Taking the drudgery and routine out of working life is serious business and can pay dividends in productivity and engagement. Yvonne Gordon looks at some of the more enlightened and at times, fun practices in workplaces in Ireland today and how organisations are benefitting.
Imagine arriving in to the office at 11am and taking a quick swim in the company pool before visiting the (free) canteen for breakfast. You then find a mobile desk and chair, wheel it over to the window and check your email, to find that a colleague has sent you a thank-you gift voucher. Later, you might have a get-together with colleagues in the games room, or a jam in the music room, before having a snooze in a nap pod.
Sound too good to be true? Actually it’s possible, as all of these perks and benefits, and a lot more, are available in companies in Ireland today. Free canteens and flexitime have been around for a while, but pools, games rooms, nap pods and more have been introduced by companies over recent years, thanks to the influence of innovative multinationals, especially in the tech sector.
Companies worldwide have realised that by creating the best workplace possible, this not only attracts the best staff but rewards and motivates them, leading to better performance. If employees have their needs taken care of and have less to worry about, they are happier and more motivated. Healthier staff – who use gyms and pools – are also more productive. Plus, investing in innovative practices in the workplace in turn inspires innovation and creativity from the staff working there, so it all helps the bottom line.
Diageo, which employs 28,000 people worldwide, takes a number of steps to ensure that the company offers a stimulating and rewarding working environment. Diageo Ireland, which employs 1,500 staff and was ranked in the top ten Best Workplaces 2015 by Great Place To Work, has a gym and swimming pool for staff at St James’s Gate, Dublin. They also provide lunch and a doctor on site, and employee-led wellbeing initiatives include a weight loss challenge, a walking challenge and the annual charity fund-raising Guinness Triathlon.
Over at Google, the perks for staff are well publicised – a free canteen, gym, subsided massage, dry cleaning, video games, foosball, a music room and nap pods. However Google, which has 70 offices worldwide in more than 40 countries, invests a lot of research into keeping employees healthy – and says it’s all about removing barriers for employees. Sometimes it’s the simplest of ideas that can motivate employees. Google say productivity is up 15 per cent within a Googler’s first nine months if a manager says hello and welcomes an employee on their first day at work. To stimulate innovation, the company also creates what it calls ‘casual collision’ environments.
“We want to create an environment that allows Googlers to innovate, to excel in their roles and to ultimately think big,” says Helen Tynan, director of people operations at Google Ireland. “It’s really important to note that our perks are designed to foster an environment that stimulates innovation, creativity and collaboration. When Googlers are not hard at work, we want to give them the room and time to recharge.”
At SAP, which employs more than 70,000 people worldwide and has 1,150 employees in Citywest Business Campus in Dublin, and 500 in Parkmore in Galway, the entire workspace is designed around giving employees room and time, to foster collaboration and innovation. Desks and chairs are on wheels, walls are whiteboards that can be scribbled on. It’s all about encouraging ideas.
“This gives people ultimate flexibility in the workspace and allows people to collaborate in ways they couldn’t before,” says SAP managing director Liam Ryan. “They don’t have to go to a team room to collaborate. You can plug yourself out, wheel yourself over beside a colleague for the day, or wheel yourself into a quiet space.”
Ryan says that this flexibility allows a lot of meetings to happen ad hoc in the office space (the AppHaus), which is based on a Design Thinking philosophy. “They don’t have to book a meeting room, they can sit around on couches,” says Ryan. “You stand up beside whiteboards and start brainstorming. That mind set of collaboration, that’s really what Design Thinking is trying to push. We have had it for three years and it’s been very successful. We have come out with a number of innovative products over that time.”
SAP’s software is in every area from aerospace and defence to manufacturing, financial and banking. Another innovation for employees is that they can take a Fellowship, which involves spending six months in a client organisation. They learn about systems and the customers and this is rewarded when it comes to promotion. Other benefits include a free canteen, flexible working hours, working from home and buying extra annual leave. Ryan says that because the employees have shown a lot of flexibility, all of these are a way for the company to show flexibility back.
