3 Myths of the ‘Cool’ Office

I think the one thing that ‘normal’ HR Pros are sick of hearing about it the crap in HR that gets the most headlines in the media – The Cool Office Perks! Let’s face it the majority of HR Pros don’t have the budget to do anything close to what you hear about in magazines articles about the cool new start-ups or big IT firms like Google and Yahoo.  We can’t give our employees free lunches, and brand new open environment office spaces that look like a cross between a MTV Real World house and a abandoned slaughter house and unlimited time off!

The Atlantic had a great article on this recently that will for sure put ‘normal’ HR pros at ease on these escalation of perks:

“Don’t be fooled by the perks at all those Silicon Valley (and Alley) offices — it’s all just part of a subtle plot to control employee behavior. The founders of Fab.com, which just got itself a $1 billion valuation, admitted as much to Bloomberg’s Sarah Freier. The shopping site wields its beer on tap, free lunch, and ice-cream machine as a means to force Fab employees to send emails in a “certain font,” use high-quality paper, and always “be Fab” — whatever terrible thing that means. Those types of office perks abound at startups, of course, not only as a way to attract the best talent, but also to get that “talent” working on message, official office font included. Each and every kegerator serves as a reminder of what you owe the company

It sounds like the best perk ever: You could, officially, and under official policy, get paid for a three-month summer vacation. But of course the increasingly popular you-work-so-hard-that-we-won’t-count strategy doesn’t work that way. First, most companies wouldn’t allow it. The marketing company Xiik, for example, boasts the limitless vacation offer, but in its fine print discourages long hiatuses. “There are no hidden agendas; xiik employees can take as much paid time off as needed,” claims a Xiik project manager on the company website, before clarifying what that really means: “As nice as it would be to regularly leave for months at a time, common sense prevails: In most cases, it simply doesn’t make sense to be away from work for extended periods.”

I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with HR Pros across so many industries that involve this idea of how do you compete against all these perks?!  I’ve always come back to  – you don’t!  The perks are just perks  – they might help you hold onto some folks a bit longer – but they don’t make your employees better and they don’t raise the performance of your company.  In HR we need to figure out those things, first.   Here are the 3 Myths (Thank you Sally!) of the ‘Cool’ Office concept:

1. Offering Free food and drinks will keep our employees working longer and more productive. Workers apparently “waste” 2 billion minutes a day of “productivity” getting snacks, lunch, and coffee, according to Staples.

2. Having an ‘open’ office environment foster collaboration and productivity. A recent Quartz article outlines all the terrible things that come out of the open quarters, such as decreased productivity and more airborne illnesses.

3. Unlimited time off allows your employees the ultimate work-life balance – which will increase productivity and retention.  The reality is your work culture makes people feel bad about taking time off and discourages people from utilizing ‘unlimited’ time off policies.  The reason companies can offer ‘unlimited’ time off policies is because studies continue to show those organizations with these policies actually use less time off than those with set limit policies.  It’s a benefit to organizations to use this – not employees!

7 thoughts on “3 Myths of the ‘Cool’ Office

  1. I agree with Chuck that this (and certainly the Atlantic source article) have taken some extreme examples and drawn even more extreme conclusions from it. “Perks” like the ones above, and others (e.g. free yoga classes), if done right, have the potential to bolster corporate culture and camaraderie – two important aspects of employee engagement.

  2. Good post, Tim.

    Perks (like money) will can help you retain a good (but disengaged) employee for a while longer than you otherwise could, but people ultimately have to like what they’re doing to stick around.

    Thanks for sharing this (and keep writing).



  3. Funny article, but I think you’ve taken extreme examples to make your point. With pay and benefits becoming more like a commodity these days (same – same), companies need other tactics to help make the work experience a more “rewarding” one – to make the decision to leave more difficult. To do that doesn’t necessitate grandeose schemes that make the newspapers (your point), but a series of even small gestures that are meaningful to an organization’s particular workforce dynamics. And these gestures could be cost neutral.

  4. I agree with Allison – my open office made concentrated work and “delicate” conversations very difficult. On the plus side, I LOVED my standing desk.

    I’m glad you pointed out the cultural aspect of vacations, Tim. Americans seem to continue to take the fewest days off – and feel guilty when we do – because some corporate environments make them fear for their relevance. Boo!

    One more thing…I don’t think I could work anywhere that required me to “be Fab”. Just sayin’…

  5. 2 is spot on, I worked in an open office and people were consantly getting sick left and right! coupled with that, we didn’t have unlimited time off or “sick days” and people often didn’t stay home when they should have.

    I hated the open office for other reasons. It was hard to get things done with a manager literally sitting right next to me, constantly looking over my shoulder and asking what I was working on. Talk about pressure!

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