Working from home has given workers like Ms Serena Low more flexibility but she finds herself clocking longer hours and taking fewer breaks. Without a fixed lunchtime, she often finds herself having lunch as late as 2pm.
"I want to finish as much work as possible, so before I know it, time has passed and my stomach growling by the time I get up from my seat and away from the home office," says the sales engineer who works in the marine, oil and gas industry.
"With WFH, we actually spend longer hours working than not. I think getting food allowances would be good as it makes employees feel appreciated," she says, adding that it would make sense if her company were to switch her staff benefits like transport and gym allowance with a food allowance.
Ms Low, who is in her 30s, is not alone in her preference for a food allowance. According to a recent consumer survey by GrabFood for Business, the corporate food delivery service of Grab that helps companies and employees manage bulk food orders, 76 per cent of employees voted food allowance as the most preferred workplace benefit, while 71 per cent voted food delivery as the most preferred service to order food for company meal occasions. Most users of food delivery or catering services used it for personal meals during office hours and when working overtime, while some used it for team meals and for meeting participants.
The survey collated responses from some 12,000 customers of the GrabFood for Business service across six markets, in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
A show of appreciation
Lunchtime, once clearly seen as a period of rest in a regular work day, has had its lines blurred since the onset of WFH arrangements. For some, food expenses have gone up as well, as they opt for the convenience of food deliveries over home-cooked meals while trying to fit in back-to-back Zoom meetings.
For Ms Marianne Tan, a civil servant in her 30s, lunch expenses have gone up as she has opted for a meal prep delivery service. There are few healthy food options around her home, so she appreciates that her employer would send food vouchers or provide food allowances to encourage employees to order a meal or drink whenever there is a town hall or group meeting.
"It's not a large amount, but it shows that the management team has carefully considered the needs of their employees, and is willing to explore giving different staff benefits," she says.
It is the thought that counts, many employees would say. Providing food vouchers as an end-week pick-me-up or a regular food allowance is unlikely to significantly impact a company's bottomline, but the gesture can make a world of difference for staff morale - especially during these stressful times.
Ms Tan's company also offered a one-time tech allowance to help staff defray the costs of setting up their home office, and conducted regular virtual health and wellness sessions. Altogether, she says, these have helped to mitigate the feelings of burnout.
Mr James Chua's employer went a step further: He gets a daily $15 food allowance in lieu of the staff meals that the company used to provide prior to WFH arrangements. The father of two young children, the 39-year-old says its most tangible benefit has been to help him save on food costs.
"I can save up to $300 every month. Over a year, that's not an insignificant amount, especially when you have so many other household expenses to take care of," he says. He works for a social media platform.
Keeping up with the times
In pre-Covid-19 times, employee benefits used to be run-of-the-mill: medical and transport allowances, reimbursement for mobile bills, and for the luckier ones, even gym memberships.
Surveys have shown that many workers are feeling burnout from remote work during a pandemic, and coupled with other stressors, these factors are fueling what business leaders and HR practitioners call the "Great Resignation" in the United States and elsewhere. Hence, retaining staff and attracting top talent will be a top priority for many employers.
Having a robust staff benefits programme can also go a long way in attracting top-tier talent. In a Forbes article by career coach Ashley Stahl, she shares her advice on choosing between two similar job offers with comparable salaries: Look at the company benefits.
Her reasoning? The benefits a company provides "can really say a lot about a company's culture, what they value and how they treat their employees," she explains.
Ultimately, a willingness to provide staff benefits that are aligned with the work arrangements in the new normal sends a strong message to employees. Only when the employees are motivated would they go the extra mile for the company.