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A third of young employees can’t afford lunch at work, survey reveals

A third of young employees aged 18-24 aren’t able to afford to buy lunch at their work canteen, as the food provided is too expensive, a new survey has revealed.

The Canteen Spend Study, from Just Eat for Business, surveyed the nation’s office workers to reveal their attitude towards food provisions at work – including work canteens and in-office delivery – and identify what aspects they enjoy and what they’d change.

With workers encouraged to return to the office amidst the rising cost of living, speculation is rife over whether employers can help employees reduce associated expenses like commuting costs, lunch fees and work IT equipment.

For 1 in 3 young employees (30%) improving provisions of affordable lunch options is critical, as they can’t currently afford to purchase food from their office canteens.

And while 30% of those surveyed couldn’t afford the food, a third (33%) can’t eat their lunch there even if they could, as their dietary requirements – such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free – aren’t currently catered for at these canteens.

For those who can afford to eat at their work canteens and who have no dietary restrictions, these food provisions are still lacking, with over half (55%) of the young workers surveyed saying that they wish their canteen provided healthier food options.

For many young workers (18-24) surveyed, no alternative food provisions are made to fill this shortfall, with almost three quarters (73%) saying that their employer has never provided a catered lunch – even for special occasions or during team bonding days.

However, it’s essential that employers prioritise providing inclusive and affordable lunch options, as the survey found that 22% of employees enjoy eating in a social atmosphere in order to foster strong working relationships, while 1 in 10 see team lunches as a great perk.

Speaking on the importance of catered lunch breaks when it comes to employee attitudes, Robert Dunbar – Psychologist at the University of Oxford – says: “The whole process of creating a bonded community depends on engagement in various activities, one of which is eating or drinking together, and that creates a sense of belonging at work.

“Not providing these opportunities has huge knock-on consequences for your health, physical health and mental well-being, by virtue of preventing employees from forming friendships. In addition, they help to foster a sense of loyalty to the organisation.”

Azmaira Maker, Clinical Psychologist, weighs in on the health and wellbeing benefits of providing food at work, saying: “In providing high-quality and healthy food, an organisation aims for healthy and alert employees who have the right kind of fuel in them to keep them performing at their best.

“When employers pay attention to this aspect of wellbeing, they do more than just rack up benefits for employees. They also open the doors of the organisation to several associated benefits ranging from goodwill to a healthier and more engaged workforce.”