As a manager or head of a company, one of your most important jobs is to make sure that your employees are engaged and happy. Engaged employees outperform their unengaged peers, and happier employees tend to have more creative ideas. Both translate into higher overall company performance.

You can engage employees in a number of different ways, giving them more challenging tasks, rewarding their successes, etc. And you can make employees happier by giving them flexible vacation and office hours or letting them work remotely. Or you can kill two birds with one stone with food.

We spoke with Tracy Lawrence, the CEO of Chewse, which delivers family-style meals to offices, and she shared 12 tips for how you can leverage food to make your employees happier and more engaged.

  • Offering employees any food at all automatically engages them because you are providing them with their most fundamental need--nourishment.
  • Setting up company-wide or department-wide meals (even without providing the food) encourages mingling and bonding between employees. Most people want to find friendship at the workplace, and this is a great place for that to happen.
  • Communal meals also create a comfort level that can be crucial in the office. "We're just building relationships so that when we go back to work and need to have tough conversations, you have that foundation of trust and security that come from spending mealtime with people," Lawrence says.
  • Placing employees from different departments in a lunch together can lead to more collaboration and innovation across the company. "It gets them talking across teams more than they otherwise would," Lawrence says.
  • Offer interesting lectures during lunch (from an outside expert or one of your own employees) to foster a learning environment. These can be on anything from how to make kombucha to how to build a sales script. Your employees will have learned something new and be more inspired to return to their daily work.
  • Let a different employee run a company-sponsored meal once a week/month. This gives the employee the autonomy and responsibility to plan the meal and do with it as they choose.
  • Make sure to balance structured meals with unstructured meals so that your employees still have the freedom to do what they want during their lunch break. You don't want to schedule mandatory meals every single day.
  • Link food to community service. Chewse is running a competition in which the employee who donates the most cans of food for a charity drive will win a meal for two to a restaurant of their choice. "Over half of employees say that if they feel that their company is giving back to the community they feel more engaged at work," Lawrence says.
  • Provide free coffee. It's table stakes nowadays at the office. It will also incentivize staff to come in earlier, while it's still hot.
  • Offer healthy snacks like fruits and nuts to encourage your employees to eat well. But still let them choose the snacks they prefer, so that they actually eat them.
  • Celebrate office birthdays with an unhealthy treat like cupcakes. "It makes people feel like they're respected, and the company hasn't forgotten about them," Lawrence says.
  • Offering dinner for employees who stay late will motivate them to work harder and lengthen their daily hours.

You may not be able to incorporate all of these tips at your office, but you should definitely consider implementing at least some of them. At least take them as food for thought.

"When you reward employees and provide them with a meal, it says, 'We value you and think you're a contributing member to this group,' and they work harder," Lawrence says. "In a society where everyone is used to having everything at their fingertips, I think food is an important part of that on-demand economy. It makes employees feel valued and special."

Published on: Dec 2, 2014