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The ROI of snacks: How companies track the impact of free food in the office

January 13, 2020

By Jack Marshall

In the fall of 2018, rumors flew among employees of online publisher The avocados in the office were getting progressively “sadder,” the snack shipments were getting smaller and less frequent and the coffee had been switched out for a cheap brand that tasted terrible. That could only mean one thing: layoffs were coming.

“People definitely noticed when the snack supplies were running low,” one former staffer said, adding that many people took it as a sign of “impending doom”.

That November the company laid off most of its staff, and announced a sale to Bustle Digital Group.

Free food, snacks and beverages are now a staple at many media and marketing-related companies. Their prevalence has even become something of an economic indicator of the health of the sector: If the flow of chips and fruit-flavored seltzer starts to slow, brace for a downturn.

But for companies picking up the tab for food, drinks and other convenience perks, justifying such expenses has typically been more of an art than a science. Conventional wisdom says catering, massage services and the like might help retain staffers and boost employee engagement and collaboration. But employers have no clear-cut metrics for assessing this.

As companies of all stripes aim to become more data driven and efficient, however, such blind spots are being examined more closely. And with the cost of food, drinks and other perks continuing to grow, so do attempts to quantify their impact.

“The short answer is that it’s very difficult to measure specifics,” says Michael Wesson, a specialist in human resources analytics and a business professor at Auburn University. “It’s just never going to be a company is spending X amount on food and is going to get Y back.”

While it might not be possible to track the impact of something as granular as potato chips, companies are increasingly setting up frameworks to measure how their overall benefits and perks package might influence significant business metrics.

Perks such as free food, drinks and yoga classes are now ingredients in the complicated calculus of many companies in assessing how to aid their efforts to improve recruitment success, bolster employee engagement and happiness — and mitigate employee turnover. Such efforts are often far easier to assign a dollar value to, and improvements to a company’s bottom line are attractive to an employer.

“Some companies are happy to just take a leap of faith” with the perks they offer, “but companies with good HR analytics programs know exactly how much turnover costs them [and] are comfortable investing in ways to limit it as a result,” Wesson says.

As a result, the areas where employers have made the largest investment increases tend to be closely related to employee happiness or associated with health and wellness initiatives. This includes efforts designed to keep employees comfortable in the office and ultimately spending less time outside it due to sickness or a lack of engagement.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the percentage of U.S. companies offering free snacks to employees rose …read more

Source:: Digiday