Hide the Doritos! Here Comes HR
With an eye on soaring health care costs, companies are becoming more proactive about what their employees eat.
Michelle Conlin / Business Week
December 12, 2008
The lawyers at boutique law firm Littler Mendelson have always liked their carbs. For years the firm’s sumptuous San Francisco headquarters overflowed with endless trays of Krispy Kremes, gooey sweet rolls and gigantic muffins.
Then one day the attorneys showed up for a firm breakfast and found hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, mini-quiches, cottage cheese and fresh fruit. “Where’s the doughnuts?” ranted the associates.
Littler Mendelson’s human-resources chief, Suzanne Perez, feared mass sugar withdrawal, but she yanked the junk anyway. And though she’s not too popular at the office right now, she’s in good company. Google, Yamaha of America, Caterpillar and others are putting health food in corporate break rooms, cafeterias and vending machines, dumping doughnuts in favor of organic fresh fruit and slapping “calorie taxes” on fatty foods.
For several years the company wellness police (the folks obsessed with bringing down exploding health insurance costs) have confined themselves to targeting chunky cube dwellers with subsidized cholesterol drugs, free gym memberships and New Age-spouting health coaches. But what good is all that if the office vending machine is filled with candy, cola and chips, or if cookies and cake are served at every meeting?
“I didn’t think we were being aggressive enough,” says Carol Baker, the HR boss at Yamaha.
But getting junkies to detox isn’t easy. “People aren’t ready to give up everything,” Baker says.
Don’t let them eat cake
Google, the company famously committed to doing no evil, is a case in point. Yes, the Googleplex swarms with svelte 20-somethings in snug tops and low-slung denim. But even these workers aren’t immune to the so-called Google 15 — the number of pounds Googlers say they typically gain after joining the company and partaking of its famous gratis grub.
As one blogger put it, “I fully expect a Google Infarct Room to be opened within two years.”
Google’s “micro-kitchens”, the snack stations within 200 feet of every worker’s desk, were like small 7-Elevens.
“We kept adding things and adding things and adding things,” says Google’s former food-services chief, John Dickman. Like 20 kinds of sugared cereal. Or, in the cafeteria, the Luther Burger, a bacon-cheese number with Krispy Kreme doughnuts as the bun.
At Yamaha, Baker has done away with the “zillions” of pies in favor of regular shipments of organic fruit from San Francisco’s Fruit Guys, whose business in providing workplaces across the U.S. with pesticide-free, locally grown fruit is exploding. (It turns out that fruit is cheaper than the pies.)
Lunchtime is another battle. Yamaha’s Buena Park, Calif., headquarters is situated near a thoroughfare chockablock with fast-food joints. So Baker brought in a catering company offering healthful salads and sandwiches.
“We’re trying to change people’s behaviors,” she says.
Continued: The ‘calorie’ tax