Small Business Solutions: The Perks that Spark Workplace Creativity

I remember a time when, early in my creative services career, working for a manager who let his or her team listen to music with headphones was a rare and cherished privilege.

In 1999, as a junior copywriter with an e-commerce startup, not only was I allowed to turn on, tune in and drop out, I could also shoot hoops in our warehouse during lunch, and—get this—I was given a candy bar with every paycheck. (That it was a PayDay, which is made almost entirely of peanuts, wasn’t lost on any of us. “Peanuts in a wrapper and peanuts for a paycheck” was a common cube-farm refrain.)

But as progressive as I thought my workplace was, had my manager told me the company was going to start allowing us to bring our dogs to the office, I would’ve assumed I was either being punked or the apocalypse was fast approaching.

Fast forward to today when those identified in Fortune’s annual report, “100 Best Companies to Work For,” offer such perks as free onsite yoga classes, dry cleaning and fitness centers; generous child-care stipends; staff fishing tournaments; 100 percent healthcare coverage for employees and dependents; and even free annual vacations for entire staffs and their families.

But the widely acknowledged standard-bearer of workplace perks is none other than Google, which tops Fortune’s list for the fourth time. Beyond generous salaries and health, welfare and retirement benefits, many of the company’s offerings focus on the workplace itself, providing a lively, almost-playground-like atmosphere that fosters collaboration. Or, at least that’s the idea.

But for a company whose success has been built largely from discovering and implementing creative solutions to highly technical problems, how much credit should be given to its uniquely quirky office environments as opposed to their adeptness at hiring the sharpest minds? Obviously, many of those best and brightest employees wouldn’t have accepted job offers in the first place had they instead been faced with sterile cubicle environments with no alluring workplace benefits.

Which begs the question: What are the factors that determine a company’s success at influencing its creative problem solvers to do what they do best? A bring-your-dog-to-work policy, combined with free onsite meals and massages, and many other attractive benefits, certainly provide employees a lot to like about being at work. But do those factors truly foster creativity, or do they simply help lure the right types of talented minds who would invent creative solutions regardless of their office environment, simply because that’s how their brains are wired?

A recent article on asks, “Do Google’s playful perks spark creativity?

It’s an interesting read that made me to reflect on my own career and ponder the differences between the variety of office environments in which I’ve worked and the various managers who’ve mentored me.

In retrospect, I think my own ability to successfully execute creative assignments had less to do with the workplace perks I received and more to do with the types of products or services I was tasked with marketing, and with the ways in which my managers helped drive collaborative problem solving.

What are your thoughts regarding the correlation between a company’s workplace perks and the resulting creative output? Please share your feedback below.

As always, thanks for reading.

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  1. Monica See March 20, 2013 - Reply

    Everyone gets inspired differently – from special perks like you mentioned, or a quiet atmosphere of solitude. But I feel those great perks help attract and KEEP the best creative folks around.

  2. Nathan Van Ness March 20, 2013 - Reply

    Monica, I couldn’t agree more. I think a great workplace environment does wonders for staff morale in general, which in turn helps the creative types do what they do more effectively while also giving them a good reason to stick around. Thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful comment!

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