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Forget the Indoor Rainforest and the Beer on Tap -- Workers Want More Practical Things Attracting and retaining employees in this job market doesn't require extravagant amenities.

By David Levin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Maskot | Getty Images

With the United States enjoying the lowest unemployment rates since the Vietnam War drove joblessness to 3.5 percent in 1969, employers are struggling. The available pool of labor is so tight that companies are finding it hard to retain workers. As a result, executives are scrambling to find innovative ways to engage their employees. There's no doubt that in this labor market workers can pick and choose where they want to work.

Related: Can't Compete With Google's Perks? Here's How to Keep Your Team Happy on a Startup Budget.

These days, many human resources executives feel pressured to compete with the working conditions and perks at leading U.S. tech companies -- especially places like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) -- to attract and keep desirable staff. That's a tall order if you're trying to match their excesses.

Amazon recently opened a $4-billion office expansion that includes indoor domes containing a miniature rainforest, replete with 40,000 plants, including a 55-foot-tall tree nicknamed Rubi. It's not uncommon for the lavish GAFA offices to boast Olympic-sized swimming pools, climbing walls, basketball courts or roof-top gardens -- offices that The Guardian describes as "spectacular symbols of their immense global power."

Aim for happiness anchored in reality.

But companies don't have to match that extravagance. Not every employee wants to drink craft beers at work. While some folks might love a climbing wall, others only feel intimidated and cowed by a fear of heights.

The point I'm making is that engaging staff can be achieved in more down-to-earth and inclusive ways. What do employees actually want? Employees say they want a job that takes advantage of their skills, in a place where their efforts will be recognized and where they feel their opinion really counts. Employees also want to trust that senior leaders can deliver success, and that executives value the organization's staff as its most important resource.

The No. 1 motivator of staff is feeling that "my job allows me to utilize my strengths," according to a Quantum Workplaces employee engagement survey. Too few employers do that: Only 32.2 percent of American workers feel engaged at work and only one in five have a manager that motivates them to do great work, Gallup's annual State of the American Workforce report finds.

Related: 50 Percent of Your Employees Won't Last 365 Days at Your Company: Here's How to Ensure a Long-Term Fit

A cool factor helps.

Employees don't have to work at a tech company, but they do want their place of employment to seem as cool as a tech company. That's why so many organizations outside of the technology sector are leveraging open office concepts with a variety of workspaces.

It's also why companies are using display technology to enhance the physical office space, and improve multiple aspects of the employee experience. For example, companies like Bayer and 3M have retooled their workspaces to create amenities that make it more pleasurable to come to work.

At Bayer, there are open workspaces and plenty of meetings rooms with technology to enhance efficiency. In some open spaces, employees get headphones to reduce noise and increase privacy. There are also charging stations for electric cars and 3 miles of walking paths for fitness enthusiasts.

3M created an employee mall along with a social networking display system to make it easier for employees to visually connect from around the world. All these amenities make the work environment more productive and helps with retention and employee satisfaction.

Top organizations in almost every industry are increasingly taking a page out of Silicon Valley's employee engagement playbook -- without breaking the bank and implementing frivolous, extravagant amenities.

Offices can also build a sense of community -- something helped by using displays to celebrate staff achievements, to promote wellness programs, community events and even displaying pictures of staff pets.

And any office overhaul should aim to go beyond new furnishings to advance the company's culture. The goal is to create an office that's cool enough that workers are proud to invite friends and family to visit. If you can't create that, in this market, they will work for someone who can.

Related: If This Is How You're Doing Workplace Engagement, You're Doing It All Wrong

Simple things matter more than you think.

The office should feel like a club and employees should feel proud to be members. Employees get that feeling more when management celebrates staff achievements publicly than from things like pool tables and craft beer taps in the breakroom.

Employees actually want simpler, more practical things -- natural light, adjustable desks where they can sit or stand, enough meeting rooms and a booking system that works, tech/AV support that keeps everything humming along, an office that's easy to enter and exit and enough parking so they don't waste time getting their day started.

I've learned this from listening to our clients but also from my own staff. A couple of years ago, our offices were located at a wonderful warehouse-style location in Denver. However, we outgrew our available space and employees complained daily about such things like the lack of available meeting rooms.

When we moved to a larger space in the city's trendy museum district, we addressed all of our practical challenges, and staff negativity was quickly replaced by more positivity and increased worker engagement.

This economy shows no sign of slowing, so companies that want to retain engaged staff should ensure their offices are as great as the staffs they want.

David Levin

President and CEO at Four Winds Interactive

David Levin co-founded Four Winds Interactive in 2005 with a vision for how digital technology would transform the way businesses communicate with their customers and employees. FWI has 6,000 clients and over 500,000 screens deployed in airports, hotels, hospitals and casinos across the country.

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