It’s a familiar drudgery that fills us with dread, depression and despair. The 9 to 5 routine has it all -cramped and invariably late train ride commutes, individual booth walls complete with sticky note artwork and gourmet coffee from the mechanical innards of a machine. During working hours, Monday to Friday, most of the working population become zombies, switched off and zoned out until close on a Friday night.
It’s a long-standing belief in the UK that work is to be enjoyed. It is a means to justify an end, to pay the bills and the mortgage, a little aside for the weekend, holidays, beer etc. and it leaves you just enough change for the pipe tobacco and cardigans once you reach the golden age of retirement. Fun in the workplace equates to dress-down days on the last Friday of the month and a plastic cup of cheap red wine, warm beers and dried up sandwiches at the obligatory office Christmas party organised by the annoying one from accounts. An office-working friend once conferred that the dress-down days were so mind-numbingly tedious in his firm that the most dressed down male had simply removed his tie.
As we rush head first into the 21st century these David Brent-esque clichés of working life in Britain, and indeed the rest of the world, are fast becoming a thing of the past. Studies have shown that a more visually appealing and fun work environment can increase workplace productivity and lead to a reduction in the turnover of staff. The rise and rise of the Google Empire, coupled with their “Don’t be evil” motto has seen the company named best workplace in the UK in 2008 and 2009 and it’s not difficult to see why. Not only are there luxurious bean bags, palatial libraries, games rooms and real gourmet food, but the Google workplace is also aimed at stimulating employees. In 2008, staff were gifted bicycles to improve fitness and are now given further training at the Google University. Both programs were designed to better the development of staff within the company and allow them to reach new levels of achievement. Even the little things, like subsidised coffee from a reputable chain of coffee houses can play a significant role in employee contentment and retention.
I have to agree that even the small changes can make a big difference. In a previous job, a pool table was procured for the use of staff on break and straight away you noticed a difference in people’s attitudes to each other. Suddenly breaks weren’t all doom and gloom and the ever-present threat of going back to work was gone. Breaks were a real pleasure and get-away from the stresses of the day. We became much more communicative not just out of shop but also on the office floor. Whereas before you may not have spoken to colleagues from other departments through the day, you could now approach them with confidence be it on official business or just for a sly chat by the water cooler. It doesn’t take a genius or a human resources guru to figure out that staff who can talk to each other will be more efficient.
And as for dress-down Fridays – no thanks; I think I’ll just take the long weekend instead.
Words by Lindsay Muir
Photography by Alicia Warner