Employees open up: what goes beyond best perks

Google Inc. Campus Image

Buildings at the Mountain View, Calif. campus of Google Inc., as seen in February 2015. Photo by P. Bouweraerts.

By Patricia Bouweraerts

Delectably infamous job perks in Silicon Valley include a free candy shop with frozen yogurt and fresh baked goods at Facebook, and MetroNaps EnergyPod sleeping chairs at Google Inc.

“All Evernote employees have their houses cleaned twice a month for free,” according to a 2014 article in Mashable.com.

But is there some invisible element that makes you want to work for your company more than that best drool-worthy perk? More working people are speaking up about intangible factors at their companies that inspire them more than great perks and high pay, and they are doing so without anonymity.

Leonard J. Glick is a professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University, in Boston, Mass. He said in an interview with Forbes.com staff writer Karsten Strauss that once someone is hired, his or her priority shifts away from money and toward other sources of job satisfaction.

People Say These Are Better Than Perks Infographic

Infographic by P. Bouweraerts with artwork by Vladimir Arkatov. Click to enlarge.

“Compensation packages are a big deal when employees are hired, but once a deal has been struck the source of motivation tends to shift,” Strauss wrote.

Professor Glick went on to talk about more specific employee wishes.

“The motivation comes from the things I’ve been talking about — the challenge of the work, the purpose of the work, the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to contribute,” Glick said in the Forbes article.

WorkplaceStory investigated the online conversation, and found recurring threads relating to work culture that really matter to people. And these matter so much that many are willing to put their name to their comments.

Camaraderie and mutual respect

A question posed on Quora.com to Facebook employees concerned their favorite perks. The second most “up-voted” answer by readers, as of Sept. 25 was from Peter Chang and focused not so much on benefits, money, and time off but on co-workers’ relationships.

“The people here are extremely motivated, talented and smart and they believe in the mission,” Chang wrote. “This type of culture feeds on itself as people want to do their best work for the colleagues that they respect.”

He sees this in employees at every level of the company.

Camaraderie Graphic

“Don’t get me wrong,” he wrote. “The other perks are nice. The restaurant-quality food (three times a day and free), good salary, shuttle, Philz (coffee) on campus… we often remind ourselves how spoiled we are. But eventually that stuff fades into the background. The thing that motivates me every day to get out of bed and excited to go to work are easily the people.”

Winona Dimeo-Ediger, wrote on TheFrisky.com about how bonds were created as her team got through harried shifts together at a Starbucks Corporation store.

“Between the boiling milk, the beeping timers, and the endless caffeine addicts demanding their fix, this job is seriously stressful, and you learn quickly that you can’t succeed by yourself,” she wrote. “The connections I made with my Starbucks coworkers were forged in the fires of stress, panic, and eggnog burns; I know they’ll last a lifetime.”

Care for people’s families

The top most up-voted answer to the Facebook Quora question addressed family, a topic often discussed by employees.

Justin Moore, an engineering manager at Facebook wrote in 2013 about the four months paid time off for new parents.

“As a new father, this has been super helpful ranging from days here and there to extended times to visit relatives to just hanging out with my son for a couple days at a time so I can watch him grow up,” he wrote. “Some people take big chunks, some take it in pieces, depending on their needs/wants. Having these four months, especially as a father, is huge. Aside from that, we have as good or better perks as every other tech company out there that I know of…”

Moore listed the family benefit in his post before the other perks.

Sadia Hdydi, also a parent, wrote on Quora.com that she is an IT professional who turned down offers to work at companies where meetings might be scheduled after 6 p.m.

Family First Graphic

“Instead, I went to do essentially the same job for a company that paid the same amount, but gave me the flexibility to be both the mother and employee that I want to be,” she wrote. “I spend 8–10 hours in the office most days and am happy to put in extra hours once my children are asleep, but from 6-9 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends, my attention and time belongs to my children.”

She strives to work efficiently, and views quality time to be with her children more important than perks.

“An all-inclusive job environment is great for recent college graduates, but those of us who see our careers as an important part of life, rather than all of life, don’t enjoy or want those perks,” Hdydi wrote.

Further, allowing employees a choice in their family benefits may be more important than the company deciding for them what type of leave they should take.

Hobby Lobby closes all day on Sunday and after 8 p.m. on other days to give employees family time, said its founder and CEO David Green on Success.com. The company also pays a wage that is considerably more than minimum wage ($11 instead of $7.25 in the 2010 Success.com article) and provides a medical clinic free to employees at its Oklahoma City headquarters.

Even with these generous perks and pay rate, a high percentage of employees are not rating their company a good place to work. This low recommendation has been covered in the media.

Mitchell Schnurman wrote on DallasNews.com in 2014 that the company has experienced negative reviews of its company culture.

