Foosball tables or flexitime - what really makes people buzz at work?

It can feel like home is fun and work is not. One is meant to be happy and relaxed (home), while the other, work, is meant to be productive. However, over the last few decades, workplaces appear to be considering happiness at work more than ever. Google 'Happiness Consultant' and there are enough results to warrant two search pages - and that’s just in London.

Happiness is a driver for many employers. Research has shown that happy workers result in greater productivity by up to 12 per cent. With real wages at their lowest for years, and people having to commute longer than ever before, it can be difficult for employers to incentivise people to work - and be happy about it.

Some start-ups, aware they can’t offer competitive salaries, might offer a flexible workspace, while others buy chill-out activities like darts boards and Foosball tables. However, Chris*, 26, says this is not enough. "I work for a start-up that is three years old. During this period, I haven’t had a pay-rise, while the CEO (there are five of us) has bought more 'toys' like beanbags, Foosball tables, and even a basketball hoop. I appreciate the attempt, but I’d rather my hours were shorter, or I could work from home a little more. I feel trying to buy our allegiance is a bit patronising. That said, I love the work we do, or I’d have left long ago!." 

Offices like those at MindCandy have scooters for staff to ride around on, and there’s even a slide. There’s a treehouse meeting room, and it’s been reported that there are more nerf guns that pens in the office. Whether that feels infantile, or it would make you happy and productive, is debatable. They believe that this increases employee satisfaction. Plus, for many jobs in advertising and creative industries, it’s important to consider what will stimulate employees to think outside the box and create fantastic copy.

At Pact Coffee in Bermondsey, employees can literally cycle from the street to their desks, that’s how open plan the office is. Encouraging moving and not sitting down for too long is meant to encourage at-work happiness, so it’s certainly worth considering that for creative companies, such distractions and additions can boost happiness and productivity. It’s even been shown that adding plants and painting walls a different colour can really boost happiness at work.

Read: Finding true happiness with the four pillars

But does everyone want a 'funky' office to feel fantastic in? All I want, says Lucinda Borrell is "a decent pension scheme, sick pay, holiday pay and promotion opportunities". Not too much to ask for more traditional jobs, but many startups argue that they cannot afford to invest so heavily in staff when they’re barely turning a profit.

Eleanor Richardson says the thing that would make all the difference at work for her is having a "nice green space outside to access and enjoy". Harder to organise in the city for sure, but being close to parks, and encouraging employees to go on regular walks has been shown to stimulate productivity. Indeed, a study conducted by Stanford University shows that some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs conducted meetings on foot. Claire Beth, a journalist, says her job would be so much better if she could just stand up. "I wish it was more acceptable to get up and stretch your legs. I cannot bear being stationary for eight hours, awful, awful, hate it. It makes me feel like I'm playing musical statues only with less fun factor."

"I don’t really care about being happy at work, honestly," says Jamelia, who works in PR. "My job is to communicate with businesses and create strategy that works best for them. I prefer to do that quietly, with minimum distractions, and a reasonable amount of face-to-face contact. I don’t need gimmicks, just an efficient working environment where we all have the same end-goal."

Catherine Bayne feels similar: "If I could just leave my desk for a few hours and go and work in the local coffee shop, or even on the office sofa, I’d be so much happier. To work on a proposal, or get to grips with client notes, sometimes I just need a little bit of headspace with no phone, no chatter from colleagues, and no distraction."

Perhaps this is indicative of future workplace trends. Forget the Foosball tables, and ask your employees what would really make all the difference to them. It might just be extra trust that they’ll get the work done from wherever they are, to limiting the number of meetings each day. Either way, perhaps cancel the order for the new darts board. 

*Not real name 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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