I have a confession to make. For the past 21 months, I’ve been doing an experiment – and my employees have been the subjects. Let me explain.
One cold, drizzling November day – a Monday of all days – I noticed that my team was unusually sluggish. It would have been easy to blame it on the weather, a case of the Mondays or some other presence outside of my control. Instead, an idea came to mind: run to the store, grab a bunch of breakfast goodies and see if it cheers up the office. So I did. And sure enough, by 9 o’clock, people were laughing, joking, collaborating and bright-eyed. A hundred bucks worth of muffins, fresh fruit and breakfast sandwiches did the trick.
It would have been easy to bask in the glory of another Monday gone good. But actually, it got me thinking. What if there was more to it than just happenstance? What if breakfast held some strange secret power that could turn an office into a well-fed productivity machine?
The researcher in me turned to the Internet. Here’s what I found:
- Eating breakfast improves concentration by 78%
- Eating breakfast lowers cholesterol, reduces hunger throughout the day and kickstarts metabolic activity
- Eating breakfast decreases cortisol, the stress hormone
- Studies show that skipping breakfast can lead to fatigue, irritation and restlessness
- Problem solving and muscle coordination improves dramatically within 15 minutes of eating breakfast
Finding research that explained why my little breakfast test worked so well brought a smile. Business can be tough, and we’re all looking for even the slightest edge. Maybe serving breakfast everyday was one small boost that I could give my employees to help them perform better all day long.
Now, providing three dozen employees with free breakfast each day is certainly a considerable investment. Since that rainy Monday, I’ve dropped $27,480 on everything from Greek yogurt and quiches to Cinnabons, berries and several dozen types of cereal. We’ve had homemade casseroles, Italian pastries from a local bakery and plenty of Dunkin’ Doughnuts. We drink OJ and coffee by the gallon. Bagels are a staple, as are bananas. Pop Tarts seem to disappear quickly, as do Tastykakes. Bacon is reserved for special occasions. And the local Mickey D’s nearly shuts down when we order 50 McMuffins without warning.
As CEO, I’m always looking at ROI. And while it’s difficult to determine exactly what return that 27 Grand has provided the company, here’s what has happened since free breakfast started:
- Gross profitability has risen by 13 points
- Net profit has increased 29%
- We’ve been named a Best Place to Work
- Every potential employee has been excited when we tell them we give free breakfast as a perk
- The office is happier and healthier in general (sick days decreased in 2012 vs. 2011 even though we had more employees in ’12)
Perhaps not all of this is directly attributed to our free breakfast perk alone. Maybe I can’t quantify the ROI perfectly. But my entrepreneurial gut says it’s doing something good in many ways. It makes my employees happy – and happy employees generally work harder, are more productive and provide a higher level of service to our clients. If free breakfast makes all this happen – or even contributes to it – I can live with that. Breakfast is here to stay in my company.
Now, if only I can justify my happy hour budget to the CFO, life will be really good.