“On a five-point scale, Hobby Lobby has a 2.5 rating on Glassdoor, an online career community,” he wrote. “A three is considered ‘OK.’ Current and former employees provide anonymous reviews and scoring on the website, and the average score for all companies is 3.2. Glassdoor listed the top 10 retailers last November, and No. 1 Costco pulled a 4.0 while No. 10 H&M had a 3.4. Hobby Lobby’s score, based on 355 reviews, was lower than those of Albertsons, Kroger and Michaels Stores. And that was largely before the court decision.”

The decision Schnurman refers to was by the Supreme Court in 2014 concerning types of contraception that private employers such as Hobby Lobby may exclude from health care coverage.


Tor Constantino, in an article on Entrepreneur.com wrote that having a voice in work factors and tasks, or autonomy, is key.

“At the heart of the issue of control is our human need to perceive we have freedom to exercise short- and long-term choices,” he wrote. “That reflects our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own direction and discretion. Allowing employees to take appropriate action and make decisions relating to the work they do can be more motivating than any other single factor.”
Autonomy Graphic

Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz has commented on individuality.

“I also know how hard you work, and I remain grateful for your continued trust in Starbucks to help you realize your individual aspirations as we work together to realize our shared goals,” he wrote on Starbucks.com.

It appears that many Starbucks employee partners believe Schultz is speaking from the heart. On Glassdoor.com, the site where employees review their companies and bosses, a high percentage rate this company highly. As of Sept. 25, 89 percent approve of the CEO, based on more than 6,500 reviews.

Trust in individual integrity

Two managers at Etsy, Melissa Santos and Rafe Colburn wrote on ModelViewCulture.com that their company encourages a culture of not blaming or punishing people for human mistakes, and not penalizing employees for passing on after-work social activities. Do these good intentions translate representatively to their staff?

Avleen Vig, a staff operations engineer at Etsy, answered a question posed on Quora.com about what it’s like to work at the company.

Trust and Integrity Graphic

“My phone buzzed when I got off the plane and I saw this message,” she wrote. “I knew I had to reply. And instead of having to go through multiple levels of approval before I can tell you how awesome it is to work here, I’m allowed to just tell you. It’s really pretty great.”

A staffer from another company who participated in an engineer exchange program agreed with Vig. Doug Barth, an employee at PagerDuty, Inc., wrote on his company’s blog about what he saw at Etsy’s Brooklyn offices.

“Empathy also extends to how they talk about failures,” he wrote. “They instituted a culture of blameless post-mortems and began running group dynamics sessions (to) teach teams about empathy. When you focus on making your post-mortems blameless, you focus on how the mistake was made, not who made it. It promotes a culture of seeing each team member as doing their best possible work, and not approaching mistakes as a reflection on an individual.”

Empathy for the whole person

People are more than their position or title. When co-workers or bosses try to lend understanding, it may impact employees more deeply than providing free meals or end-of-the-year bonuses.

“So yesterday, when my boss —  a White woman in tech  —  empathized with me, a Black woman, that was a very big deal,” wrote Mandela Schumacher-Hodge on Medium.com. “In fact, it was the first time a White colleague (and I’ve had many) has ever said anything to me about the killing of a Black person in America by a White police officer  —  and there’s unfortunately been several opportunities for them to speak up.”

Empathy Infographic

She continued that the subject of race may have been difficult to bring up, but the effort to empathize meant more to her than maintaining an appearance of political correctness.

“The fact that a White colleague in a work setting made it a point to make a point about racial injustice in America and acknowledge the Black community’s pain, hurt, and anger over it…the fact that she didn’t just act like today was ‘business as usual’  —  that meant more to me than any free lunches, office perks, or holiday bonuses ever could,” Schumacher wrote.

Schumacher-Hodge listed her workplace as Kapor Capital. USAToday reports that Kapor Capital, an Oakland venture capital firm, encourages the companies it invests in to place a high priority on recruiting and hiring a diverse staff and to actively volunteer in under-served communities. Costco Wholesale also values diversity and equality, a study finds.

“Costco scored extremely well (90/100) on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, an assessment of LGBT policies in the workplace,” wrote Kevin Short, editor, on HuffingtonPost.com.

An abundance of research shows that while money is an issue in terms of motivating and retaining employees, it seldom is the issue. Most people are looking for meaningful forms of recognition such as autonomy, challenging work, and the ability to learn new skills.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D.

Communication and fairness

Travis Okulski is a former Walmart Stores, Inc. employee who has also covered transportation topics for BusinessInsider. He liked working at Walmart and even returned to work there during college. He describes being treated as an autonomous staff member and not feeling talked down to.

Fairness Graphic

“The company also wanted us to know what was going on from a broader perspective,” he wrote on BusinessInsider.com. “Every evening I would go to a meeting with the store manager, who would tell us the stock price, how much we had sold that day, and if there were other expectations before we left for the night.”

There was also appreciation expressed for hard work, and opportunities for employees to move up in the company.

