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Small Businesses Should Focus on Workplace Essentials Over Cool Perks

There have been a lot of ups and downs for big businesses in the last few decades. The old idea of joining a big company and sticking with it for the long haul isn’t quite the everyday dream that it used to be. On the other hand, research indicates that more younger people than older people would prefer to work for larger businesses. Perhaps the perceived instability of a tech-driven economy, and particularly amongst younger job seekers, pushes people towards big companies that seem more stable. 

Furthermore, a new report from co-working company Mindspace indicates that smaller businesses might not be doing enough to attract and retain employees. The report indicates that smaller businesses are less inclined to offer events for their workers, and are less likely to measure employee engagement, than bigger companies. This is reflected by employee engagement figures between smaller and larger companies: many more employees of larger companies report feeling “very engaged,” while slightly more employees at smaller businesses report feeling “not very” or “not at all” engaged.

There are some areas where big businesses will generally always win. Having the ability to offer high-quality benefits packages or better advancement opportunities, for instance. It isn’t a leap to imagine that the workplaces offered by corporations and their ilk could be more attractive on average than smaller companies. And big businesses have the HR infrastructure to carefully monitor engagement and routinely offer events, perks, and wellness programs. Mindspace’s research seems to confirm this: almost 10% more small businesses than large businesses skip wellness activities entirely.

Needless to say, this is a missed opportunity. The answer, though, might not be as simple as “add wellness programs.” As discussed by Harvard Business Review, wellness programs aren’t the most efficient option in terms of boosting employee satisfaction. To the contrary, it’s often workplace improvements, like environmental quality, that make workers happy. 

Mindspace CEO Dan Zakai echoed this sentiment. “There are things that small companies can do that might be more difficult for larger organizations to do quickly,” he said. “For example, allowing more flexibility in the workplace and during the workday. Our survey results showed that flexibility in the workplace is highly valued by US employees with 35% of them feeling that flexible work time is the perk with the highest value. Smaller businesses are the most flexible and large US enterprises the least flexible when it comes to enabling flexibility in work location. Moreover employee happiness can also be increased with simple changes such as ensuring good lighting, natural light and air quality. In addition starting engagement programs such as a mentoring program and focusing on professional and personal development as well as running weekly events for the staff to create a more fun and exciting workplace also leads to increases in employee happiness. Our research shows that these small changes in the workplace have a big impact on happiness, engagement and productivity.”

Clearly, workplaces, particularly smaller ones that are starting from more or less zero on their employee engagement journey, should focus on the basics before breaking out the calendar of wellness activities and other cool-sounding but less impactful perks. Managers should celebrate this, though. Improvements to the workplace and big-picture company culture can be long-lasting, impacting not only current employees but their replacements and subordinates in the future.

“There are some clear, universal truths that require no change in resources or additional budget and can have a tremendous impact on employee happiness,” Dan added. “First and foremost, be clear about the company’s mission, create clarity on roles and responsibilities, and make sure that people feel valued and appreciated.”

The coming years may continue to emphasize stability and workplace fundamentals over more trendy programs and perks. The good news is that the breadth of real estate and workplace technology tools and guidance now on the market can make the process of upgrading systems and spaces less frustrating than ever before, from the front door to the corner office, whether you employee 25 people or 25,000.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.