Are Perks Ruining Your Company?

dragon-2099840_1280 (1).jpgI have a friend who —

OK, fine. It’s not a friend, It’s me. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or proud of the kinda-sorta juvenile workplace shenanigans I’m about to describe, but in the interest of making a larger point, here goes.

I once worked for a company that had a chair policy. If you were above a certain pay grade, your reward was a chair with armrests. Peons who didn’t earn enough risked falling off the sides of their seats.

Back then, I knew little about HR. I wasn’t yet versed in the power of phrases like “reasonable workplace accommodation” to annoy Linda from HR into granting certain requests (regardless of whether I technically needed an accommodation.)

So instead of asking for a chair with arms, I took one. I simply strolled into a nearby conference room and wheeled out a chair that allowed me to sit comfortably. Luxuriously. Like I finally made it in corporate America.

Then Chair Nazi came.

First They Came for the Chairs…

Her other title was head of operations, or something like that. Every few days, Chair Nazi would march through the halls to check numbers on the backs of chairs to ensure they corresponded with their assigned desks. This was obviously an important task for her in case some obnoxious employee ever stole a chair from a conference room. (As if anyone would do such a thing!)

At first, she said nothing to me. I would merely notice that I had my old chair waiting in my cubicle on mornings after a chair check. This happened on multiple occasions, and each time, I went back to the conference room to grab a different chair.

Finally, Chair Nazi told me that corporate policy forbade the opulence I was stealing. “Stop switching your chair, Vadim. You’re violating the rules.” 

So of course, I kept changing my chair, and of course, Chair Nazi kept telling me to stop. It was a fun game. 

The only reason we finally stopped playing musical chairs is because I started working from home more often. Regardless, let’s go over some salient insights.

Perk Problems

Yes, I’m that employee who enjoys testing policies with a bit of mischief.

Look, I was young. Could I have been an adult and raised my concerns and objections more professionally? Yes. Should I have? Yes. Would that have been as fun? No. (Besides, there were far, far, far worse things in the organization for management to address than the annoying idiot rolling chairs through corridors.)

More importantly, the company’s chair policy raises issues around how an organization should use perks. Unlike benefits, which employers offer to all workers and which can help differentiate a company, perks mainly distinguish workers within an organization.

As I wrote in an article a while back, “[B]ecause the list of possible perks stretches wide, so can the gulf between your firm’s haves and have-nots.”

That begs central questions: What does it mean to treat people fairly? What do people deserve? When do they deserve it? Why do they deserve it? What does it mean to deserve anything?

In the article, I’d suggested that perks are ideal conduits to get at answers because they’re the most visible manifestations of how your organization sets people apart. (You may not know others’ salaries, but you’re painfully aware that the company isn’t paying for you to tee off at the club this weekend.)

Perks With Purpose

To help you set perks policies, some consultants may tell you to start by figuring out what will work best for your culture. That’s not bad advice. It’s no advice.

Your perks don’t depend on your culture. Your culture depends on your perks.

I get that this can be a bit of a chicken-or-egg issue, but make no mistake: Perks define your culture more so than many other initiatives. For example, we connect with perks on a far more emotional level than we do with benefits. Those feelings inevitably will shape a company culture much more than your yearly health-insurance deductible.

This isn’t about treating people equally. No business that wants to remain in business should do that. This is about treating everyone fairly. You can’t do that with perks that seem dumb or that accomplish little beyond the worship and reinforcement of hierarchy. Perks should have greater purpose.

Trust me on this. At my former workplace, having a chair with arms never caused anyone to feel superior. But not having such a perk made plenty of people feel inferior. And uncomfortable.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s too much to ask companies to give everyone comfortable chairs. An armrest is not a private jet.

Relationships With Ghosts

halloween-1743272_1280 (1)Imagine applying for a job, getting hired for the job, and then not showing up for the job. 

I can only imagine because, you know, I’m a decent(-ish) human being. But apparently, that’s exactly what 20 to 50 percent of applicants are doing, according to a USA Today article. The story explains:

In the hottest job market in decades, workers are holding all the cards. And they’re starting to play dirty. A growing number are ‘ghosting’ their jobs: blowing off scheduled job interviews, accepting offers but not showing up the first day and even vanishing from existing positions — all without giving notice.

The Copper Rule

Some speculate that such crappy behavior simply mirrors the equally crappy behavior of many recruiters. “I learned it by watching you!”

Basically, it’s the Copper Rule, the original golden sheen of which was corroded by incivility: Be as rude to others as they are to you.  Continue reading

Equality Is a Lie

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 11.04.06 AM (1) (1) (1).pngDo you think that people of different races are born equal? What about people of different genders?

