Do you wish your work had a fleet of kayaks, nerf guns or a nap room? You wouldn't be alone – but experts say the latest cool perks don't necessarily translate to a happy work life.
Some commentators even suggest they may have a dark side: that they extract a false sense of obligation from staff, seek to cut down on pesky work distractions – like taking breaks or having a home life – and provide extra opportunities for monitoring and surveillance.
Architect Andrew Maynard is among those who feel some elements of the contemporary working environment – such as “breakout” spaces and free food – are potentially exploitative.
Though offices are more enjoyable places to work than in the past, he says, he suggests employees reflect on whether the apparent benefits of a "groovy" workplace are in fact being used against them.
“Are ping pong tables and lounges sometimes used as a trap or guilt trip? As illustrated repeatedly throughout history, architecture can control and manipulate in many subtle ways that you do not register,” Maynard says.
Yet increasingly novel perks – such as the “sleep alcove” created for weary staff at E-Web Marketing, or the boutique tap beer that flows at software developer Atlassian – continue to incite envy.
So what do workplace experts say about such bounty? Positive psychology expert and executive coach Professor Tim Sharp says that provided they are offered in good faith, perks can be a win-win.
They should aim to improve the health and happiness of staff, he says, and in return, the employer should have an inspired workforce.
However, this only works when the extra offerings are genuine and authentic, and that's where lots of organisations go wrong, according to Sharp.
“If they're expecting unsustainable productivity increases, this will backfire: people will burn out, your return on investment will fall, and you'll get staff turnover,” he says.
“It's a massive myth that you can get more out of people if you can get them to work longer, particularly knowledge workers.”
Zrinka Lovrencic, a director at management consulting firm Great Place to Work, believes employee perks get too much credit for building culture.
Great Place to Work undertakes the research behind the annual BRW Best Places to Work list and Lovrencic says perks are not even on the assessment criteria.
“As far as perks go, they're nice but they're not a mandatory part of being a great workplace,” she says.
According to Lovrencic, a great workplace has trustworthy managers who communicate well and seek employee input.
Both E-Web Marketing and Atlassian appear high on the BRW list, which means they also tick these boxes. OBS, the Melbourne-based IT consultancy that topped this year's list, however, doesn't buy too heavily into freebies.
OK, so there are beanbags, an XBox and free fruit and beer, but according to managing director Andy Neumann, these are a by-product of the company's core values: trust, transparency and autonomy.
“People like being treated like adults. We say that if you need to go to the dentist on Tuesday, we don't want to know about it because we employ people to achieve outcomes,” he says.
In a tight labour market, though, groovy perks offer companies another less sinister advantage. They have become a key recruiting tactic, according to Gayle Laakmann McDowell, a former recruiter at Google, and author of The Google Resume.
“Companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook are struggling to find enough qualified engineers, so they throw more and more perks their way,” she says.
“For example, allowing dogs at the office likely distracts employees, thereby costing the company in productivity. But it also sends a message that they're a fun, cool company.”
Joris Luijke, the vice president of talent and culture at Atlassian, agrees. Atlassian gives a free holiday to everyone it hires before they start working for the company.
The idea is that they can start fresh, but it's also deemed a “brand perk” which means it helps spread the message that the company is hiring, says Luijke.
He says staff perks bring the company many other benefits, including innovation and staff engagement. To this end, socialising among staff is strongly encouraged and Atlassian has hived off almost an entire floor of its CBD address for this purpose.
“It gets people together to talk outside of the constraints of their desks, to share ideas and collaborate and it's amazing,” Luijke says.
“In my opinion, if you create a great place to work, and people are happy and productive, they work with passion. No hidden agenda.”
OBS's Neumann agrees. When people do enjoy their job, he says, there is a tendency to want to do more of it – but he believes it's here where the line between enthusiasm and overwork can get a little blurry.
“We keep eye on each other to make sure we don't fall into it. We rely on peer sanity checking,” he says.