by Cary Cooper, The Conversation
Who are Britain’s happiest workers? The people who staff the London office of U.S. travel tech firm Expedia, according to Glassdoor’s annual workplace satisfaction survey. In both 2016 and 2017, Expedia rated highest for employee satisfaction, according to anonymous reviews from current and past workers.
Reading this Business Insider profile of the “happiest office in London” might make you believe that Expedia’s high level of employee satisfaction is down almost entirely to the office itself and the various on-site perks – which includes table tennis, football, gaming consoles and a cocktail bar. There’s no doubt that this is a very attractive office.
But the survey of the employees shows that Expedia’s people like working there because of the business, not the fancy office. The most positive ratings cite “culture” and “career opportunities”. The physical surroundings barely merit a mention.
This is a trend. Workplace contentment is too often incorrectly attributed to the aesthetics of the office, disregarding more influential factors such as job security or work satisfaction. But since we can’t Instagram job security, it’s the offices that get the credit.
It’s very easy, when profiling a company as Business Insider did, to use their expensively designed office as a metaphor for happy employees. It’s a false narrative. Happy workplaces don’t need beanbags, barbecue stations and ball pits.
Those are (arguably) nice to have, but they’re not culture. In their attempts to be seen as fun, happy places to work, modern businesses are venturing very close to turning their offices into circuses (or literally in the case of Liverpool, England’s “coolest office“) in order to improve perceptions to potential hires and journalists.
Yes, Expedia is a happy workplace and yes, it has a very nice office. But that’s more likely because companies that invest in creating a nice physical environment are also likely to invest in more meaningful areas of employee contentment too. Expedia offers its people up to US$14,000 (£10,800) a year in travel perks, for example.
Happiness is not a hammock
Businesses spend billions of dollars every year trying to make their people happy. But it’s not working. In America, 70% of the workforce are disengaged. Office workers want more than toys and breakout spaces.
In fact, a study I was recently involved with revealed that approval-seeking quirky perks can actually annoy office workers. People rarely want to work in a hammock or take a crisis meeting in a ballpit.
If only employers would listen more they’d realise their people aren’t asking for much. Screen privacy is a big thing for many – 74% of the 1,000 office workers surveyed by in a related study said the feeling that others can see what they’re working on causes them some degree of anxiety. This is an issue that is cheap to fix and which would improve workplace contentment for many. But it’s hardly Instagrammable.
Employee satisfaction is more often derived from simple measures such as investing in high-quality, comfortable furniture and providing refreshments, not the hay bales and hammocks cited by study recipients as being among the most pointless attempts at creating an Instagrammable office.