Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 21;   May 22, 2002: Food for Thought

Food for Thought

by

Most companies have employee cafeterias, with the usual not-much-better-than-high-school food service. By upgrading — and subsidizing — food service, these companies can reduce turnover and improve productivity dramatically.

Joanne grabbed a tray and plasticware and headed for the food stations. Suddenly unsure, she halted, thinking, "Burger and fries? No, never. Hot entrée — let's see, lasagna, or turkey with dressing. Yuck. Looks like the salad bar again. Boring. But at least I won't be committing suicide by arterial plaque."

An appealing meal

An appealing and healthful lunch. Think about how different your day — and your workplace — would be if we had appealing and nutritious lunches even once a week.

The menu in Joanne's company cafeteria wasn't actively bad — but the atmosphere was Spartan, there wasn't much choice, the food wasn't particularly healthy, and the rotation was terribly repetitive. She could never imagine, for example, going home to Larry and talking about lunch. It was even less likely that she would ever be torn between two choices she really liked. Lunch had become humdrum. Maybe that's why so many people went out for food.

When a company decides that its food service must pay its own way, or at least not lose too much money, it's choosing to encourage people to go elsewhere for lunch. What happens next depends on the availability of alternatives. If restaurants are close by, people are likely to choose them over a barely-good-enough internal food service. And when they make that choice — or even if they wish they could — the company can be a loser. Here's how.

When we compel the
company food service
to pay its own way,
we're telling people
to go out to lunch
Let's suppose that the company employs large numbers of skilled knowledge workers. They work with their brains — scientists, researchers, engineers, programmers, artists, attorneys, accountants, executives, health care professionals, designers, and many others. Generally, people in these categories are paid well, and they're hard to replace.

Company policies that increase productivity, improve retention, or enhance morale can therefore be good investments. If the in-house food service is truly outstanding, and subsidized (where legally possible), here's what happens:

People eat in
Duh — of course they eat in. And when they do, the time they save by not going out — usually a half hour, at least — can become work time.
People consume less alcohol
Some people who lunch out order alcoholic drinks, and some return with fuzzy brains. For knowledge workers, it's much better if they stay in.
People network more
Eating in-house, people can spend more time with a greater variety of people from all over the facility. This builds networks and relationships, and smoothes cross-functional collaborations.
People are happier
An outstanding menu and atmosphere make people feel valued, which helps them build their self-esteem. This strengthens loyalty to the company, improving retention. See "Retention," Point Lookout for February 7, 2007, for more.

How much is this worth? A good rule of thumb is one-half hour per day per employee. That covers the cost of lost time, increased turnover, impairment, low self-esteem, and so on. If the average fully loaded payroll is $25 per hour ($80 is more realistic for knowledge workers), subsidizing the food service at a level of even $10 per employee per day is still a win.

For a company with many knowledge workers, trading food for thought is a fair exchange. Go to top Top  Next issue: At the Sound of the Tone, Hang Up  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHtetsLILmiUZRVXqner@ChacOLUNmhuJaPgQnCSaoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingPygmalion Side Effects: Bowling a Strike
Elise slowly walked back to her office, beaten. Her supervisor, Alton, had just given Elise her performance review — her third consecutive "meets expectations." No point now to her strategy of giving 120% to turn it all around. She is living a part of the Pygmalion Effect, and she's about to experience the Pygmalion Side Effects.
Answering machine controlsAt the Sound of the Tone, Hang Up
When the phone rings, do you drop whatever you're doing to answer it? Do you interrupt face-to-face conversations with live people to respond to the jerk of your cellular leash? Listen to seemingly endless queues of voicemail messages? Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio RiverHyper-Super-Overwork
The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.
Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
The Penrose triangle, an impossible objectParadoxical Policies: II
Because projects are inherently unique, constructing general organizational policies affecting projects is difficult. The urge to treat projects as if they were operations compounds the difficulty. Here's a collection of policies for projects that would be funny if they weren't real.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Children playing a computer gameComing July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
Office equipment — or is it office toys?And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrennugHcjwqJhmJGvmSner@ChacfrLDjRLduEgKsFGWoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.