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Office ‘Perks’ Don’t Create Good Work Culture


From beer kegs to nap rooms to cold-plunge pools, the 2010s saw a parade of trendy office "perks." For the companies that called the offices home, these add-ons were meant to bolster a bespoke brand of company culture, whether relaxed, luxurious or hyperproductive. They were meant to be physical proof of the companies’ dedication to keeping employees satisfied. 

But employees, it turns out, didn't really care about them.

“There is no correlation between perks and being a great place to work,” Great Place to Work CEO Michael Bush said on Wednesday’s Walker & Dunlop Walker Webcast. “Not free yoga classes or massage chairs or pingpong tables.”

Bush’s company surveys employees, executives and customers from over 10,000 companies every year to understand what makes for strong corporate culture. In examining years of data, Bush said, adding these sorts of perks to the workplace has never been integral to making employees truly satisfied in their jobs. Having a great place to work, data shows, comes down to whether employees have a fundamental trust in their executives, their company’s mission and their colleagues.

“Do your colleagues ask you for your ideas?” Bush said. “Are executives and people honest in your workplace? Do they involve you in decisions that affect your work? Do you feel respected, listened to, treated fairly and equitably? Do you enjoy the people you work with and take pride in the work you do? When you ask someone to describe their work and they get excited, it tells you something about the culture.”

Great Place to Work CEO Michael Bush on the Walker Webcast

With the coronavirus pandemic prompting much of the corporate world to work from home, though, Great Place to Work’s data raises deeper questions about office culture. If kombucha on tap doesn’t boost employee satisfaction, will cutting-edge furnishings or even more square feet per employee? Do employees need an office with a prestigious address or do they need an office at all?

Even companies that were adamantly against remote work have nonetheless seen boosts to employee satisfaction while their workforces are at home. Executives who swore that call centers could not be decentralized without a massive drop in productivity are now eating their words, Bush said. 

“There are leaders who are business school-trained and certified who have been proved wrong, dead wrong,” Bush said. “They have had to learn in a brutal way that when you project complete certainty about how to do something, it stops innovation, it stops creativity and inclusion. When you’re running the whole show, it makes people think they don’t belong.”

When leaders instead remain humble and open-minded to new approaches, Bush said, employees feel more appreciated and satisfied in their work. The question still remains, however, just how much positive internal culture can be a driver of financial returns. Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker pushed Bush about why Cisco, which has been ranked for two years as the top place to work, has had a flat stock price since 2018. Bush argued that great culture and high stock prices alike are built over time and that it is often high-growth companies that have the most dissatisfied employees and that fold shortly after their founding. 

McKinsey & Co. North America Chairman Gary Pinkus on the Walker Webcast

In the best places to work, the pandemic and the social upheaval of 2020 have been engines for corporate innovation, driving the adoption of technology and more equitable hiring practices that can bring in top talent from a wider pool of applicants.

“It’s hard to have 10 years of development overnight,” McKinsey & Co. North America Chairman Gary Pinkus said on the Walker Webcast. “The best companies didn’t pivot on a whim. They did the work of piloting and gained conviction for where the best way to go was, then they pointed all systems in that direction and steamed ahead.”

But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Bush and Pinkus both noted that many companies ignored 2020’s imperative to innovate. Others simply doubled down on practices that they have had in place for decades, including diversity councils and hiring a revolving door of executives to focus on equity and inclusion at the companies. 

Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker on the Walker Webcast

Great Place to Work’s data from 2020 also showed a distinct bifurcation: Companies to which customers assigned high “trust scores” before the pandemic have seen their trust scores rise, while companies that customers deemed less trustworthy have seen their scores fall. That split was mirrored among employees. For the companies that saw boosts to their trust scores, Bush credited the pandemic for demonstrating our shared humanity.

“As soon as these virtual meetings started, you began to see a different side of your employees,” Bush said. “People would ask, ‘What’s going on with your kids?’ or say, ‘I didn’t know you had an elderly parent who lived with you.’ They started taking care of each other in a way we’d never really seen.”

On Feb. 17, Walker will host Walt Rakowich, former CEO of Prologis, who will discuss the state of industrial and his book, Transfluence: How to Lead with Transformative Influence in Today's Climates of Change. Register here for the event.

This article was produced in collaboration between Walker & Dunlop and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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