on time, but is now so common that many workers take it for granted. In the long term she thinks employees are more likely to be motivated by a surprise reward, such as celebratory drinks after a great month, than a regular Friday afternoon happy hour.
Something else employers should note is that free food doesn’t always make your staff happier. According to the New York Post, the constant temptation of bagels and cupcakes at the office is not helping some people fit into their target jeans. Sales executive Josie Dressendofer told the Post that the never ending snacks at her IT fim are “the reason I can’t get rid of those last ten pounds.” And, she says, the whole office is weary of the unrelenting parade of pizza parties and fridgefuls of sodas. “As soon as somebody walks in with more food, I can hear the collective sigh. We all moan because we’ll invariably have to go taste it.”
Hopefully her employer offers discounted gym memberships as well.