Free breakfast to get workers into office earlier a hit among some firms

Staff at PKF, an accounting firm, tucking in to a free breakfast during an early morning training session last month.
Staff at PKF, an accounting firm, tucking in to a free breakfast during an early morning training session last month.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Santa Fe Relocation Services installed lockers and shower facilities last year, so employees who arrive early can exercise before work.
Santa Fe Relocation Services installed lockers and shower facilities last year, so employees who arrive early can exercise before work.PHOTO: GRACE NEO

Incentives for employees to arrive earlier, such as free breakfast and exercise facilities, go down well

It is 7.30am at manufacturing firm Stats ChipPAC but there are already more than 100 people at the cafeteria for a free breakfast set comprising two half-boiled eggs, kaya toast and a choice of coffee or tea.

Mr Tony Tey, 51, a customer service manager at the company, is among them. He decided to get to work at 7.15am instead of his usual 8am. "When they said there would be free breakfast, I decided to give it a shot," he said.

From August last year to January this year, the company at 5, Yishun Street 23, provided free breakfast to the first 100 people who arrived before 7.30am, a move to encourage employees to arrive at work earlier.

Mr Tey said: "I realised I didn't have to queue for the lift at the office and I can clear e-mails. After a couple of months, I found the benefits outweighed even the free breakfast."

He added that sometimes at 7.15am, there was already a long queue for breakfast. He said: "Sometimes, if I see the queue is up to the cafeteria door, I know there are already more than 100 in the queue."

With the positive feedback the company has received, it is now assessing whether to continue the scheme next year, with the possibility of healthy alternatives such as yogurt or apples.

  • 200

    Number of firms that have joined LTA's Travel Smart Network, which gives employees points and cash rewards, and helps firms to co-fund initiatives that encourage early travel.

    $80k

    Maximum amount offered to firms under the Travel Smart grant, which allows them to tap it to pay for up to 80 per cent of the cost of facilities such as showers and lockers.

Companies that use breakfast to get their staff to arrive early for work said the schemes have been popular. And the initiatives meet a government objective to encourage commuters to travel earlier to ease peak-hour commuter traffic on trains, and also tap a fund that helps defray some of the costs involved.

Over at accounting firm PKF Singapore at 6, Shenton Way, some training sessions are held early - at 8am. To sweeten the deal for the trainees, free breakfast of coffee, tea and sandwiches is provided.

Property consulting firm Edmund Tie & Company at 5, Shenton Way also has a well-stocked pantry area in the office where workers can have their breakfast together.

Chief executive officer Ong Choon Fah said: "It is more comfortable and more relaxing when you don't have to squeeze on the trains."

Many of these firms also have flexible working hours, so staff can come earlier and leave earlier as well.

Ms Chua Hui Lin, a senior payroll specialist at professional services firm Ernst and Young Solutions LLP, which offers flexible working hours, said: "Since I come in early, I also leave earlier and beat the evening peak-hour crowd, as well as have more time for myself in the evening."

The firm at One Raffles Quay also provided free breakfast before 8am in 2012 and 2013.

These moves are in line with the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) efforts to get commuters to shift travel patterns to ease the morning transport crush, which happens between 7.45am and 9am.

Since November 2014, LTA has been offering a Travel Smart grant to companies that get their workers to travel earlier. With the grant, companies can tap it to pay for up to 80 per cent of the cost of facilities such as showers and lockers, subject to a cap of $80,000 per development.

The grant also provides co-funding of up to 50 per cent for initiatives such as free breakfast and morning exercise sessions, capped at $80,000 a year. In September, LTA extended the grant to building developers and owners as well.

In the past three years, about 200 companies - accounting for more than 320,000 workers - have joined the LTA's Travel Smart Network, which gives employees points and cash rewards, and helps firms to co-fund initiatives that encourage early travel.

 

Moving company Santa Fe Relocation Services used the grant to help fund a card access system that records the time employees tap in and out. It also has lockers and shower facilities, so employees who arrive early can exercise before work. Last year, the company at Bukit Merah Central organised yoga sessions in the morning.

These initiatives got about 10 per cent of employees to arrive at work earlier, said a spokesman. While working hours previously started at 8.30am, employees now come in around 7am or 7.30am.

Besides facilities, engineering consultancy Arup provided staff who clocked in before 8am with a 50 per cent discount on membership fees at a nearby gym, which is a short walk from the office at Keppel Towers, near Tanjong Pagar. The initiative began last December and ended a few months ago.

Said one employee, personal assistant Clara Yeo, 40, who took up the membership discount: "Coming earlier means less-packed trains. I also feel refreshed after I exercise and shower. I start off the day feeling better."

However, the companies also acknowledged that not everyone is able to travel earlier to work. Santa Fe's spokesman said some employees had family commitments that prevented them from being at work early. Pregnant workers would also rather rest longer at home in the mornings.

Arup project manager Kabi Subramaniam, 41, said the employees' specific roles may also determine if coming in early is viable.

"As someone who does projects out of the office, I can come in early to plan them," he said. "But for a receptionist, for instance, flexible hours would not work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 24, 2017, with the headline 'At some firms, early birds get fed'. Print Edition | Subscribe