May 31, 2019

Myth #4 – Engagement can simply be increased by providing ping-pong tables, free food, and team bowling.

This is part 5 of our series titled, America’s Engagement Epidemic.

Here are parts 123 and 4 in case you missed them.

Everybody’s heard the stories of the incredible perks and benefits of large tech startups in Silicon Valley or New York City. Things like barbershops on site, cooking classes, free food all day, arcades, indoor treehouses, scooters, movies at work and beer on Fridays. To be fair, many of these large companies have very generous and incredibly beneficial perk and benefits packages for employees, but what is the impetus behind all of these excessive perks?

Many organizations use perks and benefits as a way of recruiting the best talent, retaining the best talent and keeping people engaged at work. While this strategy of excessive perks and benefits has had a positive impact on the first two goals of recruiting and retaining employees, how does this strategy affect engagement? To put it another way, do the 566, 000 employees at Amazon experience much higher engagement than workplaces without these perks?

The answer is no.

So what perks and benefits package really matters to employees and their engagement? In the recent Gallup study, The State of the American Workforce, they surveyed millions of workers and asked them to rank what perks and benefits made the most impact on their engagement at work.

The top five selected were related to having the employees basic needs met.

When they asked the survey pool to describe five more perks or benefits that would increase their engagement, they expressed benefits related to increasing their quality of life.

What is missing from these lists? Obviously, there is a set of perks and benefits that impact an employees engagement at work, but as you can see, the excessive focus on creating new and exciting incentives and experiences at work are not having a positive impact on engagement.

In fact, some authors such as Jason Fried who wrote: “Work doesn’t have to be Crazy”, “Rework” and “Remotestates that these perks and benefits actually have a negative effect on engagement and productivity.

“Once you examine these [perks], they look a little less like benefits and more like hooks,” says Fried’s co-author, David Heinemeier Hansson. “It’s not that ping-pong tables aren’t nice in an abstract way, but they can also wreak havoc on everyone else in the office’s ability to get things done.”

He goes on to discuss that when an individual works in an environment that provides for everything you need, there is actually less balance between the personal and professional aspects of work.

“There is no line you can draw between free kombucha and people’s satisfaction in their job,” he says. “If the reason you’re attracted to your employer is that they have free cupcakes, there are a bunch more cultural issues you have to unpack.”

The data is clear that you cannot simply fix issues of disengagement by providing excessive perks and benefits. So what are the best practices for creating a package of perks and benefits that maximizes engagement?

1. Prioritize the benefits that matter most – Pay attention to the Gallup data and other sources that rank the most important benefits to focus on. Prioritize providing benefits that fall into two major buckets: providing for employees basic needs and benefits that help to create a higher quality of life.

2. Listen to your people – Get yourself and your team into a regular cycle of measuring and discussing the level of engagement across your organization. You may discover that there are much bigger issues to be solved than creating new benefit programs.

3. Be Thoughtful – As we will discuss in later posts, all of us desire to make our highest and best contribution at work. Many of the excessive perks and benefits that companies employ actually create more involuntary distractions that take people away from having time to do meaningful work. Remember, that simply having “fun” at work is not what makes a highly engaged workforce. Be thoughtful about how potential new perks and benefits may affect your whole team.

It is clear that if we are going to truly understand the challenge of engagement in the workforce, we are going to have to look much deeper than generational differences, stop point fingers at our HR departments, recognize that all positions across an organization are at risk of disengagement, and that we cannot simply fix the problem by proving an excessive amount of perks and benefits.


Join us next week to discuss our final myth about America’s Engagement Epidemic.

If you want to discuss these ideas in more detail, reach out for a conversation!