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Stefanie Kir
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Silent but deadly.
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When Culture is a Good Thing – And When it’s Not

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Google is famous for its exceptional approach to employee culture. From sleep pods to pets in the office, it’s no wonder why the world’s largest search engine attracts a high calibre of staff.

What’s the problem with Google’s strategy?

Recently, though, the search company has come under fire for offering what seem like empty perks – giving employees things that appear great on the surface, but actually causes stress and overworking when you dig deeper. Critics argue that Google’s bonuses exist only to keep people at work longer, making the workplace an extension of their home.

And it’s not just Google. Some companies have done away with timed annual leave altogether, giving the staff the freedom to choose how much – or how little – time to spend on holiday. The problem here is that employees who are offered the promise of unlimited annual leave feel like they’ll be reprimanded for taking too much time away. Instead of feeling calmer and more respected, they spend more time at work so as not to look greedy – and the plan to encourage employee motivation goes completely awry.

The debate considers whether perks that seem fantastic could really be disrupting employees’ carefully calibrated work-life balances. Perks that are given in the workplace may be keeping people in the office for longer, making them feel guilty for leaving. They have, after all, been given heaps of freebies – what else can they do but show their gratitude?

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There is a way around this

It’s imperative that the perks are well chosen to counterbalance the obligation and anxiety staff may feel. If the culture is not well planned, it won’t feel like an organic effort to reward your staff. It may instead feel like a cheap ploy to get people working around the clock.

Invest in strategies that get people out of the office when they have done their work for the day. Sleep pods and free dinners every night are great, but if they come at the expense of employees being able to go home and see their families on time, this can be worrisome.

Perks don’t have to be expensive. A Spotify subscription or even a membership for mindfulness app Headspace will make people feel valued – and these are things that will benefit their personal life, too. Instead of investing in exercise equipment, offer discounts on gym passes – your employees will be motivated to work and they’ll be able to take some time out of the workplace. Likewise, give them discounts at a local coffee shop instead of providing coffee at their desks; they’ll feel less tethered to the office and more free to produce great quality work.

Take note of your limitations and tailor perks accordingly

Google provides their employees space to pursue their own projects. This is great – but most companies don’t have the space in their budget to allow their workers space to devote 20% of their working week to personal projects. Instead of this, enthusiastically encourage your employees to pursue projects in their own time. If something fulfils them outside of work – and, what’s more, if they have a purpose or guiding principle – they’ll feel better placed to contribute more during their work day.

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Culture should come directly from management

It’s also important that this happens because of genuine intentions. If leaders don’t truly believe in the culture they offer, anything they provide is going to come across as a token effort. From the get-go, Google was careful to provide their employees with great perks, and this has translated down the line into the company’s current iterations.

Get involved in the culture and make it authentic. Speak to your employees to find out what makes them tick, and incorporate your findings into your day-to-day operations.

Stress the fact that enjoying perks won’t affect the way you think of them, too; don’t make it seem that if an employee takes some time off, or needs to leave the office early one day, that they won’t be in line for a promotion later down the track.

Outstanding company culture is a must for any modern workplace; without it, quality deteriorates and employee motivation plummets. Think about the approach you’re taking to company culture and see if there are some areas to improve.

Cover image source: Computer World

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By Stefanie Kir


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