Ping pong, desk beers, and employee benefits

Over the past ten years, I’ve worked with UK tech companies of all shapes and sizes. From the suited and booted “be at your desk by 8am and don’t even dream of leaving before 6pm” to the trousers optional “choose your own hours and work from home as often as you like” workplaces. I’ve witnessed countless efforts to utilise employee benefits and perks in order to help with hiring and retention and there are blatant winners and losers so let’s get stuck in.

Cultural Shift

Up until those pesky millennials came along (apparently), people had careers. Everyone wanted a job they could settle into and stick with for 30+ years. The dot com boom created an enormous cultural shift. Young kids got rich and started their own businesses. Some of those (like Google, Amazon, et al.) grew into behemoth money making machines and then everyone decided that they needed to be more like them in order to also become money making machines. Suddenly, to be a ‘cool’ employer you had to offer perks that stuffy, old companies would never dream of. That’s when ping pong tables, drinking at work, and all that bullshit became ‘cool’. These days, it’s become ridiculously passé and only a minuscule number of people actually give a shit about perks like ping-pong and pool.

In fact, some of those ‘cool’ perks are actively harming your business. There are an awful lot of companies that promote a drinking culture (desk beers, pub lunches, etc) to highlight the fact that their place of work is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The reality is that a drinking culture can be incredibly effective at excluding a large number of people. Aside from the ever growing number of people that would simply prefer to avoid a drinking culture, there is also a significant number of people whose faith or health doesn’t permit them to drink. Personally, I’ve always been fond of a drink but even so, I’d rather spend my Friday evenings at home with my family than in the nearest bar socialising with people I’ve already spent the entire week with.

Inclusivity and diversity within your teams & hiring process is no longer optional. There is far too much evidence available proving the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workplace to ignore. Drinking cultures are the frothy tip of a crafty iceberg that I’ll delve deeper into in another post.

Growing Trends

Demand for ‘grown up’ benefits like pensions, private healthcare, etc. went into steady decline during the dawn of the ping pong work culture. Lately, the demand for these tangible benefits has grown noticeably. Experienced engineers and designers are in huge demand and typically, they are more aware of the importance of long term planning. Early stage startups get a pass, but only just. Generous employer contributory pension schemes and private healthcare for example, are expensive and complicated structures to implement that most early stage startups just aren’t equipped to offer.

Proper structures to help promote personal growth and mastery however, are essential to ensure you retain your best people. The average tenure for a full-time software engineer to spend at any one company is <4 years and one of the biggest factors (aside from money) that contributes to this trend is a lack of a proper challenge. If your employees aren’t being challenged, they will look elsewhere for a solution.

Finally, advertising real salaries for your jobs has become a significant factor in improving application rates and rightfully so. The disparity between the value companies pay for great talent is incredibly frustrating. Forcing people to initiate contact with you in order to establish that you are paying a salary that matches their expectations is not only a waste of everyones valuable time, it immediately creates yet another reason for that person to skip your job and look at the next one. If your salaries are fair and competitive then there really are no good excuses for not advertising salaries when posting a job. Pointless statements such as “competitive” and “depends on experience” suggest you’re either paying below market rates or you’re looking to lowball potential employees. If you don’t know whether or not the salaries you’re paying are competitive, then you simply haven’t put in the effort to find out as there are countless reliable sources to help you establish the difference between good and bad. If you’re worried what your existing team will think of the salaries you’re advertising then I’m afraid you just aren’t paying them enough.

The Game Changer

Over the past few years there has been a noticeable surge in demand for flexible working (choose your own hours, working from home, etc) and it will continue to grow. In the tech industry there’s an apparent ‘war for talent’ which implies there are more jobs available than there are suitable people to fill them. In turn, potential employees are in a position to ensure their personal lives are a bigger priority than their professional lives and are insisting on structures than allow them to maintain those priorities. Fortunately, more and more employers are recognising that creativity and productivity isn’t limited to the hours between 9am and 5pm and are placing a lot more trust in their employees to work in a way that enables them to deliver their best results.

Autonomy & trust are categorically the biggest differentiator in hiring & retention. If you want to hire exceptional people, set very clear expectations of what good results look like then trust them to act like an adult and establish for themselves the best way to deliver their best work.

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