Nothing says "fun-loving company culture" quite like a ping-pong table in the office and bean bag chairs in the lobby, are we right? Turns out, however, these "perks" have gone from novelty to nuisance as companies realize employee engagement isn't just fun and games. Engagement should involve more substantive measures—flexibility included.
In fact, in a 2017 survey of United Kingdom employees, 86% said they find no value in recreational options in the office, and even more damningly, 25% found such equipment "annoying." Now some interior designers are even refusing to even entertain the table tennis idea. Workplaces are maturing, as are work mentalities.
"It's time to leave the games in the dorm room and create a culture that invests in people, not toys," Christine Mellon, chief HR officer at CSG, writes for TLNT. "Today's competitive currency is culture."
Specifically, work-life compatibility and flexibility rank among the top draws for top-tier talent, Mellon writes. She even pinpoints time-based modifications to the workday—policies similar to TimeShift and MicroAgility flexibility types—as some of the best solutions to attracting and retaining such talent. "Offering flexibility in the work schedule to allow employees to spend time with their family and friends, shows them that you value the work they do and trust them to deliver the same (or even stronger) performance in the hours they do work," she says.
On-site perks like ping-pong tables tend to do the exact opposite by reinforcing a face-time culture that rewards people for staying at the office longer—if they don’t have to leave for recreation, they can produce more work, right? Not necessarily. There's a point of diminishing returns in the workweek, and it's typically close to the 40-hour mark. What has proven to boost productivity, however, is giving employees access to the flexibility they need to leave the office to take care of themselves and their loved ones—not incentivizing them to stay on the premises longer.
Writing for Entrepreneur, Influence & Co. president Kelsey Meyer admits her office boasts a ping-pong table and a putting green. But she's quick to point out that those "perks" have nothing to do with her company culture. Instead, she agrees with Werk's assertion that productivity should be measured by output and not hours clocked. "If you reward face time instead of results, you're measuring output based on the hours employees work, not the actual value they add to your company," she explains. "You're only assessing their ability to stay within the confines of the 9-to-5 grind."
Laura Hamill, organizational psychologist and chief people officer at Limeade, concurs. "Culture is not a ping-pong table," she tells The Chicago Tribune. "Culture is not having margaritas on Friday. That's just surface level. What matters a lot more is what happens when people go back to their desk, when they have a meeting with their manager and interact with the leaders of company. It's day-to-day interactions, how people feel they are treated, and how they're valued."
Flexibility is one of the best ways to show employees they're valued, trusted, and respected. Flex remains one of the most demanded attributes of corporate culture—and one of the most scarce. Our research here at Werk revealed 96% of the U.S. workforce needs some form of flexibility at work, but only 42% has access to the type of flexibility they need. Worse, only 19% have access to a range of flexible options.
Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, a survey of UK workers commissioned by Badenoch & Clark showed flexibility was the top non-salary source of workplace happiness—above benefits, career progression, strong leadership, and additional holidays. (There was no mention of beer taps or foosball tables.)
So feel free to get that pool table or that dartboard for the office, but just know that those superficial perks do little to boost employee engagement, loyalty, and productivity, and they might even annoy some of your staff. Instead, invest in flexibility and other meaningful attributes of a people-centric company culture—attributes that don't just lure employees in but keeps them around. As Mellon writes, "When you make a meaningful long-term investment in your employees, they will make a meaningful long-term investment in you."