Be Happy…We Give You Free Coffee!

If only 49% of your employees are happy enough to recommend you as an employer, that means you have 51% who are either ambivalent to you as an employer or are unhappy with you. Free coffee or other silly programs will not change that.

Last week I ran across an article from Inc., a site which normally has interesting articles about careers and the modern workplace, which had me gritting my teeth in frustration.  Inc. reporter Zoe Henry published New LinkedIn Study Finds that 50% of Workers Aren’t Happy With Their Jobs, an article that right off the bat violates most of the journalistic advice about the length of headlines.

The article itself tackles a very serious issue: employee engagement and its relation to happiness. The study it references was run by LinkedIn and Mars Drinks, and found that only 49% of employees across various sectors would recommend their employer to job seekers. The seriousness of this issue is obvious and worrying. If only 49% of your employees are happy enough to recommend you as an employer, that means you have 51% who are either ambivalent to you as an employer or are unhappy with you, which means over half of your employees can be considered a flight risk. The article highlights research which points out that employees feel happiest and most engaged “when their job gives them the opportunity to learn, to make a positive impact on the world, and when they feel challenged and personally connected to the work.”

I’m with the article so far. So what about this article caused me to groan in frustration?  The final paragraph where the author gives an example of one concrete things employers can do to improve the happiness of their employees: provide free coffee at the office.

At least one concrete step you might consider is implementing free coffee at the office, or upping the quality of your coffee carrier; as many as 78 percent of Millennials say that coffee is a critical part of their work experience, according to the study.

This is where the article, and quite frankly the study, take a huge credibility dive; after all it was co-commissioned by a beverage company. Are they seriously suggesting that providing free or better coffee will fix the employee engagement or happiness issue?

Let me be clear: Free Coffee Will Not Make Your Employees Happy.  Better Quality Coffee Will Not Make Your Employees Happy.  This isn’t even a piece of the puzzle; it will not nudge the happiness meter one notch.

Want to know how to get your employees (especially Millennials) engaged and make them happy?  How about trying these ideas:

  1. Provide Professional Development – Actively helping employees keep their skills sharp helps you, your company, and your employees.  We’ve seen what happens when inertia sets in.
  2. Cross-Training – This improves communication between departments, helps break down information silos and facilitates the free flow of information and ideas. These conditions are required  for innovation and creativity to flow.
  3. Flexible Working Arrangements – With modern advances in technology, there are fewer reasons for employees to be chained to the office.  Can they work from home? How about creating office space for employees who may function in a quiet environment better than a more modern open floor plan arrangement? You should be making it easier for your employees to work for you…not harder.
  4. Connecting Jobs to the Larger Mission – If employees just feel like they are a cog in a machine that does something they don’t understand or don’t think is important, motivation will tank. Don’t just provide employees with a boiler plate mission statement that means nothing…connect what you do to personal stories to encourage buy-in.
  5. Accepting Input from your Employees – Do your employees feel free to make suggestions about your product or workflows? They should, because if employees don’t feel like their voice matters they will not be happy.
    Important note here: If you aren’t receiving any feedback from your employees, do not take this as a sign that there is none…take it as a warning that you have a possible morale problem on your hands.
  6. Take an Active Part in Employee’s Career Development – For Millennials especially, career advancement is vital. If you have ever said to an employee who requested feedback to “Just keep doing what you are doing” or provide no opportunities for an employee to take on a new project or challenge, your employees will still seek out these opportunities…they will just seek them out somewhere else.

If you think solving employee engagement issues come down to adding silly things like free coffee, adding a pool table, relaxing the dress code or more employee fun days, you aren’t going to end up with engaged, happy employees. What you will wind up with is an employee who says to job seekers, “My employer isn’t the best prospect for anyone wanting challenges or who wants to learn and grow…but they do have an awesome coffee station.”


  1. […] installing ping-pong tables or coffee bars and calling it a day? Many others have pointed out, myself included, the idiocy of mistaking such actions for a talent recruiting […]



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