Not the coffee!

On the drive into work this morning, I was listening to the DJs on my favorite station ranting about coming into work and finding that coffee cups were no longer being supplied. Nor were napkins, plastic utensils and paper plates. Apparently even toilet paper is in short supply!

They talked about putting in more and more hours to cover for employees who are no longer there. About increased pressure to perform. And the reward for all that hard work? The DJ had to empty the mug he used as a pencil cup and wash it in the men's room sink while people were using the restroom.

They opened up the phone lines and the calls came pouring in. Lots of people had experienced the loss of coffee cups. Another caller talked about their company taking away the spring water machine (the cost to the company had been $20 a month.) No more tea bags. No paper towels in lunch rooms. Missing toilet paper or sanitary products. No more plants in the office. The outrage was evident in most callers' voices. They were willing to work hard. But this was a last straw. You could hear the motivation to go the extra mile evaporating.

There's a lot of talk in the HR world about low cost motivators and inexpensive employee retention tools. Companies need their remaining staff to perform exceptionally well, but raises are out of the question. So the scramble is on for cheap ways to keep people happy at work.

And yet, companies are economizing by taking away low cost perks that keep people happy. That very act does several things:

1) Conveys a message to employees that they are not important and that the $20 savings is worth more than their happiness at work

2) The message they hear is "Today the sugar and creamer, tomorrow your job." That scares employees and increases stress levels, which in turn reduces productivity. Stressed people make more mistakes, take longer to complete tasks and are at greater risk of accidents.

3) Tells your star employees that your company is a sinking ship, and encourages them to look elsewhere.

Before you cut back on low cost perks like paper plates, or allow restrooms to run low on toilet paper, think about the message you're sending. Are the savings you'll realize worth the cost you'll incur in the long run?

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