Be Careful What You Wish For

You probably already know about corporations like Google, Microsoft, Bain & Company, American Express, and Facebook that have ostensibly amazing employee perks. There are myriad others, too. Two things are true of all of them:

  1. They’re obscuring the fact that most of us prefer substance to frills.
  2. They’re selling a wave that crested quite some time ago.

Once the open-office craze bit the dust — you can find evidence of its demise here, here, here, here, here, here, and here — you had to have the feeling office perks would be the next bucket of steam to evaporate. Sure enough, courtesy of Fast Company: “It’s official: No one cares about your ‘cool’ office perks“:

A new LinkedIn survey of over 3,000 full-time U.S. workers confirms what many of us have suspected for years: Those funky perks employers tout as supposed emblems of a great work culture are actually empty totems that employees don’t really care about.

So, what’s going on here? In fact, it’s a wonderful contradiction, perfectly indicative of our human nature, manifested by the juxtaposition of marketing (the art of creating the perception of need) and reality (the search for the fulfillment of actual need). Like all juxtapositions, all it takes to see to the heart and resolution of this one is time.

All That Matters is What Matters

Companies introduced social and recreational perks because they thought those things would attract young people. At first, they were right. Then two things happened: (1) Those young people got older. (2) They discovered other things were more important than superficial socialization and recreation in the places in which they were hired to work.

By the same token, companies introduced open workspaces to fit more people into less space, selling the concept with sloganeering about communication and collaboration. Then two other things happened: (1) Employees discovered they didn’t have the privacy in which to concentrate. (2) Employers discovered productivity was tanking.

Now that enough time has elapsed, it’s become evident that people care less about perks and open space than they do about supportive environments, adequate health insurance and parental leaves, work/life balance, recognition of individuality and achievement, professional development,  and social responsibility.

Eyes Open

All of this is simply evidence of something Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong knew when they wrote, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine“: “People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.”

In other words, be careful what you wish for … or somebody will sell it to you.


Image by Wormer’s Famous Rattlesnake Oil, via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. […] in point: We’ve written about open office spaces before. Their drawbacks were obvious, at least to us. But as is unfailingly true of everything in […]

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