Sweet perks do not a productive team make.
To work at a startup in 2019 is to be bombarded with a smorgasbord of perks.
The perks trend began when Google started spending roughly $72 million a year on free food for their employees, providing nap pods and ping pong tables, and giving their employees unlimited vacations. Today, it’s not uncommon for startups to offer free transportation to and from work, provide an on-sight masseuse, and dole out hefty allowances for employees to decorate their offices.
These perks all sound great on paper, but most of them were designed to keep employees in the office. And when you talk to people who work at Google or comparable offices, a lot of them are miserable.
In other words, sweet perks do not a productive team make. And they aren’t likely to draw the talent you want. Instead, reward your employees with stimulating work, growth opportunities, and respect.
Here’s what really makes a job worth doing:
A fulfilling job with opportunities for growth.
Perks are nice, but they don’t replace the core function of the job.
Many tech startups offer a bunch of fun distractions, but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of their employees are mostly just clicking boxes on a computer all day. And ultimately, it doesn’t feel very meaningful.
Perks don’t make employees feel fulfilled—rewarding work does.
In fact, psychologist Frederick Herzberg proved that as early as the 1950s when he devised his Motivator-Hygiene theory. Herzberg surveyed numerous employees to find out what elements made them feel good or bad about their jobs. He found that certain “motivators”—such as achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth—lead to satisfaction.
Notably missing: ping pong tables.
Perks like ping pong would fall in the “hygiene” category, which includes company policies, supervision, work conditions, and salary. According to Herzberg, hygiene factors are only beneficial if motivators are also high. So in companies where the pay and working conditions are competitive but the work isn’t very interesting, employees won’t feel good about their jobs.
On the other hand, if employees feel like they’re growing and developing, they’re more likely to be motivated and satisfied.
Working with people you like and respect.
You can offer all the perks in the world, but if you report to someone you don’t like, you won’t be very happy at work.
At my wellness company, Four Sigmatic, we’ve hired people who are better cultural fits over people who were technically more skilled. And that’s because we prefer to hire people we want to spend time with and who will get along well with our team. Now, we’re almost more of a family than a team.
This isn’t to say everybody in the company has to be best friends, but it is important to get along with people you spend 40 hours a week with.
A flexible work schedule.
Many companies offer unlimited vacation time to attract talent.
But while that sounds great in theory, Bruce Elliot, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society For Human Resource Management’s (SHRM), found that when given the freedom of unlimited PTO, employees don’t actually take more time off than usual.
In fact, they actually take less time off—mostly because there were no clear guidelines on what’s acceptable to managers.
That’s why, at my company, we emphasize flexibility over unlimited PTO.
For example, we don’t expect people to be in the office from 9-5. If you need to go to the bank or get a haircut in the middle of the day, that’s fine. If you need to leave early to pick up your kids—understood. As long as you get your work done, communicate well, and are a team player, it’s all good.
We also reward people for taking care of themselves, because we know that leads to more productivity and motivation. We offer a wellness program that allows people to earn more paid time off by running a half marathon, taking a meditation course, or trying a new healthy habit.
So not all perks are bad. Our wellness program is a perk we’re proud of. But perks shouldn’t be the main focus.
At the end of the day, don’t just offer your employees something because Google is. Instead, talk to your team and figure out what would make them happy. After all, nothing makes a workplace cool like a happy team.