Over at Microsoft, the work environment is also flexible, with a ‘work from anywhere’ formula. The company also inspires its employees through technology - each employee gets a new Windows Phone, a Microsoft Surface device and a Windows 8.1 device. Other perks include a restaurant, a gym with classes, a nail bar, dry cleaning and a wellbeing centre. Microsoft has just announced an investment of €134m in a new Dublin campus which will bring all 1,200 employees together under one roof. The new offices will no doubt have a range of on-site perks and services.
Microsoft says that empowering people to do what they love enables them to make a difference both professionally and personally. The company continually consults with staff to make sure that the workplace is rewarding and stimulating – with feedback on everything from restaurant menus to career progression issues, from their mentoring programmes to online training.
At MasterCard, employee innovation is top of the agenda and the company has an innovation team in ‘MasterCard Labs’ in its Dublin office. However all employees are encouraged to be innovative, says HR business partner, Ann-Marie Clyne. “What we want is employees to be innovative in thinking and to challenge the status quo. Even if they are not in the R&D team, they are expected to be innovative in the job,” she says.
The company, which has 220 staff in its Dublin office, also runs innovation competitions for staff on a global basis. Employees form small teams to come up with product ideas and compete through various rounds. The final six get to present their idea to the company’s 10,000 staff worldwide, who vote on their favourite. For the winning team, the prize money is $250,000. Last year 8% of MasterCard employees globally submitted 281 ideas to the competition.
Genzyme Ireland, a global pharmaceutical company which is part of Sanofi, was recently awarded Best Workplace 2015 for a large company by Great Place To Work. The company has 550 employees. Gemma Kennedy, High Trust Lead with Genzyme, says they are top of the list because of the company culture and people investment. “People are our core,” she says. “We’ve a great culture here, we invest in our people, with further education, career development and great opportunities for people to move within the company.”
Kennedy says that the company emphasises work/life balance with flexitime, job sharing, a café, a health and wellbeing centre and an onsite nurse. There are sports classes, a company choir, and gifts at Christmas or at other times (last winter, each employee got a car safety kit).
The reward and recognition programme allows an employee at any level to reward a peer, manager or team leader if they’ve gone beyond or over their job description with a gift card of up to €250. The company also has what it calls a Resilience Programme, to help people manage work and personal life.
John Ryan, CEO of Great Place To Work, an organisation which helps companies to transform their workplaces, says the motivation to focus on employee wellbeing and bring in innovations and incentives, varies from company to company. “I would love to say that they are all doing it because it is the right thing to do and because they care about their people which is true for most, but others clearly see the connection between ensuring their employees are fit and well and the connection to the bottom line,” he says.
“Fitter, healthier employees are better performers, more engaged and more productive. They experience less absenteeism and seem to repay the organisation’s investment in their health and wellbeing with a really positive attitude,” he says.
He lists PepsiCo’s ‘One simple thing’ idea as example of a good innovative practice. “It lets employees pick one simple thing that they will be allowed to do that will make a big difference to their ability to balance work and life demands – it could be as simple as to get an hour off on Tuesday at 3pm to walk the dog.
“We are also seeing a lot of organisations delivering sessions on mental health management. Microsoft run an interesting programme around personal energy management, so does Abbott,” he says. “Most organisations allow employees to do regular health checks and HP identified a number of early health issues with employees that were treated with early intervention.
“There are also some really simple things that organisations are doing – like having ‘meetings on the move’ where they have mapped looped walks for 30, 60 or 90 minutes. You get daylight, exercise and it helps you think more creatively,” he says.
“Organisations are bringing companies on site to do dental work and other chores, leaving more time to spend with families and friends. There has also been a replacement of the drink culture with the fitness culture. Healthy eating in the canteens is really popular, along with pedometer challenges.”
“These help because they are fun and everybody feels good and they don’t cost very much,” he says. “Honestly if companies aren’t doing it they are missing a trick – a healthy workforce happy with their work-life blend leads to a high-performing workplace. Your people in most cases are your most expensive asset (and one you don’t need to depreciate), so it makes lots of sense to take good care of them.”