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Maximizing Workplace Happiness: The Value of Meal Benefits for Employees

22 February 2024

In India, with an 8-hour (and in some cases longer) work day, most people in the working age group end up spending a major chunk of their day either at work or travelling to and from work. Therefore, it is ideal for workplaces to be welcoming and comfortable to be in. Maximizing workplace happiness is an important objective of employers in order to attract and retain employees for as long as possible, resulting in growth and progress of the company. One of the easiest ways to do this is by providing employees with meal card benefits.

Fun (or not so fun) fact: It's estimated that on average an Indian spends over 90,000 hours at work totally, which is almost one-third of their life.

Key takeaways from this article: Meal cards are a very important benefit that most corporations provide to their employees. They make life easier for employees as well as employers and are a hassle-free way to ensure that employees have access to healthy and tasty food whenever required, without too much effort. Meal cards save time and work and are a huge blessing. Meal cards are of different kinds, the most beneficial and easy-to-use kind being prepaid meal cards. Meal cards maximize employees’ workplace satisfaction and happiness overall, making them a great provision to have!

The Covid-19 pandemic made people realise the importance of having a healthy work-life balance and job satisfaction. People finally realised that their own health, both physical and mental, should come first and everything else is secondary. A lot of factors contribute to employee satisfaction and maximizing workplace happiness. To ensure these two things, employees are given various benefits by their employers - some mandatory and some discretionary. One of these benefits is providing employees meal cards.

What is a meal card?

In simple words, a meal card is like a card but only for food. These cards are issued by the organisation to employees to provide them food allowance with the additional benefit of tax savings in certain cases. Meal cards are like electronic vouchers. They are prepaid, by the company, so that employees can use them to buy food or beverages. This is extremely convenient and beneficial since it is not always possible for employees to bring their own food with them to work, due to various reasons, and buying food with their own money everyday could really cut into the monthly expenditure.

Meal cards usually have a fixed amount of credit loaded in them which the employees are free to use as per their convenience. They can use it to buy meals in the office or sometimes even at restaurants, cafes and grocery stores. Companies collaborate with other companies that provide meal card subscription services, in order to do so. They might also collaborate with cafes or grocery stores directly in order to fetch corporate discounts for the employees through partnerships. All these perks make work life easier and quite hassle-free as employees need not worry about making food arrangements every day. Everything is available to them easily. They can also choose among various options, enabling them to pick fresh and healthy meals if they wish to, and not have to resort to junk food or cold, prepacked food which is often the case if provisions like meal cards or corporate discounts are not given to employees.

Meal cards are a very important benefit given to employees. They are even customised as per the employee’s seniority. The amount that’s available in the meal card to the employee to use can depend on their position if specified by company policies. Meal cards are a valid mode of payment at most eateries. Employees can swipe their cards or use contactless modes to make payments. Meal cards can even be used to make food purchases online. Therefore, they make life easy not just at the employee’s workplace but also in general.

Types of Meal Cards

Meal cards have different categories with different specifications. Let’s take a look at them:

1.Prepaid Meal Cards

Prepaid meal cards are the most common type of meal cards. They have a fixed amount of balance loaded onto them which can be used by the employee to purchase food either in office or outside. Typically these cards are loaded each month by companies. Such meal cards provide more flexibility and are very convenient to use. They also provide employees more choices. Some restaurants and cafes offer certain special discounts to companies as well which can be linked with prepaid meal cards for the employees to avail which makes this option all the more feasible. 

2.Restaurant meal cards

Restaurant meal cards are restaurant specific. This limits the usage and choices presented to the employee. Companies often restrict meal card usage to just the eateries that are within the company premises. This is beneficial for the eateries and also for the employees. While this definitely still makes life easier for employees, it restricts them from using the meal card wherever they would wish to.

3.Employer-issued meal cards

Such meal cards are usually a result of a partnership between a company and specific restaurants/restaurant chains. These cards are valid only at those specific restaurants. They often come with spending caps also. This makes them a slightly less preferable option. Employees still get special discounts and offers with these meal cards but they can be used only at specific locations which results in employees having to spend their own money otherwise.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, food and other physiological needs are the most basic and important ones. If these are met, you are already a step closer to self-actualization. Food is directly linked with happiness. And discounted food is even better! 

Did you know? There are certain foods that increase dopamine levels in the body naturally!

There are many advantages to meal cards and if your company provides you with one, you should definitely put it to the best use possible. A major advantage of meal cards is that they help to increase employee satisfaction and purchasing power drastically and maximize workplace happiness!

Other important benefits of meal cards are:

  1. They can be used anywhere and on a daily basis, unlike a few other employee benefits. It is also a benefit that can be availed instantly, unlike some benefits which might include a long process of applications, approval etc. 
  2. Meal cards are also advantageous for employers because happy employees = better work environment, higher productivity and higher employee retention rates!

The use of meal cards is regulated by the Income Tax Department allowing for a tax-free meal allowance of up to INR 50 per meal. The total exemption amounts to INR 100-150 per day, which is INR 2,200-3,300 per month (depending on the policy and number of working days) - a considerable amount of savings!

Meal card benefits are a huge bonus for employees and yet another reason for them to give their 100% at work because a full belly leads to a well-functioning mind. They maximize workplace happiness and give employees satisfaction, making them a very valuable provision for both employees as well as employers.