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Little things make all the difference

I have often been a little bit sceptical about some of the things that I see offered by some organisations to make their employees' lives easier. Google is often cited as giving away free, unlimited food, haircuts, dry cleaners on-site and bring your dog to work every day and are amongst a number of American organisations, S C Johnson and Weebly, where they pay for concierge services to allow staff to have their houses cleaned, errands run and dogs walked while they are at work. It sounds magical but I always felt there was a dark side to this behaviour, in that employees are effectively kept at work by these offers!

How important are these things to people? We all know that money is not a motivator as long as it is fair. Dan Pink talks about Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose as key drivers of motivation. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has seemed particularly relevant recently with us all moving straight into security/safety level during Covid rather than leaping up the self-actualisation level.

When it comes down to it, don’t we all just want to be happy at work? To contribute and feel valued but to be respected by our employer for our contribution?

I asked my friend’s daughter what it would take for her to move from her current (excellent) employer to a similar type of business but without the many benefits they are offered (serious flexitime, unlimited holidays, amazing career opportunities, on-site beautician, a pick ‘n’ mix wall for heaven’s sake - to name just a few) and she said she didn’t think she would move. When pushed, I got her to agree that an additional £8k might make her consider it (she is a graduate trainee to give £8k some perspective). Ultimately, when it comes down to it, being happy at work, enjoying the well-being of a specific set of circumstances and being looked after by your employers counts for an awful lot.

Isn’t it interesting that when someone mentions something generous about their employer that it is an unusual thing? It makes you stop and listen and really consider how wonderful it would be to have an extra two weeks off work for ‘life events’ (Marston Coors), to enjoy your birthday off work, meetings in a hammock or a Segway round the offices (Cooper Parry).

These types of business are considered ‘out there’ and progressive but really, is it so much to ask that you delight your employees? The results speak for themselves with a more engaged workforce, a loyal and dedicated team, made up of people who want to be at work and actually feel better for it!

The pandemic and our need to get everyone working at home (in the main) has shown us the art of the possible. We do not need to be present to be productive. Our output should be the key measure of our performance. Sir Cary Cooper, on a recent webinar with the CIPD, said that he believes many employees, now that they realise that they can work flexibly, will demand it. Particularly men who never felt like they could ask for it as it would impact their career progression.

Flexitime, for example, is nothing new. Back in the 80s, even big, staid organisations like The Bank of England offered it. I know someone who used it to leave London mid-afternoon on a Friday and arrive to work by 11am on a Monday as they worked away from home all week. It made the job much more human. Added to this, if you worked past 6pm and submitted a form in the morning to let the bank know, you would have dinner brought to you at your desk – just a light meal of salad, soup, sandwiches, crisps, fruit and cake but it was a great perk, especially for the lower echelons of the bank who saved money by working late (to accumulate the wondrous flexi hours) and having their food provided. Win, win.

It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. I am convinced that every business can consider what would be the art of the possible for them to offer their employees. The additional cost is nearly always recouped through loyalty, increased performance, fewer sick days and better retention. Some businesses still charge staff for hot drinks which I am always amazed at. Yes, benefits will always cost something but the long-term results will speak for themselves.

What could you do? Consider your environment, the types of people who work for you, the types of things that would make them smile. There are all of the usual benefits – you pay people, they get holidays, sick pay and other basics. You might provide training, a clear career path, regular reviews and a mentor. You might like to offer a fish n chip Friday and provide everyone with a fun lunch that is paid for and delivered by the company. Deliver an ice lolly to everyone on a hot day. Introduce the concept of having your birthday off work. Allow working from home if that works for your business. Don’t look for the barriers, look for the opportunities.

By incorporating new employee perks, it engenders and strengthens feelings of belonging. By sharing positive experiences at work, it creates a culture that is akin to a club with exclusive membership. Belonging is an often over-looked aspect to employment and is cited as having the potential to change things wholesale.

“If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M. Employees with higher workplace belonging also showed a 167% increase in their employer promoter score (their willingness to recommend their company to others). They also received double the raises, and 18 times more promotions.”

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

So do the little things make work more human? This is an aspect of the workplace that we are devoting three months’ worth of articles and thought to. How do we move a standard workplace culture to one that is positive and rewarding (in every sense)?

We believe we need to push our thought processes over and above the job in hand, whatever sector you are in. It’s not all about the number of hours billed and the amount of widgets made. These things, the vital commerce of your business, will take care of itself (and more) if you have put some thought into show care for your team and making your workplace as human as you can.

Maybe that’s it – maybe making work more human is as simple as showing more care and treating people as humans and not workers. To be continued!

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