In the eight years I’ve been CEO of Credit Karma, perks have increasingly become an important way for Silicon Valley companies to recruit the best candidates. To appeal to prospective employees, companies have begun to offer everything from free meals and “unlimited” vacation, to onsite gyms.
These perks are often portrayed as a company’s attempt to create a productive utopia for its employees. Which in some ways has proven itself out: at Credit Karma we’ve found that less traditional approaches to work do help people work better. Perks however can be a double-edged sword for both employee and employer. Their impacts can be counterintuitive, so close consideration needs to be put into building a package of perks that truly benefits your company culture.
Perks can have hidden costs to your company culture
A perk like free lunches, can have downsides in ways that might seem counterintuitive: offering someone free meals hardly seems like a problem. People need to eat, so what’s the problem with providing them convenient and healthy options onsite?
The follow on effect though, is that if people have free lunch onsite, they’re less likely to leave the office. A lot of perks like this can have the effect of keeping someone at their desk. That’s part of the reason why we don’t offer free meals at Credit Karma. We want our employees to get some fresh air, to get out of the office, to get home and spend time with their families, not grab something quickly from the company cafeteria just so they can head back and work more. It’s also important to think about the long-term costs of providing this perk as your company scales, as it could affect morale if you have to take something away after you’ve instituted it.
Design perks that build on your existing company culture
We expect a lot from our employees, but we also want them to have lives outside of the office. We want our employees to feel a sense of community and purpose in the office, to feel happy and healthy and like they’re growing in their career, as well as having well-rounded lives outside of Credit Karma.
It’s important to think about how the perks you offer fit with these values you’ve set as a company. Supplying free meals could make it seem like we want people to be at their desks 15 hours a day, which wouldn’t fit into the family-friendly company culture we’re trying to build. Instead we offer things like generous learning and development subsidies, baby bonding leave, yoga classes and wellness lessons, and focus closely on offering ways for our employees to come together as a group and also engage with the community through volunteer work, which support the things that we think are important as a company.
Build a company culture that isn’t perk-focused
Perks don’t have to be a central part of a company’s culture. It’s better if they aren’t, actually: focusing too much on employee perks can get in the way of other more meaningful gauges of the impact your work is having.
A company’s culture affects everything from how that company hires people to how it measures success. Perks might help with the first part - nothing engenders good publicity better than extravagant perks - but they probably won’t help with many other aspects of running the company. It’s important to look after your employees, but it’s better to build a culture grounded in a shared commitment to a company mission rather than the number of free meals offered.