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Being What you Eat: the Impact of Workplace Cafeteria Food on Employee Attitudes


Although providing employees with food options onsite is an increasingly common practice in contemporary workplaces, there is a relative lack of research that focuses on the psychological impact this food, and particularly the nutritiousness of this food, has on employees. In two complementary studies, we consider onsite cafeteria food nutrition in the context of social exchange theory and hypothesize that nutritious food acts as a signal of organizational support, which in turn predicts positive employee attitudes. In Study 1, participants randomly assigned to a hypothetical work situation in which relatively healthy food was provided in the onsite cafeteria reported higher perceived organizational support and, in turn, higher satisfaction and lower turnover intentions. In Study 2, we replicate this pattern in a sample of employees who reported on the nutritiousness of the food in their own workplace cafeterias. Furthermore, Study 2 included a measure of food nutrient characteristics, to complement mere perceptions of food healthiness. Together, these studies provide initial evidence that improved organizational cafeteria nutrition can be related to improved psychological attitudes among employees.

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  1. As the structural portion of the model was fully saturated, fit indices were equivalent to the measurement model.

  2. As the structural portion of the model was fully saturated, fit indices were equivalent to the measurement model.

  3. Interested readers may wish to know that we also tested an alternate model controlling for the number of other available organizational resources (i.e., employee clinic, employee assistance program, employee gym, employee daycare center, employee cafeteria). The patterns of all results matched our original, more parsimonious model without controlling for this and none of the hypothesized paths or indirect effects were substantially changed.


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Correspondence to Larry R. Martinez.

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Appendix - Experimental Manipulations Used in Study 1

Appendix - Experimental Manipulations Used in Study 1

You have been working at the EFG Corporation for some time now. The company usually has good management, but sometimes you disagree with executive decisions and get frustrated at work. The employee cafeteria typically offers a salad bar, grilled chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other low-fat entrées (hamburgers, pizza, french fries, fried fish patties, and other common entrées). You also enjoy being with your coworkers, even though sometimes you get in small disagreements.

Note. Manipulations bolded. Healthy condition is displayed first. Unhealthy condition is displayed in parentheses.

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Smith, N.A., Martinez, L.R. & Gettle, L. Being What you Eat: the Impact of Workplace Cafeteria Food on Employee Attitudes. Occup Health Sci 4, 271–286 (2020).

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