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Perks, Gifts, and Experience

It might be easier to buy the gift, but they will remember the experience a lot longer. 

A common question comes up often when dealing with employee happiness. Give a raise? Give a gift or a perk? Or provide an experience? 

Author Michael Norton, puts the dilemma that people have when buying things into a context we can use to explore workplace happiness:

"One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff," explains Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School. "But we have shown…in research that stuff isn't good for you. It doesn't make you unhappy, but it doesn't make you happy. But one thing that does make us happy is an experience."

We know through research that happier employees are more productive. So how do we make them happier. In most cases let's just give them a raise ... right?

Well mostly wrong:

Recent research seems to indicate that compensation and benefits often come in far below other factors when trying to figure out what makes workers happy. And further more, once you hit the magic 70k to 75k threshold [lets call this the Gravity Payments threshold] that happiness for additional raises is often fleeting and wears off after a couple of weeks.  The higher the pay above 75k the less a raise matters in the long term. 

So if buying stuff doesn't make us happy, and giving stuff to employees (Whether raises or perks - see also the infamous office ping pong table) doesn't make them happy, then surely experiences are the way to go. 

And we would agree! 

Except for one small idea ... 

We have seen in the last few years that companies will invest in a party, field day, or summer event, and think they are providing an experience. When in reality they are just buying, or in many cases renting perks and gifts. 

People will be happy beacuse we have all these games, and inflatables, and batting cages, and mechanical bulls and even portable mini golf!

Well first off lets talk - We know you can do better than this: 

 You can do better ... 

You can do better ... 

I mean come on.... this is supposed to be a celebration, not a punishment! 

But more importantly having a huge event with a bunch of "stations" where people or families can wander around and play different games does not provide a full experience, unless that experience is people randomly playing games you've rented for a few hours. 

The reason why we spend so much time on Office Olympaids, and Family Field days with a "passport system" is because the Olympiad format of creating teams and having them play with and against each other is what creates the experience.  Both the teammate experience, and the low-skill but competitive experience of bonding as a team by playing against someone else. 

You can rent games and activities anywhere, but its the staff educating people on the rules and strategy of the game, and the interaction of co-workers and often their families that will provide the memorable experience.  

When the youngster schools the Boss at soccer darts, that's the experience that carries on for ever, and we see it at almost every event we put on. 

Its the interaction, the laughs, the mistakes, and the friend-building that will ultimately get you the lasting results for your office culture, no matter what the games and activities. 

So think about an experience as more than just renting or buying games, and make sure for your next company event that you provide the the framework for employees to actual interact and build friendships, in order to create the lasting experience that science says will make your employees happier over the long term. 

 

 

Shawn Madden