Increasingly, today’s workers are seeking out employers who prioritize their well-being and encourage a sustainable work-life balance.
But unless you’re a Fortune 500 company or are backed by millions (or billions) in funding, it can be difficult to measure up to the perks offered by the Googles and Facebooks of the world (e.g., gourmet meals, on-site gyms, massages, tuition reimbursement, free shuttles to work, etc.)
However, there are ways that any company can improve employee morale through small, manageable changes to the shared workplace.
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The Workplace as an Employee Benefit
The utopian workspaces at these top tech companies are often considered — by their employees, candidates, and visitors — to be one of the biggest employee benefits they offer. Again, thinking in the extreme, with sprawling campuses, swimming pools, volleyball courts, free bikeshares, juice bars, cafes, and more, it’s not hard to see why.
While few people would say no to answering emails in an $500+ Aeron chair in a soaring atrium designed by a world-famous architect, creating a productive and aesthetically pleasing workplace for your employees does not necessarily require an outlay of millions (or even thousands) of dollars.
Here are a few ideas for taking your workplace from office drab to office fab, for businesses with a not-unlimited budget.
Incorporate Nature into Your Workplace
Yes, even a few houseplants can make a big difference! Numerous studies have shown adding plants to office decor to have a significant positive impact on employee morale.
The University of Technology in Sydney reported a 58% decrease in depression and a 38% reduction in fatigue among workers when plants were introduced. The University of Exeter found houseplants in the office helped increase productivity by 15%.
Provide Spaces for Collaboration and Solitude
Cubicles were once the de facto office design, but now the open office plan reigns supreme. Neither layout on its own fosters maximum productivity or happiness.
“There’s a natural rhythm to collaboration,” reports the Harvard Business Review. “People need to focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas or process information; then they come together as a group to build on those ideas or develop a shared point of view; and then they break apart again to take next steps.”
There’s no one perfect way to lay out an office — it depends on your line of business, your employees’ roles and responsibilities, the size and type of space you’re working with, and more — but being thoughtful about these dual needs is crucial.
If you already have an open office plan, but don’t have anywhere for employees to work in private, consider dividing up an existing conference room into a few “quiet rooms” where employees can recharge and focus (use curtains or room dividers if you don’t have the money for a full-scale renovation).
If you currently have cubicles or private offices, consider putting a couple couches, bean bag chairs, or movable benches into a corner where employees can brainstorm and catch up on recent projects.
Stand Up with Adjustable Office Desks
The verdict on sitting is in, and it’s not good. Prolonged periods of sitting (i.e., an office worker’s average day) can increase the risks of obesity, kidney problems, diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Standing up instead of sitting can not only improve health outcomes but also increase productivity. A 2016 study by Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center School of Public Health found that call center employees in “stand-capable” desks had 53% more productive calls than their sitting counterparts over a six-month period, reports the Washington Post.
If you can stand it, get adjustable desks for all your workers. If that’s too expensive, buy one and allow employees to use it in shifts. Or, ditch your regular conference table for a high-top and hold standing meetings to give everyone on the team an added boost of blood flow.
Lay Down with Napping Areas
Companies like NASA, Samsung, JetBlue, and Zappos are among those who have purchased $13,000 “sleep pods” to enable their employees to take quick power naps on the job, reports the Financial Times.
Naps are often associated with laziness — but studies that have shown that in fact they can be quite beneficial. “A short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Of course, it’s possible to provide a comfortable, discreet place to sleep without spending thousands of dollars on a futuristic pod. Add a soothing sound machine and a cot or recliner to a small room or underutilized corner (you can curtain it off for privacy) and you’re all set.
Pick an Employee Perk (Or Two)
So your CFO might not be OK with you building an indoor water slide, purchasing a half-dozen collectible arcade games, and installing an in-office pub. But picking an attainable perk (or two) to transform your workspace into an employee benefit can do a lot for team morale.
Get a top-of-the-line espresso machine
Host a free catered lunch once a week or once a month
Put a couple of recliners in the lounge
Set up a small fitness center with free weights and a treadmill
Provide free bicycle storage so your employees can get to work on two wheels (it's a trend with a myriad of positive benefits)
Most importantly, solicit feedback to figure out what type of perks your employees would value most. For example, free beer is great — but if the majority of your workers are trying to get home in time for their kids’ bedtime, they might end up resenting the business for spending money on happy hours they can’t partake in.
Keep the lines of communication open and continue to work hard to ensure that the office is a place where employees feel valued. Your workers will return the favor, and the business will ultimately reap the rewards — watch out, Google and Facebook.