The Surprisingly Simple Office Perks That Employees Want the Most

September 27, 2018

When you read about the insanely cool office perks some companies offer—like Acuity’s full-size indoor Ferris wheel—it might feel like you need an enormous budget to compete. But it turns out, the perks that employees want the most are surprisingly simple: natural light and an outdoor view.

These perks topped the employee wishlist in a recent study by HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace. Over 50% of the 1,614 North American workers surveyed said they consider natural light and outdoor views to be the most important office perks, even above more luxurious draws like on-site fitness centers and childcare.

This is consistent with LinkedIn data that reveals employees are less interested in flashy perks than they are in health and wellness benefits.

Here’s why natural light and views are such powerful perks—and some simple ways you can bring them into your workplace (no construction cranes required).

Natural light is directly tied to employee health and wellbeing, and can improve performance

Fluorescent lighting and boxy cubicles get a bad rap—and for good reason. Future Workplace found that 78% of respondents feel that natural light and views improve their overall happiness and wellbeing.

The absence of natural light and windows, however, causes 47% of employees to feel tired or very tired, and 43% to feel gloomy.

That’s not surprising. Research shows that working in a windowless office costs employees an average of 46 minutes of sleep per night. Not only do these employees get less sleep than those with access to windows, but their sleep is of a lower quality, and more prone to disturbances.

There’s a strong business case for natural light, too. The same study found that workers sitting close to a window that optimized daylight exposure reported a 2% increase in productivity. That might not sound like much, but it’s equivalent to an additional $100,000 of value per year for every 100 employees.

Future Workplace also found that 73% of employees crave a visual break (like looking out the window) after staring at their devices for too long. This isn’t just an excuse to procrastinate. A 2018 study revealed that natural light in the workplace can reduce incidents of eyestrain by 51%, heachaches by 63%, and drowsiness by 56%—so those windows can significantly boost alertness and prevent employees from getting sick.

How companies are designing for light and views – and some simple changes that will help any office

While everyone knows that natural light and a gorgeous view are nice to have, incorporating them in the workplace can be easier said than done.

For one, your building might not have a lot of windows. And even if it does, those windows might look out onto a less-than-inspiring view—like a brick wall. Then there’s the glare off computer monitors to contend with, so the solution isn’t always as simple as just raising the blinds.

Some companies are taking an innovative approach to letting in the light. At Amazon’s Seattle offices, employees can relax and decompress by walking around The Spheres. These huge, greenhouse-inspired spaces bring the outdoors inside, using glass panels that keep out infrared wavelengths while nurturing the 40,000 plants—and the people—inside.

Overstock, meanwhile, has 30,000 square feet of smart windows in its Salt Lake City office. These windows give employees an unobstructed view of the stunning Salt Lake Valley behind the office’s walls. But they also adjust automatically, eliminating glare without blocking out the daylight.

And at Dollar Shave Club’s newly opened office in Marina Del Rey, California, floor-to-ceiling glass garage doors both let in the light and create a more flexible barrier between interior and exterior.

Of course, not every workplace has the budget to build its own biodomes or replace all its windows. But there are several simple, cost-effective steps that any company can take to make the most of natural light and boost employee wellness.

First, ditch the fluorescent lights—they suppress melatonin and produce unhealthy blue light. Overhead lights also create more glare, so consider investing in more desk lamps. These days, it’s even possible to get desk lamps that replicate natural sunlight for around $30 apiece—not a huge investment when you consider the potential increase in productivity they can bring.

You might look into reasonably priced custom lighting, too: for a little extra, companies like Ketra can cover a range of lighting hues and color temperatures (lighting warmth or coolness), so that indoor lighting feels natural—and can even mimic the sun’s rays as each day unfolds… even if the sun is nowhere in view.

If you’re fortunate to have a lot of windows in your office, try taking down the blinds for a trial period and seeing the effect. Hanging mirrors across from windows can help distribute light more evenly around the space. To combat computer glare, you may want to rearrange desks, invest in glare hoods for devices, or use a monitor cover.

Finally, encourage employees to take regular breaks outside to soak in some rays. Patagonia takes this one step further, giving employees the freedom to get out of the office and go walking, hiking, or even surfing.

But even if you can’t boast a beachside location, a brisk stride around the block can work wonders, helping refresh and refocus the mind, and giving the eyes a much-needed break from staring at screens.

Shine a light on what employees want from their workplace

As competition for talent tightens, great candidates will be able to pick and choose where they want to work. A dark and dreary office will make it harder to attract and retain great talent, and hurt employee satisfaction.

Rather than investing in perks that employees don’t really want, listen to what they think will make them happier and healthier at work and find innovative ways to bring this to life. Creating workplaces that feel more welcoming and conducive to great work will help you stay competitive in today’s talent market—and boost employee wellness.

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