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Why beanbags and climbing walls won’t make up for crappy company culture

Written by Jenni Hill: Content executive.
· 4 minute read

In an attempt to gain publicity, attract new employees and retain existing talent, a growing number of businesses are overhauling their office culture in drastic, attention-seeking ways.

Some are going as far as gifting employees the latest gadgets, installing climbing walls, and even creating bedrooms where you can take a nap.

Although the above things might sound like nice things to have in a workplace, problems arise when they’re used as a veil to hide the negative aspects of working at a company. While employers may brag about how their entire team is ‘one big family’ and share photos on LinkedIn of their new break room that’s been decorated with AstroTurf and picnic benches, sometimes, something a little more insidious lies beneath.

These employers will promise movie nights and free popcorn when in reality this means “we want you to still be in the office at 10pm.”

They’ll offer free gym memberships, complementary bacon butties and unlimited coffee – as if any employee at any workplace in the history of time has ever had to buy their own coffee and tea bags – to distract workers from the fact that the pay is really really bad.

They’ll turn the workplace into Alphabet Zoo before kicking up a fuss when a worker asks for a pay rise. “What do you mean, you’re not happy with your salary? I installed a slide and ball pool for you!”

The problem is, while all these gimmicks may look wonderful from the outside, they do very little to keep employees happy.

Here are some things that we firmly believe make a genuine difference to employee satisfaction and retention:

Flexibility

When you give employees the freedom to choose what time they start and finish work each day, amazing things happen. People will arrive at work each morning less stressed. They’ll find it easier to juggle work and their private lives. They’ll be less likely to call in sick.

At Run2, we also get our birthdays off, an annual ‘Duvet Day’ where we can take the day off if we can’t be bothered getting out of bed that morning, and if we need to stay at home to deal with a burst pipe or dog that keeps projectile vomiting on the kitchen floor, we don’t need to worry about accusations of skiving upon our return. As long as the job still gets done and clients are happy, no one really cares.

I once worked for a company where someone was in a minor car accident on his way into work and when he finally made it into the office – shaken and with a sore neck – he was asked when he’d make up the hours he missed. Seriously. This controlling and inflexible behaviour just creates unnecessary resentment.

Trust

Trust is as essential in a business environment as it is in a romantic relationship. You need to have trust in your employees to do their jobs without monitoring their every move with timesheets and daily catch-up meetings.

You know the awful workplace I mentioned before? There was so little trust that employees couldn’t even take time off for a doctor’s appointment unless they could present them with an official doctor’s note or appointment card afterwards. Failure to do so, they warned, would result in a disciplinary.

It seemed as though they were scared that people would use ‘doctor’s appointment’ as a cover for a job interview. The sad thing is, they were onto something. The company was so toxic that people were desperate to leave. But rather than holding unhappy employees captive, they should have looked for ways to change the office culture and help people enjoy their jobs.

Rather than tracking your employees’ every move like a jealous partner who insists on hourly updates on a night out, make your workers so happy that their absence isn’t a threat to you. You should be so confident in your company’s culture that you know your staff aren’t going anywhere.

Competitive salaries

It doesn’t matter how frequently you use the company credit card for your employees’ lunches, if they’re struggling to pay their bills, they’re going to move onto a better paid gig as soon as they can.

Although employee wellbeing is more important than ever (there are numerous studies that suggest employees would take a pay cut in exchange for workplace happiness) competitive salaries are far more effective than gimmicks and forced fun.

Don’t get me wrong, at Run2 we do get free cans of coke, there’s a ping pong table in our break room, and we sometimes bring our dogs in for a cuddle, but I’m sure everyone here would agree that these aren’t the things that keep us from trawling Indeed on our lunch hour.