“The best thing that I learned at Walmart was that hard work was recognized and rewarded,” Okulski wrote. “I worked hard and came back during a break from college to be promoted to work in the photo lab (more responsibility, higher rate of pay). I also saw many full-time employees that I worked with move up to become department managers, assistant store managers, and even move on to the corporate office.”

Costco Wholesale also shines in this respect, according to employees and in the media.

“More than 70 percent of its warehouse managers began their careers working the register or the floor,” wrote Kevin Short, editor at HuffingtonPost.com.

Recognition is vital

Barbara Corcoran, in an Inc.com video, talks about how recognition can be better than money for many people. She realized the depth of this fact when she found a glass trophy case prominently displayed in the apartment home of one of her top realtors, Carrie.

“In the middle of her living room, and she had a penthouse apartment at Trump Tower, beautiful,” Corcoran said. “But in the middle of the living room, she had a glass box. What do you think was in that box? She had worked for me for five years. The five cheap-ass fake gold trophies of ‘Salesman of the Year’. She had them in the box. You had to walk around it to get to the couch. I’m like, ‘Holy God. This is the most tasteless thing I’ve ever seen.’ Alright? But I immediately went back to the office and I made her a gold laminate chair.”

Recognition Graphic

So, her advice to other employers is that true, heartfelt recognition is better than other perks.

“Recognition, not phony recognition like, ‘Oh, you’re amazing,’ but like, ‘I really wanna tell you what an amazing job you did,’” she said. “Private recognition, not public, that way kind of… Whatever you could do to give people recognition of their uniqueness and success, people will marry you forever.”

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., president of Employment Alignment Strategies, Inc., agrees.

“An abundance of research shows that while money is an issue in terms of motivating and retaining employees, it seldom is the issue,” Lynch writes. “Most people are looking for meaningful forms of recognition such (as) autonomy, challenging work, and the ability to learn new skills.”

The desire for recognition may also be increasing. Victor Lipman wrote in the PsychologyToday.com blog that a 2013 study showed recognition was more highly valued than in another study posted six years previous. The new research is comprised of a survey of more than a thousand U.S. workers from a wide array of occupations.

“A key finding was that 70 percent of survey respondents reported their most meaningful recognition ‘had no dollar value’ – a substantial increase from 57 percent in a similar survey in 2007,” he wrote. “The study, funded by Make Their Day, an employee motivation firm, and Badgeville, a gamification company, surveyed 1,200 U.S. employees from a broad cross-section of industries. …83 percent of respondents said recognition for contributions was more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts.”

Note: Gamification means adding game-like aspects to processes or tasks to encourage people to participate in the product, service or activity.

Professional growth, personal growth

Recognition, flexibility and advancement have proved valuable, as well as professional and personal growth.

“The Retail Report Card looked at over 250 companies and based its (2013) rankings according to which ones won the most positive reviews by employees writing in Glassdoor’s online forum,” wrote Paige Cooperstein on BusinessInsider.com. “Employees judged their job experience — including the flexibility of work schedules, the stress of the job environment, and the ability to develop a career with the retailer — on a scale from one to five.”

Costco rated number one in the Retail Report Card. Costco CEO Craig Jelinek was the “Highest Rated CEO 2016,” according to Glassdoor.com based on 1,359 ratings posted as of Sept. 25.

Meghan Demaria, associate editor at Refinery29.com wrote that she now works her dream job, but she would be happy to work again at Costco Wholesale if she ever couldn’t work as a writer.

“Working for the big-box store was definitively not in my long-term career plans, or why I’d moved to New York City, but in the months I spent working there, I learned a lot,” wrote Demaria. “I even started to love it.”

Growth Infographic

She wrote that sometimes customers would make comments assuming a Costco staffer was there temporarily until something better came along, but she witnessed that many of her co-workers stayed there for years without regret. People were on fairly equal footing there, and she also noticed her fellow employees’ education level didn’t affect their job performance. On the contrary, co-workers didn’t complain about sore legs from long hours standing or lifting, Demaria added.

“The type of job that makes you happy is different for everyone. None are less ‘good’ than others,” she wrote.

Kate Norquay worked for four years at a McDonald’s restaurant and wrote on Medium.com that learning to interact effectively with customers is a real skill that she is glad she learned — working in fast food was an invaluable experience for which she’s grateful.

“At McDonald’s there were people with disabilities, overweight people, people who weren’t conventionally attractive, people that couldn’t speak much English, young teenagers, and a lot of racial diversity,” Norquay wrote. “These people made up the backbone of the store. They were respected as some of our best workers. …I am not as hard working as my co-workers, who sometimes pull twenty hour shifts to make sure no customer has to miss out on their midnight hamburger. I am not as smart as our manager-turned-engineer. He learned how to fix all the machines so we didn’t have to call a mechanic.”

Norquay’s comments bring it back to both camaraderie and growth. She concludes that her four years working for the company taught her humility and fairness.

“I developed more empathy,” she wrote.

Comments are closed.