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Why great colleagues are better than free coffee

We all want a workplace that’s stimulating, motivating and ultimately productive. But what really motivates employees – the perks or their peers? IIP practitioner Gwen Carter-Powell examines what really makes a great workplace…and asks for your opinion, too.

Workplace ‘benefits’ can be as simple as providing free refreshments or social occasions for employees to meet up outside of the usual workday routine, to gym memberships, lunchtime yoga sessions or private health insurance. But what impact do such benefits really have on performance? And how do they measure up against the benefits of working alongside a brilliant bunch of colleagues? 

What makes a great workplace?

A combination of factors go in to creating and sustaining a great workplace culture. From physical surroundings and having the right tools and equipment for the job, to opportunities for growth and development. But arguably the significant and most prevalent factors are human.

When I ask employees who work in great companies, “What’s the best thing about working here?” the most common response I hear is, “It’s the people”. 

“Great workplace is not espresso, lush benefits, sushi lunches, grand parties, or nice offices. Great workplace is stunning colleagues.” So says pioneering online film and TV provider Netflix. 


The human factor

So, how can you ensure your people are surrounded with “stunning colleagues”?

People naturally interact – so provide the conditions where people can build and maintain positive relationships. This isn’t just about comfortable break-out spaces or a well-stocked kitchen. Although these types of things do help people feel appreciated and well looked after, the most important thing in terms of stimulating performance is encouraging a working culture where people feel free to express themselves – and genuinely respect the talents and achievements their colleagues bring to the table. 

It’s important to set these conditions positively and without any other agenda other than for people to work towards a common goal – the one you’ve set out in your business strategy and communicated clearly to everyone so they know where they are headed to. Being as transparent as possible by involving your people in regular strategy update sessions, away days and ‘time out’ from day-to-day duties to focus on the bigger picture and agreeing what each team/ team member needs to do towards achieving common goals will help ensure everyone feels informed, motivated and empowered to make it happen. It’ll also encourage more of the invaluable ‘discretionary effort’ that committed employees give, improving both their own performance and that of the organisation as a whole.

Your values are also a vital tool in helping shape these conditions, and a positive working culture. Beyond words on a poster on the wall, real values are the ones that people connect with emotionally. And real values impact on behaviours.

If you want to nurture colleagues who are supportive, friendly, constructive, honest and have integrity, this means examining and unpacking your values – and thinking about what they look in action. Some recent articles that will help you here are:

5 steps to recruiting talent that behaves 
How other businesses are building cultures that count
5 foundations for a strong ‘real life’ employer brand

Once you’ve get a clearer picture of your goals, values and behaviours, make sure your wider culture reflects these. Provide the right conditions for your stunning colleagues to flourish.