Saunas and… so what?

It might seem that the wellbeing of the workforce, which I understand as the safety, comfort and expected working conditions of employees, is a basic requirement for a business to be considered successful...

In the end, healthy financial results, which all companies strive to achieve, are entirely dependent on their employees and the hours of work that they put in when coordinated the right way. The physical and psychological health of a team cannot be measured by any reduction in sick leave. This is something that needs to be creatively nurtured to achieve the desired levels of productivity. But this is all just a list of truisms, isn’t it? That feeling of having a common goal, of a corporate culture (an idea eagerly embraced by some, but mocked by others) that encourages employees to identify with the company. However, defining the firm as a community or a family, has evolved from tools intended to make both the boss and the employee seem more human, into a rather powerful method of manipulation. The ‘do it for the family’ argument can put a non-assertive employee into an intolerable bind. A family member would never refuse to stay an hour longer in the office or to respond to their emails at the weekend, just as you can’t refuse to lend a fellow student PLN 100 at the end of the month or give your young son that extra piece chocolate (and don’t tell me that this doesn’t apply to you because you haven’t got one – because you might at any moment). But such an approach is, however, an antidote to the more traditional and conservative, cold and impersonal way of doing business, which probably reached its apogee at the beginning of the 21st century. In the new millennium, though, new variations on this theme have emerged.

Before I pour out yet more of my frustrations on the page, I want to make a few things clear. The only company I’ve worked nine-to-five for so far was hardly a corporation, so I don’t regard this experience as even being anecdotal evidence; and, moreover, I was employed there way before the pandemic, so no one thought at that time that all communication could be through mail and most training sessions and presentations could be done on Powerpoint. There was no fruit on Thursdays, no soft couches or chill-out rooms; but there was a decent coffee machine and a social room (otherwise known as ‘the broom cupboard’), which was very convenient when you wanted to take a breather in your own company and in the dark. Our sector has now, to a large extent, got to grips with the psychology of business, so the topic of wellbeing is – as it is these days so exquisitely phrased – in every company’s DNA. As is so often the case, however, the services provided for those who are already high up on the career ladder have little in common with what an office worker can expect. There’s a stark difference between what I had to work with back then and the amenities that offices now offer to entice potential young employees.

Table football, slides between floors, bowling alleys, candy floss machines, hammocks, sleeping capsules… maybe even a sauna or an alpaca enclosure? Firms are now going head-to-head against each other to turn their workspaces into wonderlands where every whim between Zoom meetings and punching figures into Excel is catered for. We are no longer a family, but a group of friends – and going to work is not much different from meeting your mates down the pub. (Of course, in that previous job, it just so happened that I was working in a pub.)

Am I just venting just out of envy because when I’m working from home I can’t take the elevator down to the local shop and fruit on Thursday is only going to happen if I remember to buy myself a few tangerines? Well, maybe – after all, the swimming pool on my estate is closed for renovations right now, so there’s also no sauna when the temperatures are below zero. I can’t, however, shake off the feeling that blurring the boundaries between work and recreation, colleagues and family, as well as the office and the home, will soon cease to benefit the employee and start to purely serve the interests of the employer. As usual, I’m probably too suspicious of the activities of the proverbial capitalist (to my mind, he always looks like that man in the Monopoly logo), while the memories of that broom cupboard become all the more sweeter – because whenever 4 pm came around, I was already inside it planning meals with friends or snoozing or even playing a stupid game of table football.