I occasionally read about the world’s best companies to work for in business magazines like Fortune and Forbes. I agree with the concept: making your business a great place to work results in happy employees and that is good for business. But many of the job perks I read about are just not practical for my practice. Companies like Google can have nap rooms, massage services, or on-site day care centers, but I don’t have Google’s budget or physical space. I have implemented a new perk that is going over extremely well, however: free food and drink for all staff.
My goal is to make my practice a great work environment, and I should stress that I don’t think I can buy a positive organizational culture with free snacks. The doctors and managers of the practice really care about employees and we work hard to set an example of respect and friendliness. The culture of an organization is created by leadership.
Taking a step up
Many businesses offer some degree of free refreshments, even if it is just coffee and the occasional bagels or catering lunch at times. We did this as well, but more and more companies are providing unusual perks on the job with the result of higher job satisfaction ratings, which leads to better staff attitudes and more happiness, which leads to better customer service. More perks also improve our ability to recruit and retain better employees.
We had some vending machines in our staff lounge with snacks and soft drinks for several years. We also have a staff refrigerator, microwaves and a coffee machine. I was not sure what free food and drink would cost for our staff of 30 people, but we decided to test the concept. We got rid of the vending machines and we remodeled the staff lounge. We appointed a food committee which was charged with the task of deciding what kind of food and beverages we should stock. The committee orders many food items online but they also make regular trips to our local supermarket to buy fresh food. Now that this program has been in effect for a few months, I can tell you that we seem to be settling in on a food and drink budget of about $500 per month.
Food and drink choices
We now have something for everyone in our staff lounge and we find that food indeed makes work more fun. We have healthy foods like yogurt, granola, vegetables, cheese, humus and fresh fruit. We have comfort food like cookies, chips, ice cream and muffins. We offer hot drinks in our Keurig machine and we keep cans of soda, juice and iced tea in the refrigerator. We have large open shelves with baskets of food. We are getting a popcorn machine soon. Everyone just helps themselves!
We have seen a great response from staff members to our free food initiative. Employees enjoy each other’s company over snacks before and after work, during breaks and lunch time, but we have not seen any problem with too many breaks or abuse of time. I am happy with the return on investment.