5 Ways Feeding Employees Improves Team Productivity

It's no big secret: what you eat impacts how you work. You've probably even experienced it yourself by working through lunch or opting for the vending machine granola bar instead of a fiber-filled salad; by 2pm you've lost all focus and your concentration on that report due at 3pm has been replaced by a sudden urge to find yet a second granola bar. The problem is that all of these little efficiencies, when multiplied across your entire employee base, add up very quickly. In sum, they can result in huge losses in productivity, which translates directly to revenue. But there are even more side effects: company morale drops, the number of employee sick days goes up, and the engine of your company slowly shuts down.

We don't mean to sound too dramatic about this, and the truth is that your company will probably keep humming with a vending machine and the occasional fruit box delivery. But for companies that want to grow and thrive, there's plenty of evidence popping up proving that good on-site food options do in fact improve employee productivity, most of the time costing a fraction of what would otherwise be lost revenue due to unproductive workers.

To that end, here are just five ways giving your employees something good to eat is good for business.

1. Good food keeps employees focused

In a recent consumer survey conducted by EAT Club of professionals without on-site food options, 61% of respondents said when they go out for lunch, they are typically gone from the office for 30-60 minutes, taking into account lines, traffic and parking. An additional 27% were gone for more than 60 minutes.

Distribution of Time Spent Out for Lunch

Now, let's translate that to your office. Say you have 200 employees, and half of them go out to lunch each day. Then let's say your average employee salary is $80k (= $40/hour). Depending on where your office is, restaurant lines, traffic, parking, etc., let's assume they spend 45 minutes getting lunch, which may or may not include time to actually eat the food. Here's the math:

100 employees * 3/4 hour * $40 = $3000 in lost productivity

Now let's assume you bring in lunch each day, average cost of $11 per head. You can feed your entire company of 200 for $2200 per day, which is $800 less than the cost of lost productivity from just half of that workforce. That might not seem like a lot, but add that up across 260 working days... we'll let you do the math on that one. Solely on "saved" productivity from employees not leaving for the lunch hour, you could have huge returns on investing in a lunch program. Don't believe us? Download and test out our ROI calculator for your own company.

Feeding employees on the job helps them stay focused on what they've come to work to do, instead of battling for parking, waiting in long lines, and rushing back to make it to that 1pm meeting. Focus is at the core of producing good work. So help employees focus, and win back productivity.

2. Good food gives the right kind of brain power

Speaking of focus, nothing kills it faster than a grumbling stomach and low blood sugar. If the only options for employees to eat within walking distance are (a) a candy bar, (b) a candy bar with nuts, or (c) a bag of pretzels from yesterday's lunch, well, you know the saying: garbage in, garbage out. A couple years ago, LifeHacker broke down the science behind how food impacts brain productivity:

"Certain foods release glucose quickly, while others do so more slowly, yet sustainably. Researcher Leigh Gibson found this to be optimal: 'The brain works best with about 25 grams of glucose circulating in the blood stream—about the amount found in a banana.' The way you can get those 25 grams of glucose into your blood stream is pretty easy. You can eat a donut. You can eat a small bowl of oats. There is virtually no difference in the very short term for your brain activity. Over the stretch of a normal 8-hour day however, the differences are spectacular. After eating the donut, we will release glucose into our blood very quickly. We will have about 20 minutes of alertness. Then our glucose level will drop rapidly, leaving us unfocused and easy to distract. It's like putting the foot down on the gas pedal until you've used all your fuel... The oats, on the other hand, release their sugar as glucose much slower. This means we will have a steady glucose level, better focus, and higher attention levels."

So how much attention time do you get from pretzels or a candy bar? We're guessing it's closer to the donut than the oats. Wondering just what your employees should be eating for optimal focus? Check out this infographic by mindflash.com.

