I took a tour of the Facebook office the other day and saw the strangest thing: vending machines filled with free electronics.
The machines had computer mice, charging cables, batteries, and, my favorite: expensive headphones.
I get the mice, batteries, and chargers. Makes sense. But $100 headphones? What an odd thing to give away like candy (it’s all free, the price tag is just an FYI).
I’ve read the news, as I’m sure you have, so I’m familiar with the amazing, sometimes outlandish perks large tech companies give to their employees.
- Expensify takes employees on an annual month-long trip to an exotic destination
- Apple offers the opportunity for women to freeze their eggs
- Netflix gives unlimited maternity and paternity for the first year
- Asana gives each employee a $10k allowance to spend on computers and desk decor
- Full-time workers at Evernote get to have their house cleaned twice a month for free
- Zillow gives all employees Fitbits and has a communal treadmill desk in every office
But I got to thinking – do fancy startup job perks actually help make employees happy?
I think not. Here’s why.
The perk war
There are two types of job perks: the basic shit and the fancy shit.
The basic shit is a decent salary, medical and dental benefits, a 401k, a work computer, and maybe free lunches once in a while.
The fancy shit are the lavish things you read about online: a free puppy, sleeping pods, free onsite laundry, yoga classes, unlimited vacation, office arcade, office bar, in-office massages, free iPads, four day work weeks, and ping pong tables.
Companies are increasingly using fancy shit to convince talented people to join their team.
Offering employees fancy shit a is relatively new concept, and because of that, it’s easy to over prioritize the fancy shit over the basic shit.
And so, employers have to decide what type of company they want to create.
But here’s the thing: your work happiness is determined by the sum of the two shits. Really. Here’s the two-shits breakdown.
Option A is simple, without all the glitz and glamour. They emphasize stuff like passion, curiosity, and camaraderie without defining themselves by perks.
Option B is icing heavy and cake light. Their sales pitch leads with gourmet chefs, flexible PTO, and the promises of a work/life balance. The basic shit is assumed and included as an afterthought.
Now, when you’re a 21-year-old recent grad deciding between Option A and Option B , it’s easy to let the perks convince you.
But you shouldn’t.
Why fancy shit won’t make you happy
Let’s say you have two job offers on the table.
The first is at a company called AltPad, an iPad gaming company that has created a game that they hope will slow down early onset Alzheimer’s. You’ve been passionate about potentially curing illnesses for a while, but it’s an early startup, so they don’t have a lot of the fancy shit you read about in the news. It’s a livable and competitive salary, so that’s nice. They aren’t really known though, so you’ll have to constantly explain “what you do” when your friends ask.
The other company you have an offer from is a social network called Schmoogle. It is consistently voted one of the best places to work because it has all the fancy shit you can imagine: free food, on site laundry service, and dozens of sleeping pods scattered throughout the office.
Even though you may not use Schmoogle’s product or be passionate about it, you’ll be the envy of your friends.
So because you’re a young buck who’s hungry to conquer the world and impress your friends, you take the job at Schmoogle with all the fancy shit.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re not really into their product because it’ll be a helluva lot of fun. And your parents will brag about you because you work at the place in Owen Wilson’s next rom-com.
Your first week at Schmoogle!
So you take the fancy job and have your first week at Schmoogle. It’s freaking awesome. It feels like you’re back in college! You spend lunch time in the cafe meeting new friends, ride bikes during the break time, and get tons of new supplies like a Macbook Air, a fancy monitor, and a new phone. “God, this is awesome,” you think.
Then, in your second week, work starts. You knew it was coming, but the first week was so much fun that you totally forgot about it. And, as it just so happens, during your first week of real work the cafe at Schmoogle runs out of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, your favorite cereal.
When you ask the kitchen staff if they plan on restocking soon, they say that because of the CEO’s new gluten allergy they’ll no longer be having Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
It’s not like you started working at Schmoogle because of the free cereal, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Again, not a big deal, but Schmoogle just went down a little bit in your book.
A few weeks after the Cinnamon Toast Crunch incident, you visit your friend at another fancyshit company called Spitter.
Holy crap, you say to yourself, their gym is HUGE. Schmoogle only has 10 ellipticals and most of the time they’re being used, but Spitter has 20. Wow.
You know, it kinda puts things in perspective. If Schmoogle really cared about you, they’d have at least as many ellipticals as Spitter.
Strike two, Schmoogle.
One morning, a few months after your visit to Spitter, you get a memo from the head of HR.
“Dear Schmoogle employees, because of a lack of attendance, Thursday night yoga classes are now canceled.”
For the love of God. Are you fucking kidding me Schmoogle? The one thing reason why you look forward to coming to work on Thursdays has just been canceled. Why do you hate me so much? Look, if you were going to cancel yoga, you could have at LEAST given me a warning ahead of time so I could have signed up for spinning class. FUCK.
A few weeks after the infamous yoga incident, your boss tells you that they’re flying you to Germany for the launch of a new product. Whew — this will give you a chance to unwind and get happy.
But then you look at your itinerary and notice that you’re flying economy, not business class, which you usually do.
“Hey it looks like there’s an error on my ticket,” you tell your manager.
“We had to make a few cutbacks this quarter, but don’t worry, you’ll still have your own hotel room.”
You hate your life.
On Monday you get back from Germany and head to work. You’re still a bit jet lagged but you show up to work early. You decide to make a piece of toast with honey and peanut butter. That’ll make you feel better.
As you make the toast, you notice that they have a new type of honey. Wait, this isn’t organic?!
I’m done with this shit.
You see, you set yourself up to fail when you pick a job based on the perks. It’s like marrying someone because they have a Ferrari and a mansion with a swimming pool. And as you may know, fate doesn’t always treat gold digger’s kindly. Because when shit goes down, so do they.
So, if you ever have to decide between the fancy shit or the basic shit, make sure to put most of the emphasis on the basic shit, not whether or not they give out free headphones.