Iain Buchanan
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The free fruit bowl misconception

The free fruit bowl misconception

or Tempus fruit

Iain Buchanan's photo
Iain Buchanan
·May 24, 2022·

3 min read

"Time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana" -- someone

Many years ago I worked for a company that provided free lunch, once and for all putting to rest the popular adage that there's no such thing. The company owner & founder started the practise when he grew out of his spare room and into a new industrial zoned complex. At that time, there was no nearby takeaway, so he found that the employees were going out to lunch every day for an hour or more. By providing lunch, he made everyone happier and more efficient. That practise ended when there were many takeaway shops in the now-established area, and the company was running low on funds. A couple of years later with various financial hardships they sold up and were bought out.

I once read of a company in financial hardship, where the senior employees were discussing how to save money. Someone suggested removing the free soaps and extras from the break rooms. Then someone else suggested that they heard of a company that did the same when they were in financial hardship, and later folded. The senior team decided to keep the free extras, but later they still folded.

Of course, no one would say that the existence of free extras in the break room would cause the end of a company. And yet they focused on the extras.

A study on the importance of these office niceties across generational divides[1] found that things like free fruit are most requested by Gen-Y as a part of improving the workplace. However, when provided, they don't improve the workplace.

Why?

Well, if you focus on the fruit bowl, you've missed the point.

Without understanding the question, you may be tempted to say that you care more about people, tools, good managers, exciting projects, than mere fruit. But take away the fruit bowl or suggest it's not important next to these, and you miss the point.

Provide a fruit bowl and hope it makes people happier without a deeper understanding of people and culture, even if it's requested, and you've missed the point.

Get my point? It's not the fruit, it's an exercise in listening and adapting! There is no single rule that fits all people, all the time. Sometimes you need to listen to what people aren't asking. Sometimes you just need to spend a few dollars on simple things, and sometimes you need to provide a free bowl of fruit.

So don't skimp on the free fruit. But don't stop there, either.

[1] If you came here for a citation, you'll find my citing is as good as my remembering. [2] Cover photo by Denise H

 
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