What’s on your desk right now?
If you’re a tax professional, chances you have a monitor or two (or three) alongside a computer and, for the old-school among us, a well-worn, dog-eared tax reference book. Depending on the time of day, there may also be a cup of coffee, an energy drink, and maybe a paper napkin, evidencing a quickly downed snack from earlier. What’s likely missing, however, is a balanced meal. A recent survey of 600+ tax pros conducted by ezCater revealed that 96% of tax professionals are skipping meals to focus on work.
The report, Fueling Tax Season, also found that many tax professionals aren’t just skipping meals—their meals are less healthy. More than 80% agreed their diet suffers during tax season.
Diane Swint, Chief Revenue Officer at ezCater, hopes to change that. Early in her career, she learned about consumer behavior at P&G and Gap
Throughout these experiences, she saw firsthand how vital food can be when it comes to retaining top talent. At Vistaprint, her team incorporated pizza into important release deadlines, and brought in food trucks to show appreciation for employees and add variety to a tired cafeteria. Employees raved about the changes, which were cost-effective initiatives that help build company culture and acquire and retain talent. In her current role, she often thinks back to those experiences when working with customers.
So what are tax professionals saying about mealtime? The report indicates that 36% of tax professionals are more likely to eat meals at the office during tax time. Only one in four feels like they could leave their desk for even one meal per week.
The reality is that for many, tax season means working through lunch and dinner, with late nights at the office being the norm. But Swint says that there are many advantages to taking a break and stepping away from work, even if it’s just for a few moments.
Your break doesn’t have to be a meal, but there are benefits to using a meal as a midday or evening point to break up and punctuate the work day. Let’s face it—the work is otherwise not going to stop or slow down on its own, especially during the busy season.
Make A Plan
For some, Swint understands that saying, “I’m taking a lunch break every single day this week,” may be unrealistic. Instead, she encourages tax professionals to set realistic goals like eating lunch away from their desk a few times per week. One way to help keep yourself accountable, she notes, is to book it on your calendar each day just as you would for a meeting—and it’s even better if you can get a colleague on board to commit to taking a break with you.
Skipping meals not only leaves us hungry, but less focused and less productive. To avoid this result, Swint suggests having a lunchtime strategy in place—especially during the busy season. That means approaching lunchtime with a plan, just like preparing for a presentation—that could mean scheduling time to make lunch at home or setting aside dinner leftovers the night before. It doesn’t have to be complicated, since salads, grain bowls, or pasta salad with lots of veggies and protein are all excellent options and easy to prep in bulk. Whatever your strategy looks like, we owe it to ourselves, Swift says, to be intentional about eating lunch.
As for those employers hoping to lure workers back to the office? The survey found that 80% of workers say catered meals encourage them to come into the office. One example Swint cites is SeatGeek, which started offering free lunch in its New York office two days per week. Since they started, they’ve seen five times more in-office attendance and it’s been so successful that they expanded from offering it two to five days per week.
And anyone who is a regular reader knows that the pull of free coffee and a snack can get me in the door. Plus, let’s face it: sometimes the little things make a big difference, with 98% of employees saying free meals at work made them feel appreciated. Nearly two-thirds of those fed for free say it helps them eat healthier food, and over half (55%) who don’t get free meals say they would feel less stressed if they did.
Eating at the office doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be tied to your desk all day long. 82% of tax professionals said free meals allow them to take a break from work, while 75% said it encourages them to interact more with their coworkers. That’s important during the busy season since mental breaks can help prevent burnout.
For employers, the small act of providing food to busy employees goes a long way towards retention. The survey found that 7 out of 10 tax professionals said they’d be more likely to stay at their company if they received free meals during the busy season. On the employer side, investing in employees’ meals benefits their overall well-being, work performance, and, importantly, in today’s climate, retention.
There could be a tax benefit for providing employees with food, too: the value of meals isn’t taxable income to the employee if the meals are furnished for the employer’s convenience and on the employer’s premises. For tax purposes, whether meals are for the convenience of the employer depends on all the facts and circumstances, but typically means that there’s a substantial business reason other than to provide the employee with additional pay (the exclusion doesn’t apply to cash allowances instead of meals).
Even if the meals can’t be considered for the employer’s convenience, they may still be nontaxable as a de minimis fringe benefit—something so small or inconsequential as to not be worthy of attention. For tax purposes, it means something that has so little value that accounting for it would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable. Typically, that includes items like coffee, doughnuts, or soft drinks or occasional meals provided to allow an employee to work overtime.
The de minimis exclusion also applies to meals at an employer-operated eating facility if the annual revenue from the facility equals or exceeds the direct operating costs of the facility. Direct operating costs include the cost of food, beverages, and labor costs for cooks and waitstaff and others who provide services primarily on the premises. You can check out IRS Pub 15-B, Employer’s Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits, for more information.
Prioritize Mental And Physical Well-Being
The key is to make eating well a priority—and not an afterthought—even during tax season. For the sake of everyone—including clients—tax professionals and their employers should consider implementing changes that prioritize mental and physical well-being.