Silicon Valley’s obsession with free food in workplaces has created a new path for offices, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Jet.com and hundreds if not thousands of other companies now offer stocked pantries and in some cases gourmet food prepared by CIA trained chefs on site.
Part of the allure for these companies to pay for all this is to keep people working at their desks with little distraction from the outside world by taking a break and walking to the nearest café or sandwich shop. But with all this great food comes problems.
In one generation, according to the Chicago Tribune, the average amount of daily calories people consume has increased dramatically, and much of that added intake comes at work, a place where perpetual grazing and hours of sedentary activity are the norm.
The Tribune writes that “free meals offer a good return on investment. Consider an engineer at a highflying tech company, who pulls down a salary of $150,000. If you can get that code jockey to arrive early for breakfast, or eat lunch at her desk or stay past 6 p.m. for the goat curry — that’s a couple of hours of extra work a day. Multiply that by thousands (or tens of thousands) of employees and that’s a big productivity bump.”
But what they eat does matter. So a number of companies are now adding “dietary interventionists” to help them ensure employees are not overeating the free food.
The cafes at Microsoft offer healthful dining options as well as a “Real Easy Wellness” food-labeling system to help hungry employees spot which foods are the most nutritious and which are empty calories.
Google stocks its cafes and kitchens with nutritious meals that are color-coded for easy identification, smaller plates to help with portion control, as well as on-site cooking classes.
Geico’s dietary intervention project worked with the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to show that office workers can lose weight, lower blood pressure and reduce absenteeism if the company provides nutritious low-fat vegetarian alternatives in the company cafeteria. They targeted employees with a body mass index of 25 or above who had type 2 diabetes.
These companies and the others who have deployed these kinds of efforts show that you can create a holistic environment that cares about more than just feeding and burning out their employees.