Google Study Gets Employees to Stop Eating So Many M&Ms

Project M&M was the latest effort to evaluate office habits at the tech company, The Washington Post reports

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There’s a reason Google continues to rank high among the best companies to work for, and a keen awareness of its employees’ office habits may have helped it earn that reputation.

As the Washington Post reports, recent findings from an in-house study nicknamed “Project M&M” analyzed how employee consumption of the company’s favorite confectionary might impact productivity and happiness. Under the direction of Google’s human resources team, People Operations, the study used experiments on placement and proximity of M&Ms and consulted research on food psychology to reduce the amount of candy its employees were eating.

(MORE: How Google Uses Data to Keep Employees Happy)

The team, launched in 2006, strategically put the candy in opaque containers and instead emphasized the placement of dried figs, pistachios and other healthy snacks in glass jars.  The most successful example was in the New York office: during a period of seven weeks, a staff of 2,000 consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms

“With a company as big as Google, you have to start small to make a difference. We apply the same level of rigor, analysis and experimentation on people as we do the tech side,” Jennifer Kurkoski, a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and a member of the People Ops team, told The Washington Post.

The sweet study is not the first of its kind at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company. Known for its paternal nudging and internal social experiments, Google is a proponent of using science and data-driven models to determine company policies. Google has analyzed employee habits by looking at data on salaries, maternity leave and even size of plates available in the cafeterias and “microkitchens,” or food bars available throughout the office. In a previous campaign to encourage employees to drink more water, the Internet giant hid sugary soda drinks behind frosted shelves at the bottom of refrigerators while displaying bottled water at eye level on transparent shelves. The result produced a 47% increase in water consumption while the intake of soda fell by 7%.

(MORE: ‘Nudge’ Back in Fashion at White House)

Of course, proximity and placement of healthier options are going to influence better choices, say some workplace experts, who are questioning how far Google goes to collect data and break down workplace habits. The company did not confirm if the M&M Project led to a happier or healthier staff and also did not disclose how many staffers from People Ops worked on the study. But Google does assert its staff is happy about the experiments. In a follow up survey, Google found 70% of it’s 40,000 employees  prefer knowing nutritional facts.

“What I love is that I don’t have to ever think twice about the coffee beans in this machine being stocked,” Mike Harm, an engineering manager in the New York office, told the Washington Post. “It’s removing the obstacles of my day to just let me focus on what I want to do.”

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