You want to be a progressive firm to win top talent, and so you tailor your perks accordingly. But just like The Communist Manifesto--which was really just a wildly idealistic HR handbook, wasn't it?--"What looks good on paper doesn't always work when people get involved," according to HR analyst and co-founder of KeyInterval Research William Tincup.
1. More vacation time instead of more pay
Many companies now offer extra days of vacation in lieu of cash to entice attractive hires. But savvy talent is learning to think twice before taking what's behind this curtain. You know what's not better in the Bahamas? Your declining reputation with colleagues who have to pick up the slack while you're on yet another (totally contractual) singles cruise.
The flip side, according to Tincup, is that some people don't take vacation at all. "As an owner, I've made this mistake in the form of unlimited PTO," he says. "You have the best of intentions, but then realize people are working themselves to sickness because they're terrified to take more time off than anyone else and be that pariah."
2. "Whole self" workplaces
Dear God, why? If marriage has shown us anything, it's that sharing one's whole self for extended periods often leads to resentment. The office is supposed to be one of the places people can still get a break from their whole selves.
According to Susan LaMotte, founder of work force consultancy Exaqueo, the reality of whole self policies is often that companies expect people to bring their whole selves to the workplace, because they're not giving them reasonable time to live a whole life outside of it.
Better to give people space to engage with their passions and problems in the wide world. Otherwise, maybe you should let them bring their whole beds to the office, too.
3. Beer on tap! Drinks with co-workers!
In the workplace as in nature specials, someone almost always gets taken out at the watering hole.
"What is alcohol there for? To loosen our inhibitions," Tincup says. "Whenever you loosen your inhibitions, all kinds of shit happens. People gossip. Relationship lines get blurred. People drive home when they shouldn't."
When Maren Hogan, CEO of B2B marketing and HR consultancy Red Branch Media, started her company in her basement, staff included family members, and they often had drinks together.
"But when we became a real company where I had to wear pants, my sister-in-law, who was helping me with my HR handbook, said, 'You have to stop the drinking at work.' So I suspended it for a week. And everyone thought it was terrible."
Her compromise? The company's Eatin' Meetin's now have a two-drink maximum and start two hours before people leave. Also, everyone sits at the table together, which leaves little room for gossip and intrigue in the supplies closet.
4. Casual summer Fridays
This policy can confuse staff who don't know its (probable) origins--a means for wealthier colleagues to leave early for their weekend homes without having to change clothes.
If you have clear expectations for casual summer Fridays, you have to define them clearly. This may make you look rigid, but if you don't do it, you have to be OK when someone interprets the policy not as "what a rich person wears to his or her cottage near the water" and more as "the flip-flops and cargo shorts you wear when you're meeting friends to eat fried things at the mall."
"If you're not willing to confront people about expectations ahead of time, you're setting yourself up to have to confront them afterwards," Hogan says.
5. The freedom to try new things (provided your work gets done)
Enthusiastic subordinate thinks: "I'll expand my skill set and show myself to be a multitalented hire who wants to grow!" Threatened manager completes performance review: "Employee has enthusiasm for different tasks within company, but unfortunately, these distract from responsibilities. Might be happier elsewhere."
"You have managers who are happy to see people get promoted and go on to do great things as part of their legacy," Tincup says, "and then you have managers who find talent, train them, and want to keep them in one spot. They're not thinking about legacy; they're thinking about stability. They're scared of disruption." The solution starts at the top, according to Tincup: "Define pedigree for your managers as the number of people who have been promoted after being associated with them."