Every business owner wants to create a healthy, positive work atmosphere to foster happy, motivated and productive employees, but what does this mean in practice, in the era of corporate cubicles and maximum efficiency? Sometimes it means focusing on the basics in life: fitness, good nutrition, fresh air. No matter what most companies say about wanting to foster health and well-being in their employees, the way most offices are traditionally set up is anything but healthy, with glaring fluorescent lights, recycled dry air, junk-food vending machines and employees feeling pressured to sit chained to desks for long stretches of time.
Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis is trying a whole new approach to fostering employee health and well-being through a number of surprisingly innovative approaches to the employee lifestyle management. He hired a personal chef to prepare healthy snacks for every employee each day, and these snacks are brought to each employee’s desk at regular times throughout the day: steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast at 9 a.m., a fresh fruit plate at 3 p.m., and then at 5 p.m. each employee receives a “protein snack” at their desk.
Calacanis says, “We do this because 90 percent of our staff will eat the fruit bowl if it is personally brought to them, but only 20 percent will take the initiative to go make a fruit bowl or a healthy protein snack.”
Instead of offering soda or other high-fructose corn syrup drinks, Mahalo offers staffers fresh-brewed teas along with fair-trade, organic coffee. There are even dual espresso machines for those who need a caffeine boost.
Calacanis says: “We spend about $10 a day per person on food, which results in a cost of $2,500 a year per employee. With over 60 people, we're spending close to $200k on this program. However, we find that our team is more focused during work because they are not making poor food choices (i.e. pizza, soda, sandwiches, fast food, burgers), and they are really excited to work at Mahalo since they feel taken care of and appreciated.”
In addition to this, Mahalo operates a boot-camp style ‘Fit Club’ in the afternoon in the parking lot three days a week, which a third of the Mahalo team attends regularly. Calacanis estimates the obesity rate at Mahalo to be less than 5 percent, which is one-sixth the national average.
Of course, the Mahalo offices are in Southern California, where the weather is mild, organic fruit and vegetables are widely available, and there is a cultural obsession with health and fitness. That said, there is really no good reason why more companies couldn’t adopt practices like this to foster health and productivity in their workers. Programs such as this certainly require substantial up-front cost to start and implement. However, they pay dividends in terms of helping in recruitment, decreasing staff turnover (which can be extremely costly and difficult for a business), and increasing employee productivity.
Calacanis says: “Because of these special health/wellness perks, we can afford to make our starting salary cost lower than competing companies and we still have a line of folks out the door who want to work at Mahalo -- including developers, which are very hard to find. We never use recruiters, which cost $10-15k per developer in our industry. On that basis alone it's worth it. We have also experienced bizarrely low turnover in the past six months (zero!), and year (one or two people). On that basis it is worth it as well.”
The bottom line is that taking the time and finding the resources to really nurture and take care of your employees may have a high up front cost initially, but can be well-worth the investment in the long term.
Mahalo, which bills itself as a “a knowledge engine,” is in a massively competitive industry, where working 50-60 hours a week is the norm. Calacanis himself works upwards of 70 hours/six day week, as does most of his management team and many of his troops. There really is no choice but to be efficient, optimized and high-energy, according to Calacanis, in order to get an edge over the competition. What not all business owners realize, however, is that this competitive edge is often best achieved through a committed long-term vision of positive, nurturing corporate culture rather than the dehumanizing tendency of many businesses to put short-term “efficiency” above all else and try to squeeze every last cent out of each employee.