Spare the rod. Spoil the employee,

Trends_pic1Did you know the average Google and Facebook employee's day begins with a comfy, Wi-Fi-enabled shuttle bus whisking him or her to work? Once there, dozens of free breakfast options await. Free buffet lunches break the monotony of the day. There are free snacks for those peckish between meals. There are on-campus gyms. Day care. Dry cleaning. Car rentals. A sunbathing site equipped with 30-inch TV monitors. And, yes Virginia, even toilets with heated seats.

According to a Nick Bilton column in The New York Times, such coddling has produced two results:

– A workforce that is willing to work 24×7 in exchange for such extravagant perks
– A sense of complacency.

Bilton believes the outrageous sense of entitlement that goes along with such pampering is a primary reason why both Silicon Valley superstars risk “…being left behind as technology shifts from PCs and Web browsers to mobile devices.”

He says Google Plus completely ignores a smartphone app and mobile site while Facebook's recent purchase of Instagram underscores their struggles, as does their mobile app which, Bilton warns “is sometimes painfully slow.” In other words, while the technology sector is charging ahead in fast forward mode, Google and Facebook remain perfectly content to stay in neutral.

I think Bilton's analysis is spot on. I believe too many companies go too far in making their employees happy and content. In fact, I engaged in a rather heated discussion with my Peppercom colleague Deb Brown in one of last week's blogs.

I also believe too many bosses try to play the nice card instead of being tough and direct.

It's my contention that Bilton's peers in the media are partly to blame for the heated toilet seat syndrome. Publications ranging from Fortune to The Holmes Report heap glowing praise on employers who provide the coolest, neatest, trendiest perks, handing out ‘best workplace’ accolades and rankings (which is suspect, considering these rankings are based solely on anonymous employee surveys and not the journalist's qualitative experience in the actual workplace).

Please don't misunderstand my POV, though. I'm all for periodic massages, telecommuting, fun, offsite activities and the like. But, NOT at the expense of productivity or innovation.

Peppercom is first, and foremost, a meritocracy. We reward employees for achieving the best results, not the deepest tan. And, that mentality has stood us in good stead. Our best employees have stayed. Those who didn't perform (or who didn't buy into our culture) left. And, the end result is a business that's grown to $15 million in 16 years (while those aren't Google or Facebook numbers, you won't find ANY public relations reporter opining that Peppercom risks being left behind. We excel at introducing new products and services to the market).

But, enough of the paid political announcement. What's your take on employee perks? Should employers continue to pamper their workers with meditation rooms replete with faux waterfalls and music by Yanni? Or, should such rewards be distributed individually and only to those who merit them? It's an interesting question because, as I've said, the Fortune's and Holmes Reports of the world don't track productivity when they rank workplaces. And, I think that's a mistake.

Spare the rod. Spoil the employee.

10 thoughts on “Spare the rod. Spoil the employee,

  1. 24×7 has to get old at some point, regardless of the perks. That said, a heated toilet seat might just change my mind about a long-term commitment.

  2. Yesterday I ran into a new mother who is on maternity leave from Google and misses it. After hearing first-hand what the “office” situation is really like over there, there’s no question which job she considers to be the harder and less glamorous work.

  3. Steve, there’s another aspect to this overall trend you might be missing. You indicate the perks might lead to some form of comfort or complacency and a sense of cushiness that doesn’t reflect the real world. But there are two other factors I wonder about. (Note: these remarks are not aimed at Google or Facebook in particular, and certainly some aspects of these comments are not reflective of their corporate culture, as I understand it.)
    First, as Nick Bilton alludes to, if there’s a culture where employees organize all their social life around the office, doesn’t this mean employees have blinders on? If employers aren’t careful, employees will become disconnected from the world–and the culture–outside their walls, and it will be very easy for group-think to set in. And, if they lose touch with the real world, they lose touch with the experiences of the audiences they are seeking to reach and serve.
    Second, and just as troubling, though…these perks might be built around keeping people at the office, as you allude to with the 24×7 comment. And I think it’s dangerous for an organization to build perks around an expectation that people should be at work all the time. For younger employees looking to build their career or who are content with seeing their professional and personal lives meld, that might be embraced. As some of those people get married, have children, or find increasing involvements outside work, though, it might be tough on employee retention.
    At Peppercom, while all of us have had periods where long hours are required because of a large workload or an intense client need, we talk about chronic late nights as a problem that needs to be resolved. Instead of making life cushy in the office and then expecting people to stay 24×7 as a rule, it seems we strive for that “work hard/play hard” mentality we regularly talk about.
    I think all these perks might seem neat for awhile but eventually might lead people to start wondering if they’re being lulled into signing over their lives. And that lack of balance does not lead to the sorts of critical and well rounded thinkers that can help companies stay innovative.

  4. You actually raise an excellent point, Chris. I remember that, in the immediate aftermath of the dotcom crash, we dramatically reduced the free food and drinks provided in the kitchen. The employee grapevine immediately assumed it meant we were going Chapter 11. Having said that, rest assured the lactation room will be left as is.

  5. I think your situation is the norm for most of Corporate America, Book. In PR, however, we seem to be obsessed with coddling employees (not to the extent that Google and Facebook do, but you’d be amazed at what some of the other firms are providing).

  6. I get no perks – working for a law firm – the motto is – you are lucky to have a job – we pay you money to do it – so if you don’t like it, find something else. That being said, my particular situation is that my immediate supervisor believes in perks outside the law firm culture and thus perks (a/k/a cash) is rewarded for a job well done. We do, however, get discounted gym membership now that we represent the particular chain so this is good.

  7. I don’t know, it’s a slippery slope. Once you 86 the massages, can the lactation room be far behind?

  8. I’m not missing the correlation. I do agree that you can go overboard with perks. But, at the same time, perks are important. It’s the type of perks and how many perks vs. no perks at all.

  9. What you’re missing is the correlation between perks and productivity, innovation, performance, etc. We’ve become so obsessed with pampering employees that we’ve forgotten to figure out whether it’s helping or hurting the business. In the case of Google and Facebook, it seems to have had a direct impact on their ability to stay ahead of the competition. I believe in a balance between perks/no perks and nice/direct. Methinks you list too heavily on the perks/nice side.

  10. Hi RepMan — Employees do expect perks, and perks attract and retain employees as much as salary and a good workplace culture do. However, the difference is what type of perks? Obviously, when a company goes overboard, like you describe above, I agree that it may not have the desired impact. However, I think you’re mixing up two things: being nice and direct and perks. They are two separate things. On the topic of tough and direct vs. nice and direct, I still disagree with you. I think you can be the latter and be effective.