3. Good food makes employees happier

So, good food helps you focus better. But does eating better food make you happier? That sudden shift in mood before and after you eat your lunch is probably proof. But there's more than just anecdotal evidence to show how food impacts mood. A study performed in October 2012 by Blanchflower, Oswald, and Stewart-Brown found "evidence for the existence of a positive association between well-being and fruit-and-vegetable consumption." In a study of over 80,000 participants, they are able to reasonably conclude that eating more fruits and vegetables does positively impact mental health.

And the happier you are, the better you work, as proven by a study performed in December 2009 by Oswald, Proto, and Sgroi showing that happiness improves productivity. In the study, the authors find that compared to the control group, subjects who have their happiness levels increased also successfully increased their work output without a decline in work quality.

Bottom line: providing employees with better food makes them happy, and happy employees work better.

4. Good food provides regular team-building opportunities

You know that one guy in engineering who has never met and doesn't even know the name of that other guy in sales? The fact is, as departments grow, they often grow apart, as well. And while this may make for better productivity within a function, siloed teams are never good for a company's growth. Enter lunchtime. One hour a day and collaboration is here to stay. Lunch is the ideal time to bring all those teams together, an opportunity that would otherwise be squandered when all the engineers just go out to lunch with all the other engineers.

In "How Collaboration Will Drive the Next Step Change in Productivity," author Tammy Erickson details 10 forms of collaboration that will improve productivity for an organization:

  1. Connecting previously-unrelated ideas*
  2. Co-creating products, services, experiences*
  3. Engaging stakeholders - markets, communities, employees, partners
  4. Tapping people, expertise, or other resources, as needed
  5. Coordinating in time and space*
  6. Distributing work, cost, or risk
  7. Sensing emerging patterns - trends, opportunities, threats
  8. Pooling judgments*
  9. Polling to gather input or determine group-wide preferences*
  10. Coalescing around an emerging consensus, after debating multiple views*

We've highlighted the ones that are particularly applicable to hosting lunch for your employees on a regular basis. By doing so, you are giving employees the opportunity to join ideas together, or create entirely new ones, in a single time and space. For ideas already formed, you are providing dedicated time and space to gather judgments, run a quick coworker poll, or debate those ideas before introducing them to the customer. It's the informal alternative to a meeting, with likely a much higher participation rate. That participation in turn will jumpstart your company's battery, daily.

5. Good food builds a healthier workforce

If you've made it this far through this post, you must be invested in your employees' well-being. And there's no better way to be invested than to keep those employees healthy, not only for the sake of your own company's well-being, but for their own well-being, both on and off the job. We don't even need to reference a study to tell you that a healthy workforce = a more productive team. Sick days, doctor visits, or just a regular old cold can deeply impact your organization's operations. But just how does food play into that?

There are a couple different ways. First, if you don't eat good meals, or just straight out skip meals, you're also skipping out on vitamins, minerals, and protein needed to properly fuel your body. If you're not regularly working out, then your muscles slowly turn into fat, which leads to problems like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Plus, if you're overweight you might experience secondary issues like lower back pain or strained knees, which can put you out of commission just as easily as the flu or a migraine. Second, if you don't have the fuel to keep you energized, your fatigue can lead to higher stress levels and even depression, resulting in more health issues that keep you away from your desk. (UCLA Health)

The cost of attending to these maladies can add up. But the good news is that as wellbeing improves, the cost of lost productivity drops drastically, as illustrated by this chart from Gallup:

Lost productivity cost by wellbeing score

If you want the workers you're paying to work to actually BE at work, make sure they take care of themselves by providing them the right tools to do so. Good-for-you food is one of those tools.

With all the big demands of a business, it can sometimes feel silly to be thinking about what people are going to eat for lunch. But it's clear that paying the right attention to providing your employees with square, well-rounded food options on-site can have huge positive impact on the business. Productivity is a measurement of output based on inputs; so if you're looking for meaningful output, make sure the inputs are just as meaningful.

Interested in hearing more or providing lunch to your team?