Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Staff retention by company cafeteria – quality of life incentives and their return on investment

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on July 26, 2012

I recently posted a first installment in a series on Employee Training and Development, and the Creation and Retention of Value and one of the training option categories that I touched upon was quality of life-oriented. I cited my own experience working at a business that offered all employees the opportunity to participate in a free yoga class during their lunch hour a couple of times a week, and how much that has meant to me since then.

Then the day after I wrote that, I found myself in conversation with a colleague and friend who was regaling me with accounts of the incredible meals offered at her company cafeteria. This cafeteria serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and for people working nights, a midnight buffet too. The work there is difficult and complex and it is carried out under tight and demanding schedules. But everyone working there gets very well fed, and for free. And because no one has to leave the office to find a meal, meal breaks are shorter and everyone gets back to work faster – everyone is encouraged to “order in” with food delivered to their desk and many do that when they are facing imminent deadlines for the tasks they are working on.

Many businesses offer access to gym equipment and changing rooms, and many large companies go so far as to offer what amounts to in-house athletics and fitness facilities for their employees – and certainly businesses that hold as part of their corporate culture, that they value and support their employees as their community.

The types of quality of life enhancers and incentives that I write of here, and I have only picked a few possibilities as examples, all have some very important qualities in common:

• They are all oriented towards improving the quality of life for their employees.
• They are all selected and supported so as to offer palpable value from the participating employee’s perspective.
• They are all offered to those employees for free or for at most, significantly reduced cost when compared to what would have to be paid for them elsewhere.
• Their being offered conveys a powerful message that this business appreciates its employees, and that it is willing to prove that and every day and with more than just marketing spin and verbiage.
• And they also all show a positive return on investment to the business itself. They pay for themselves and more.

That last point is what I would focus on as the core topic of this posting, and what that positive return on investment means.

Consider my second example, above. This is a company that survives and thrives because they have the best employees, and because they are able to keep them there and working, and with clear, sharp focus for very long hours. When employees leave the building to take meal breaks they are, on average, away from their work and from their immediate deadline-driven tasks at hand for what, under those circumstances, are challengingly long periods of time. They have to find and travel to a restaurant or other outside food provider, they take more time while there, and they then have to travel back, and if they drive they have to find parking on both ends of this trip. For late night and overnight shift workers just finding a place that could provide an acceptable meal off-hour would be a real challenge – with even larger delays away. Offering this free, very high quality meal service pays for itself because it keeps everyone there and productive and without long and distracting breaks away. These employees get better and more satisfying meals, a lot more easily and at no cost to themselves. And their employer – this business is able to out-compete its competition in landing the time-sensitive contracts it fulfills because without all of those distractions, its employees can finish their work and validate everything for sending to the client company faster.

But there is a second, and long-term perhaps more valuable return on investment that comes from this to the business too. And it is one that I noted in the title to this posting – improved staff retention. The people who work there feel appreciated and taken care of. This quality of life offering from their employer saves them money and makes their salary go farther, effectively increasing it for them when measured against their overall personal expenses. But this is more than just a cash savings for them as a source of perceived value.

• When this company instituted this system, they saw a reduction in the rate at which their best employees were enticed away to work elsewhere. This type of employee retention metric is not going to be immediately apparent, at least when only looking within the business as employee turnover rates do fluctuate and for employees who voluntarily leave for new job offers as much as for any other employee loss category. But managers did not find themselves looking to fill vacancies in crucial positions as often, and comparison data based on competitors’ candidate searches and hiring showed better retention too. (In this, job search web sites such as and the data they provide for those who study them, can prove an invaluable source of business intelligence.)
• This meant fewer disruptions and disconnects in this business being able to fulfill its contracts and on schedule.
• This meant reduced costs from having to find new employees and bring them up to speed – costs that for those key employees can easily come to total the equivalent of a full year’s worth of their salary and more.

Healthy meals and gym access, yoga classes and other quality of life incentives lead to reduced sick time absences too. These programs and offerings, when well selected, can and do really pay for themselves.

Consider a business that would offer free flu vaccinations to all interested employees, and every year as soon as that year’s flu vaccine becomes available. How much would it cost that company to have one extra employee come into work sick with the flu and sharing it with all of their colleagues they are working with? How much would be saved by effectively breaking that pattern?

The cost of bringing in a registered nurse for a day or two, and for covering the expense of the vaccination materials, syringes and so on could easily be covered by preventing one key employee from having to be out sick for a week or more when they were really need there. And every employee who would value access to annual flu vaccinations would see this as a very positive incentive for them.

• Think through what your business offers.
• Think through what your employees do or would value.
• Look for areas of opportunity for creating congruence of value: win-win situations where both employee and employer can find a positive return on investment from participating.
• And be creative as the company that offers incentives that their employees would value, but that their competitors do not offer will positively stand out.

You can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel.

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