Are you a leader or an appeaser? To put it another way, do you want to help your employees to make the most of their talents and to align with the business strategy in such a way that they create game changing results; or do you just want to give them somewhere nice to play? In fact, getting right down to basics, do you want employee engagement or fluff?
Given the prevalence of articles suggesting that if you want employees to be engaged you have to give them fruit baskets and massage chairs, pool tables and chill out zones it’s no wonder that employee engagement has been accused of being something fluffy; a nice to have rather than an imperative. But realistically, piling on the perks bears as much resemblance to true employee engagement as a pair of fluffy dice does to a car. Sure, it may be quite fun to have but it adds nothing to the overall performance.
Actually, perhaps that’s a little harsh. Offering something extra can help to show employees that you care about their overall welfare but perks should only be seen as a small addendum to the main show. Offer a free breakfast once in a while and it is a treat, provide breakfast all the time and it becomes nothing special, just part of the contract. Take that breakfast away, or only offer it to one section of the company and then see what problems you cause!
Unfortunately there seems to be a measure of confusion about the difference between offering perks and creating the conditions in which the aims of your company can best be furthered. One of the problems with a good idea is that it can become bastardised, its meaning lost as it spreads from its originator throughout the business world. So for example pool tables are now seen as being fun things to have rather than as ways for people to interact and develop innovative ideas; and the same can be said for chill out zones, massage chairs or designer workstations. If they help people to think, to interact or to concentrate on a tricky problem then they could be seen as positives; otherwise they are a waste of space and money.
There are many positive reasons for engaging employees, not least of which is an improvement in profitability. But at heart you have to ask yourself which you would prefer; employees who have joined for the perks and who will melt away at the first sign of trouble or people who have genuinely bought into the company ideals, who are resilient and who have the right skills and attitude to carry the business through good and bad times.
This leads us squarely back to leadership and to creating the right culture in an organisation. If you try to build employee engagement through fluff then whatever you have is an illusion. But if you educate, engage, empower and enable then you finish up with employees whose hearts and minds are bent on furthering the strategy, aims and values of the organisation.