How much does your free lunch really cost?

From nap rooms and free massages to ping pong tables and giant slides, innovative companies such as Google and Facebook offer amazing office perks and they do it for one simple reason: the value they get in return.

Offering employee benefits is one of the best decisions you can make. And that's why I give my crew of 40 at free breakfast, lunch, drinks and snacks every day. Oh, and did I mention Fresh Juice Wednesdays?

"Giving away things for free may not seem like a smart business move, but I'll tell you what certainly is: happy employees."
Fred Schebesta, Co-founder and Director of

Giving away things for free may not seem like a smart business move but I'll tell you what certainly is: happy employees. They are the pulse of the business, the difference between success and failure, and every business owner's greatest asset.

Three years ago I decided to give back to my crew. By the time 3pm came around, I'd notice energy levels had slumped – such was their dedication to their jobs, many crew members would skip lunch completely. Others would pick up some food to eat at their desks while they continued working.

So to help boost healthy habits - and productivity - I approached my business partner Frank with a proposal. We've all been enjoying nutritious catered meals, from snags to sushi, pasta and paninis, every day since.

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For me, it's the ultimate win-win. The crew love it because it saves them money and the question of what to have for lunch becomes one less thing to worry about in the daily grind – come midday they can be assured a fresh lunch awaits. The social aspect is another plus: we all get the same food at the same time and can get to know each other a little better over a bite.

I love it because I know it makes my crew happy and the value in that is priceless.

It's no surprise organisations with effective employee benefit plans have a lower employee turnover rate: 12 per cent compared with the general market at 15 per cent, according to Mercer's Australian Benefits Review (2014), which looked at more than 350 organisations.

For the record,'s turnover rate comes in at just 4.7 per cent.

The perks stack up on paper, too. When factoring in the actual costs of this 'freebie', including costs per head and time saved in transit per day, we have a very healthy return on investment that hovers between 50-60 per cent every month. Not bad for an investment of approximately $15 per head per day.

Since introducing free lunches, productivity has soared while sickies are so rare they're practically non-existent, with staff taking an average of one sick day per person per year… no one wants to miss out on pork crackling day! In comparison, the average Australian worker takes nine days of sick leave per year, according to the Australian Human Resources Institute.

When staff are happy and healthy at work it shows in their results. Quality staff lead to quality outcomes for the business. Employee benefits, therefore, make sense. In fact they make more than sense, they're an essential component in modern business.

So yes, there is such thing as a free lunch. It may be lasagne, or Pad Thai, or a beetroot feta salad, but as long as it keeps boosting happiness, energy levels and productivity, you can rest assured it's money well spent. The value in happy employees is far greater than any up front financial costs to any business owner.

And if one way to your staff's hearts is through their stomachs, then I say bon appetit!

Fred Schebesta is the Co-founder and Director of

Fred on Linkedin | Fred on G+ | @schebesta

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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