Picture: 123RF/Aleksandr Khakimullin
Picture: 123RF/Aleksandr Khakimullin

"Here was the rule in my office: if I walk into the bathroom behind you and you [do not] change the toilet paper, I don’t care who you are, today’s your last day," Piyush Patel, founder of Oklahoma-based online training company Digital-Tutor, told Fast Company magazine.

Patel believes that before you take a job in a company, you should be checking its culture in its loos. That, he says, is a good indication of how a business respects its employees in their "most vulnerable space".

Gone are the days when a pension and a salary package was enough of a drawcard for job-seeking workers. Younger employees are now looking for more.

Some firms may expect their workforce to find their happiness from the chips and drinks in the office vending machine. But others offer subsidised food, gym access, or an in-house crèche — perks that make a company more attractive to potential workers.

Good values and workplace culture also make it easier to retain staff.

"When you hire an engaged workforce you will have better productivity and customer satisfaction," says Kirsten Allegri Williams, head of marketing for SAP SuccessFactors, which aims to help human resource departments engage the "hearts and minds" of their employees.

That satisfaction will feed into a stronger balance sheet and income statement, Williams told SAP’s annual Sapphire Now conference, held in Orlando earlier in May.

SAP’s business has helped its customers navigate hard operational numbers (what it calls O data). But this year’s conference championed what it calls the "human experience".

The software company recently bought experience management company Qualtrics, experts in "experiential data" (X data).

And its partnership with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global is an attempt to take this further. Thrive Global’s mission is to end stress and burnout in the workplace by giving individuals and corporations tools to increase wellbeing and performance.

"We need to stop treating people as 9-to-5 pieces of the capital pie, and think about the whole human experience," says Thrive Global’s Ruslan Tovbulatov.

This is what the organisation believes are the five components of good workplace culture:

• Career experience: support for employees during moments in their career that matter;

• Family experience: the way a company handles an employee’s transition after she has had a child or the stress that comes from managing family and work time;

• Health: the way companies help a worker with a chronic medical condition, or whether it expects workers who have called in sick to still work from home;

• Financial experience: helping people manage their finances and giving them enough benefits, but also helping them plan for buying a home or unexpected expenses; and

• Time: this should address the work that follows you home and the culture of expected unpaid overtime. It also includes stressful periods at work and vacation time.

SAP, Qualtrics and Thrive Global plan to include these principles in the Thrive XM Index, launching in partnership with Forbes.

The index will analyse the work culture of the companies on the Fortune 100 list. By cross-referring X data with Thrive’s five principles, it hopes to come to an agreement about what employees themselves believe is a great work experience.

SAP also intends to build the five principles into its human capital-management software. This will make it possible for employers to monitor and measure employee wellbeing. And it will pilot the project in its own offices in five of the cities in which it operates, including Johannesburg.

Historically, SA businesses have not taken the human experience of work as seriously as firms elsewhere. Some companies instead expect that their workers should be happy to have a job at all.

But the idea of treating people better shouldn’t be a hard sell. Though SA is going through a major unemployment crisis as it is, wouldn’t it be nice to have a job where you’re treated with dignity and not as a mere cog in the machine?

*McKeown attended the Sapphire Now conference as a guest of SAP