What is the benefit of benefits?
These perks are meant to reflect a culture that helps employers recruit and retain top-rate talent to their organizations. Afterall, turnover can be expensive. The Center for American Progress estimates that hiring a replacement can cost up to 21% of the original employee’s annual salary due to the associated costs of hiring and training. Meanwhile, studies also suggest that a strong culture may effectively increase employee retention by creating a happier, healthier (and more productive) workplace.
However, there is a difference between perks and culture.
Too good to be true
The online retailer Boxed has made a splash in the realm of employee perks. By paying for both the college education of employees’ children and the cost of employees’ weddings, the company strives to demonstrate its commitment to its workers and their families. However, this benefit leaves out a large portion of Boxed’s employees. It only helps those who will send a child through college or get married during their time at the company. Therefore Boxed is sending a clear message of support to some of its employees, while the message going to others is inadvertently less positive. This has the potential to create resentment amongst organization members.
In addition to being exclusionary, these types of over-the-top perks may be the first costs to cut during economically difficult times. Take file sharing service Dropbox for example. As venture capital funding has tightened in Silicon Valley, Dropbox has cut many of its perks, which were costing the company over $25,000 a year per employee. This type of perk can be an enticing, and dangerous, form of extrinsic motivation. By tying loyalty and excitement about your organization to a treat that could disappear at any point, your organization is not fully taking advantage of culture. In fact, Dropbox’s cuts have irked some employees and led to their creating a Twitter account mocking the company’s $100,000 chrome panda mascot. Ask yourself, if the perks leave, will your employees leave, too?
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While foolhardy perks can mask cultural problems, they are not inherently bad. If your organization has a well-defined culture, then smart perks can actually help reinforce your mission. Clothing company Patagonia embraces the founders’ motto of “let my people go surfing” by incorporating its essence into their mission statement. Showing that they’re serious about this commitment, the company encourages employees to strike a healthy work life balance and test out new Patagonia equipment while they’re at it. This makes sense for Patagonia’s outdoorsy, humanitarian-focused company culture, but before figuring out what Patagonia-esque perks will work for your organization, you need to figure out what your culture is.
How to define your organization's culture
A successful culture starts with a simple, actionable mission statement that your members can use to make smart decisions every day on behalf of your organization. With this in mind, there’s a lot to be learned from marketing automation giant HubSpot, which spent upwards of 200 hours crafting a 128-slide deck of its company's “culture code.” This intensely thought out presentation has earned praise across the industry for its meticulousness and clarity. While you may want to try to be this thorough with your cultural expectations, keep in mind that the HubSpot case also provides a cautionary tale of misplaced culture taken a little too far.
Ex-employee Dan Lyons recently laid into the company culture in his book, Disrupted. In it, he acknowledges how much time went into the conception of HubSpot’s culture code. But the result, he says, was, “frat house meets cult compound.” Lyons writes of all-night parties, push-up clubs, and Nerf gun fights. These perks don't seem to fit with the company’s mission of, “helping organizations to grow.” Rather, they undermine a well-laid culture in a way that excludes people who don’t fit into the tech bro cult(ure) of Silicon Valley.
So if these types of perks hurt company culture, then why do they seem to be cropping up everywhere? Unsurprisingly, this stems from organizations’ obsession with capturing the talents of Millennials entering the workforce. But, are Nerf gun fights really the right way to do it?
What a millennial wants
Contrary to popular belief, young workers don’t just want ping pong tables and happy hours. They are looking for opportunities for professional growth and chances to volunteer. By acknowledging this, trendy perks can be adjusted or complemented to enforce your company culture in a sustainable way.
For an example of volunteering as an effective perk look to DogVacay, the on-demand pet-sitting company, which has put a spin on the popular workplace trend of bringing pets into the office. While the company still permits pups in their headquarters, it also offers employees the opportunity to volunteer at a local animal shelter. The organization claims to be “passionate about transforming the pet care experience for pups and pup parents everywhere,” and this volunteering practice falls perfectly in line with that mission.
The benefit that ranked first amongst millennials was the opportunity for professional growth and development. Think about programs that will help nurture that need in your members. A well-laid mentoring program could be one of the most beneficial perks to your members and your organization.
So, hold off on buying that office kegerator for now, and ask yourself: does this reinforce our culture? If the answer is “no,” then figure out where else to put the resources. If the answer is “I don’t know,” then it might be time for a bigger conversation about what culture means to your organization.