Productivity over Perks: Workers Are over Foosball in the Office


By John Egan January 10, 2020
meeting room with blue walls, windows to outside meeting area

​At co-working company Hana's Dallas location, meeting space is open and collaborative, featuring lots of natural light.

​For all the hype about foosball and free beer in the office, by far, U.S. workers prefer productivity over play when it comes to workplace perks. That's one of the overarching takeaways from new research by co-working company Hana and architecture firm Gensler.

"People find the most fulfillment in their jobs after accomplishing something—and place a significantly lower value on having fun or socializing at the office. But companies are making it harder for employees to do their jobs by prioritizing fun amenities and social spaces over the functional necessities people need to be productive," Hana, a subsidiary of commercial real estate services giant CBRE, stated in its study based on survey responses from more than 1,000 office workers in the U.S.

The Hana survey found that office features such as natural light (83 percent), USB charging stations (80 percent) and ergonomic furniture (79 percent) are important to workers. Fewer respondents said free beer and alcohol (36 percent), games (43 percent) and in-office happy hours (48 percent) are important.

Sixty percent of the professionals surveyed by Hana complained that "fun" amenities and services make completing their work harder. Slightly more workers (61 percent) were skeptical of companies that brag about their fun workplaces.

As for the physical features employees value in office settings, the Hana survey indicates they want the flexibility to work in quiet and private areas. In fact, 27 percent of the employees surveyed said they'd take a 10 percent pay cut in order to gain private space.

"Overwhelmingly, people say employers are failing to provide the basic functional features they need to do their jobs effectively" and are instead providing "amenities and services that end up being distracting and counterproductive," Hana wrote.

Gensler's study arrived at similar conclusions. Spaces closely tied to innovation and collaboration, along with quiet spots that enable deep concentration on work, pack more of a punch than lounges or break rooms, according to the Gensler study. Therefore, the firm said, amenities should optimize work rather than allow an escape from it.

Gensler built its study around the results of a survey of more than 6,000 office workers in the U.S. Employees identified innovation hubs, collaboration spaces and quiet zones as the top office amenities, while cafeterias and break rooms/lounges scored the lowest.

Chris Coldoff, workplace leader at Gensler, said his firm's research underscores the growing significance of productivity-boosting amenities in the workplace. Amenities that zero in on play or relaxation and don't incorporate a work focus matter much less to employees than features that support how people get their jobs done.

However, Coldoff noted that "the idea of socializing at work is really an important part of successful companies and successful work environments—the idea that you want to connect with people, you want to build relationships in a casual way. Beer and after-hours activities are always going to be a key part of a successful work environment."

Coldoff said Gensler's research reinforced the notion that innovative, high-performing companies lean toward "variety and choice" in their amenities, such as cafes where employees can comfortably eat, meet or work. However, he added, each employer must tailor workplace amenities to its own goals and needs and those of its employees. Workplace amenities should be authentic, Coldoff said, and shouldn't merely mimic what the trendy startup next door provides.

"Sometimes what happens is that companies or people see things in magazines, or they visit spaces and say, 'That's really cool—let's do that' because it works really successfully for this company, without considering the nuances and the differences that your particular company might have compared with what you saw at another place," Coldoff said.

Brian Harrington, chief experience officer at Hana, said his company's research reflects a bottom-up approach to office amenities, with employees—he describes them as "savvy shoppers"—increasingly dictating workplace offerings. He advises HR professionals to pay close attention to employees' desires in workplace design, layout and amenities.

"The HR executive needs to recognize that folks want optionality in how they work on a day-to-day basis," Harrington said. "It's not enough to give them a nice workstation. You also have to be thinking about meeting space and places for quiet work, and places for small groups to get together on a project basis in order to work together."

Harrington said the Hana survey results also point to employees' desire for an ample supply of healthy beverages and snacks. He recommends that employers de-emphasize unhealthy freebies like beer and booze, and rely on employee feedback to gauge how and when these should be furnished. After all, 57 percent of employees surveyed by Hana dismissed the value of fun workplace perks.

"I don't think you need to go all in on the free beer," Harrington said. "At the end of the day, employees want to go to work and get great work done, and all they're asking for is the types of tools to be able to do that."

John Egan is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas.


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