Friday kegs, free lunch, unlimited snacks, dogs on premises, "beer-n-bowling," foosball, and ping-pong! I'm not describing the perks at an all-inclusive resort in Arizona. These are a few of the benefits that adtech (or martech) and digital media companies are touting in their job descriptions, in conversations, and on websites in an effort to attract talent.
As a recruiter in the digital media and adtech field, when presented with a potential new client, I request an in-person meeting in their offices. I like to get a "feel" for the company as it helps me to talk about it to candidates. Inevitably, as I'm given the grand tour of what is often an open, industrial work space, I'm shown the kitchen first. "Here's where we serve our free lunch!" Along the route, I'll pass an executive riding a skateboard while talking into his headset. Or, a guy walking with a Shih Tzu, unleashed and trying desperately to keep up. We pass an empty foosball table, begging for play. And the rest of the team is lined up at tables (some on treadmills), eyes glued to their screens.
This imagery represents the skin-deep culture that permeates today's tech start-up and digital media world. There are no longer offices or even cubicles. A suit? Heaven forbid! CEO's are wearing Sperrys and ripped jeans and enticing their employees with endless free Skittles and gluten-free muffins. I often wonder if the free food is just a ploy to keep employees at their desks.
Hiring managers and HR executives put a lot of emphasis on the fun "perks" one can find on the surface in the office. It's only when I specifically ask about core benefits, that I get information on medical and dental coverage, vacation policies, maternity/paternity benefits, equity/shares, gym allowances, etc. Or information on long-term benefits and advancement opportunities. I have to ask about training, diversity initiatives, and the company's emphasis on promoting from within. These deeper issues are almost never offered up as an enticement without me further prodding.
I decided to take an informal poll on my social media channels (LinkedIn and Facebook) and find out how people feel about the industry-wide emphasis on perks vs. benefits.
Here is the non-scientific question I posed:
"What would you rather see a company promote about their culture? 'Beer kegs on Fridays, free lunch, and ping pong tables' or 'Generous paternity/maternity leave, diversity, unlimited vacation, reasonable hours, a proven record for promoting within, and a management team that believes everyone needs a life outside of work? I'm wondering if your age is going to determine your answer."
I realize that my question was leading, but, hey, I'm not a professional pollster. And the responses were insightful. Only two people suggested that beer kegs and the like were more important than quality of life and room for advancement. The remaining 95 or so respondents said they'd prefer the quality of life and paternity/maternity leave option -- or both! Some emphatically stated that the "beer kegs and ping pong tables" were actually a turn-off.
And here are what some of the responses said.
Christine: Even when I was a 20-something, I never liked the free beer concept. Some people cannot handle it. I worked with a manager who overdid it at the open bar during a company party. She fell down stairs and was rushed into emergency brain surgery. Reward employees with things that matter.
Heather: Even as a young designer at big agencies, I found beer and cake parties and ping pong to be patronizing. If you want to reward me, give me a day off and let me choose how I want to spend my free time. That's the long way of saying better leave policy. Time off or bonus is a way better incentive. When I see a company boast a game room, free lunch Friday, or snacks!!!, I read between the lines which says you are architecting ways to get me to never leave! Keep your cold pizza and granola bars!
Gina: From someone that has experience with "ageism" recently, I would be more interested in your second scenario. Party atmospheres make me want to run the other way. Rewarding someone's hard work, work/life balance, and reasonable hours is more attractive. If the company thinks that ping pong tables and beer is a way to retain their employees, they're wrong. At Digiday Miami, a few key note sessions were 100 percent about how to retain younger talent. It's an epidemic, and the younger generation is jumping ship for more money and flex hours -- not staying for the beer!
Martine: At this point in my career, No. 1 is a total turn off. Been there, done that.
Kim: No. 2, and it's amazing when hiring managers who are Gen Xers share during interviews on the perks of No. 1. I met with someone a few months back who used No. 1 as a selling point and I remembered exiting thinking are you serious?
To my surprise, even folks in their 20's are turned off by companies using beer and foosball as a sales tool to attract talent.
Heyley: I'm 22 and just starting my career. I have also interned for a number of startups where you see the beer and games. I understand, along with many Millennials, that the beer and the games are just perks, not foundations for company culture. A company that cares will offer employees the latter and that's extremely important for the future of many.
Cameron: No. 2 of course. I will play ping pong in my parents' basement when I visit. And beer kegs aren't for work. What I am looking for in a company are mentoring and training. Patience and compassion. Bonuses. Feedback. Great communication. As a 23-year-old about to be out of college and starting my job search soon these are things that matter to me.
Many people made the point that while they thought No. 2 was more important, No. 1 sure helps!
Daniel: No. 2 is obviously more important, but not mutually exclusive with No. 1 -- making employees lives more fun and convenient is a big benefit. Also, I would replace "reasonable hours" with "reasonable workload" for most companies.
Lisa: No. 2, but don't think they need to be mutually exclusive. No. 1 are easy, relatively inexpensive pops of fun. No. 2 are more about who/what a company is at its core.
Omar: The second part hit home most in regards to being coveted...but I'll admit the first set raised my eyebrows with a smile.
Others pointed out that the more corporate a company is, the more likely they will be to promote things like growth and benefits. The more start-uppy, the more likely they will promote camaraderie.
Jacob: Depends on the intended market. Start-ups: free lunch, take your dog to work, foosball tables, cocktail Fridays. Corporations: Competitive pay, great benefits, advancement opportunities.
Some, like myself, assumed that the choice would be made based on age and age alone.
Suzanne: …younger workers want the "take your dog to work" benefits while older workers really just want a strong pay packet and some job security.
Andrea: I do believe age plays into the messaging. First/second job/entry-level people -- I am guessing you can start out with the Beer Keg Fridays, etc. to get them to listen but then bring in the others as way to promote sustainable growth and long-term employment at a company. Experienced folks want all the other stuff up front. (I, personally, find the other stuff annoying as I do have a lot outside of work responsibilities.) And then bring in the fun stuff. The more experienced workers understand the difference
Danielle: I guess it really depends on who you are marketing to. I'm 40. I don't want to hang out at a frat party, but maybe Millennials do?
Loyalty is a big problem in digital media and martech. Employees are dissatisfied at work and are easily wooed to competing companies. It has become the norm for someone to have been at five companies in four years. In the end, this is a waste of time and money as each time a company hires a new employee, they have to train that person and give them room to ramp up, which in the end slows down revenue.
I wonder if companies shifted their energies to focus on meaningful benefits and work-life balance instead of free food, if employees would stay put. Perhaps if the hiring emphasis was on how to retain talent instead of filling seats, loyalty would not be a thing of the past. If people felt as though they were part of a greater thing and not a cog in the wheel, maybe we'd see an uptick in commitment. In my non-scientific poll, it sure does seem as though people really want to be treated like grown-ups, not college kids. So perhaps we get rid of the foosball and the beer and provide people with a stipend for lunch and make it mandatory to get the hell out of the office for an hour a day so they can come back refreshed and revitalized, raring to go.