From summer rooftop yoga sessions to Thursday evening happy hours, companies are always looking for ways small and large to create a positive, happy workplace. While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for strengthening employees’ bond with their company, the value of doing so is clear. According to Gallup, engaged employees are “involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” But as places of work evolve and change, keeping people engaged is becoming all the more challenging.

This is to say, work is no longer just about working. Employees expect to spend their weekdays in an environment that supports their physical, cognitive, and social needs—all of which help them benefit from a sense of community. When these elements are present, employees not only are empowered in their individual roles—they take an active interest in understanding the objectives of the larger organization.

This year, CBRE surveyed more than 1,600 employees in the United States and Canada to find out which variables impact employee satisfaction, as well as which elements of the workplace experience CRE executives should focus on to improve engagement and, ultimately, the success of their organizations.

Closing the age gap

One of the most interesting results from CBRE’s research was that, in contrast with what one might think about millennials’ workplace preferences, their survey responses are mostly in line with those of their colleagues from other age groups (Generation Xers, baby boomers, Gen Zers, and the Silent Generation).

SR By Generation 2
Survey Respondents by Generation

Overall, the study found that “good workplace experience is something that every generation appreciates,” and “the recommendations derived from this survey can be applied universally.” Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on how to get there.

This is clear in that not all employees surveyed were found to have high engagement with their workplace. In fact, 51% of respondents were found to be “detractors,” a group likely to be vocal about their negative feelings toward their work and the workplace. Only 14% of respondents were labeled “promoters,” or people who demonstrated high engagement and likeliness to recommend their company to others.

These outcomes show that executives need to rethink how they understand the workplace experience and work to improve it—for everyone.

Think beyond furniture and walls

Appropriating budgets to create an attractive workplace with trendy amenities (like game rooms, fitness centers, and childcare), however, might be missing the point. It all sounds good in theory, but the survey results show that employees covet function and comfort above all else. In other words, what employees want most in an office is an experience that puts both their emotional and professional needs at the center.

CBRE’s research found that the elements with the strongest impact on employee engagement are trust, values, development, support, and openness. Though abstract, an office’s physical environment can be leveraged to satisfy these needs.

“Trust is reinforced by environments that make employees’ impact and work processes visible,” says Nina Charnotskaia, Senior Director of CBRE’s Workplace practice. “Values are signaled by space allocation hierarchy and investment in experiences that support culture, well-being, and ease of work.”

CRE executives should engage employees in the design of their office to create a space that achieves three main objectives: It establishes employees’ trust in management in leadership, it conveys that workers have an opportunity to grow, and it allows and encourages them to participate in company-organized social and community programs.

Function over form

Respondents’ most-valued perks or amenities at the office are views of the outdoors, natural light, and amenities that involved food-related gatherings (on-site cafés or kitchens). At the same time, employees reported being the most dissatisfied with the way their workplaces prioritized these amenities. But a quick response by employers isn’t necessarily called for.

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Most Valued Perks or Amenities in the Office

“A high percentage of dissatisfaction for any workplace issue does not immediately translate into a call to action for upper management,” says Damla Gerhart, Senior Managing Director of CBRE’s Workplace practice. “It’s vital to take a strategic, multitiered approach to the issue due to the very subjective nature of any employee feedback.”

Start by providing employees with a variety of work settings beyond their desks, like couches, high-top tables and private workrooms. Comfortable seating and diverse working environments make the everyday workplace experience feel fresh and unique. This signals trust in people’s ability to be productive, with freedom to move about, and it can also foster stronger employee relationships. Just make sure that employees have access to power sockets and data ports or Wi-Fi wherever they feel most comfortable working, or providing varied environments defeats the purpose.

Another way to make employees feel valued is to reinforce the office’s feeling of community. By putting together events that align with your company’s values, employees will associate their work with a stronger purpose—from well-being and social responsibility to entrepreneurship and sustainability.

Even the little things can go a long way. Promoting employee engagement can be as simple as bringing in the light, says Charnotskaia: “A strategic change to move private spaces from the window line and provide natural light and views to all employees signals the company’s value in them and promotes organizational transparency.”


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