It’s no secret that happiness leads to productivity, and promoting personal relationships among staff is a huge part of that. But these days the perks of working for a tech company — particularly one in Silicon Valley — can hit any point between inspiring and ostentatious. Chocolate fountain for lunch? Check. Free gym membership to counteract said chocolate fountain? No problem. Recess? Great idea, everyone loves a bit of nostalgia. Naps in an in-house tree house? Don’t mind if I do. An annual travel stipend of $2,000? GLADLY ACCEPTED! (Side note: for reference, The Next Web put together a list of 12 tech companies and their perks here.)

“You can’t take the day too seriously if you’re in a meeting with somebody wearing a fake mustache,” explained Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb and frequent participant in the company’s mustache-themed Mondays. “We’re going to work hard and play hard.”

And Gebbia has a point– these expenditures certainly do their part in increasing employee retention and developing a healthy sense of company culture. But I can’t help but wonder: are we getting too distracted by the glitz and glam of it all?

To bring us back to the ground, Margaret Heffernan recently wrote an article for that lists three simple ways to increase employee happiness at work. They’re free, but we can’t afford to forget them:


A dead end is a sure way to kill someone’s spirit. People need to feel like they’re moving towards something, so it’s important to establish professional development plans that can play out over the course of employment.


Being proud of where you work is crucial for genuine community building and a real sense of purpose, but not everyone puts food on the table by curing diseases, running blood drives, saving the world, etc. “Superficial social-responsibility projects won’t fill this gap for you. You need to create direct links between the success of the business and the community you serve,” advises Heffernan. “These need to involve the entire work force and should be active, public, visible, and long lasting.”


The last part of the puzzle is a timeless adage: treat people the way you wish to be treated. If you’re working a full-time job, then the majority of your week is spent around the same people, and happiness in that environment requires mutual trust and respect. It’s simple, really.

“The very best companies I’ve studied and written about honor these principles and enact them lavishly,” wrote Heffernan in closing. “They don’t pay lip service, and they don’t do the bare minimum; they go overboard. Their CEOs do so because they know the secret of leadership: Look after the people, and the people look after the business.”