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Ask McArdle: Does free coffee actually boost office productivity?

Sure, it’s a nice perk—but its true benefit is the informal chat it fosters between java-seeking colleagues

(Illustration by Peter Arkle)

(Illustration by Peter Arkle)

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As you may be able to gauge from my portrait above, ensuring the calibre of my noontide cup of coffee is a matter of some seriousness. Burned beans and watery java juice simply will not cut it.

For less discerning caffeine fiends, the mere presence of free food at the office is sufficient. A study by Harris Poll for staffing agency Spherion found that 30% of respondents cited gratis grub as a contributor to their workplace happiness.

But you didn’t ask if they’d like free coffee—you want to know what’s in it for you. By giving staff a reason to skip the Starbucks runs, you’re saving them time and increasing not only productivity but the frequency of coveted break room “collisions,” in which employees interact and swap information. If quality beans seem an indulgence too far for your already-cosseted underlings, consider a single-serve machine. That way, if the provided coffee doesn’t cut it, they can bring their own.

Got a management concern? Need to settle a debate? Ask CB’s resident expert in expertise, McArdle: @AskMcArdle