Pop in and peek at a penguin

in Campaigns
by marcusk

In a desperate attempt to find a cut-through from West Molesey to the M25 the other day, I came across the remarkable Walton Court.

Walton Court was built in 1960/1 as the headquarters of Birds Eye. Now a grade 2 listed building, it remains the largest luminous concrete structure (175,000 square feet) still occupied in Britain today.

In the centre of the building are two internal courtyards, which in Birds Eye’s heyday were stocked with flamingos and penguins to entertain and delight their employees. Allegedly, there was also a small pool under the staircase in reception, which housed a small alligator.

Whilst this patrician and somewhat eccentric approach to employee motivation (particularly the ‘bond-esque’ alligator) has no place in today's corporate culture – who can afford to keep a zoologist on the payroll? The principal of focusing on employee happiness rather than motivation is more pertinent to the times.

As the latest ONS statistics foretell an alarming decrease in UK employee productivity, and average earnings fail to keep up with inflation, success with employees is going to become an even more critical challenge for UK plc.

The challenge for many companies will be how to invest in their people and their environment to do the best possible job and increase productivity when there is little capital available to do so.

Many of the new wave of ‘post capitalist’ companies such as Google and Innocent (why do food companies seem to have all the fun?) make a virtue of their conviction that corporate success relies on the happiness and well-being of its employees.

When Innocent started they had little or no spare money and as a consequence focused on simple extras to make their employees lives easier such as a light free breakfast, roses and poems on Valentine’s Day, extra days at Christmas.

Sticking with this ethos, Innocent have achieved a high level of productivity given their size, they have very low staff turnover and an army of job seekers fighting for a desk. As a result, they have greatly enhanced their reputation (and market value) as ‘human’ brands.

The lesson is clear, you don’t need to make big gestures it’s the small stuff that creates a working environment that people want to spend time in.