I’m asking this because we’ve been talking a lot about equality lately, especially in the wake of the Google fiasco — you know, where that engineer was fired for writing a manifesto about gender roles. He said that women are biologically less suited for tech roles, and as a result, some of Google’s gender diversity efforts are misguided.

Except, he’s misguided. But not for the reasons you might think.

To understand why he’s wrong, it’s important to ask a larger question: What do we mean when we talk about equality? What should we mean?

Separating Wrong From Reich

To find out, everybody, hop on the bus! We’re going to take a road trip, y’all! We’re heading to Charlottesville, where I’m going to say something that only a “fine person” from Charlottesville would say: Black people are biologically dumber than white people. The most classically racist line there is, right?  Continue reading

Part of the 2 Percent

artworks-000049373797-uapeq3-t500x500 (1) (1) (1).jpgI’m part of the 2 percent. I work for the tiny fraction of U.S. companies that offer unlimited paid time off (PTO). That’s right, I get to watch The Price Is Right live as much as I want! Or something like that.

Are you jealous? Don’t be. You’re probably taking more vacation than I am — because workers under traditional use-it-or-lose-it policies usually take off more time than we 2 percenters.

At every organization, regardless of PTO policy, people feel reluctant to take days off. One study showed that 41 percent of Americans don’t take any vacation days at all. At. All.

Is that you? Are you someone who thinks your company is overpaying you so you choose to reject part of your compensation? (That’s what PTO is, after all.) Or do you fear that work will build up? (Don’t worry. Your plate will be full no matter what you can’t accomplish today, tomorrow, and many tomorrows after.) Or maybe you think your department will collapse if you’re not there for a few weeks? (The whole company, probably. Maybe even the country. The planet.) Or do you simply agonize over the optics of potentially taking off too many days? (Whatever “too many” means.)

The last concern is especially relevant under an unlimited PTO plan. At my company, I’m told that, really, no really, no but for real, really, people may take PTO as they wish. That’s why, after starting my job this past June, I’ll be taking the next six months off.  Continue reading

What If That Google Guy Were a Woman?

quiet-29763_960_720 (1).pngAs if you haven’t read enough opinions about the fiasco that a Google software engineer sparked with his memo about diversity, I’m about to offer viewpoint #67,945 on the matter. Here goes:

It was not what the guy said that offended people. It was that he had the balls to say it. I mean that literally. It was because he was a man.

Before I explain what I mean, here’s a brief recap of what went down. Googler James Damore recently penned an internal memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” in which he posited biology’s role in explaining why women are underrepresented in tech.

“We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” Damore wrote, citing numerous stereotypes, assumptions, and opinions explaining that chicks don’t want jobs they aren’t inherently good at. (Just stick to nursing and teaching kindergarten, ladies.)

People got offended by what they perceived as sexist remarks. Not offended enough to vote for Damore for President of the United States, but just enough for Google to fire him. The company’s diversity chief, Danielle Brown, explained that Damore’s opinion is “not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”

Or even discusses, apparently.  Continue reading

The Lion, The Witch, and My Wardrobe

apple watchWhat’s the best part about being out of work?

When you’re no longer out of work. Obviously, getting hired was the highpoint of my recent job search. That aside, throughout my journey from unemployment to becoming Texas’ newest cowboy, I went through a range of experiences, some great, most mediocre, some far from great, and one that shocked me so much—and really, almost nothing surprises me since Nov. 8, 2016—that I can barely talk about it to this day.

Who am I kidding? I love talking about it! 

I love talking about a whole bunch of things that happened to me as I zigzagged through a process that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. (Who am I kidding? Of course I would!)

I could go on and on about the highs and the lows of my unemployment escapade, but instead, let me tell you about a couple of incidents at both extremes.  Continue reading

You Should Be So Lucky!

luck-152048_1280 (1) (1).pngNow this is the story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute. Just sit right there. I’ll tell you how I got a job, with a bit of flair.

But before I begin, I recognize that it’s been seven hours and fifteen days since I blogged last (sorry, couldn’t resist another song reference). I hate myself even more than usual for neglecting my tens of fans for so long, so I promise to try to inform, provoke, and entertain more regularly.

With that half-apology out of the way, you guys, omigod, I got a new job!

Of course, lots of people write about how they landed a new role to encourage job-seekers brag: “Look at me, everybody! My dreams came true! And yours will, too…if you do exactly as I did.”

All this Oprah-fied pseudo-inspirational babble rarely cites the most important skill to score a job—because it isn’t a skill at all. And since it isn’t an actual ability, then everything else this slew of swaggerers spews resembles nothing more than gloating for clicks.

So, what is this essential non-skill skill that you need to win a new job?  Continue reading

A Reneged Job Offer

handshake-2056023__340(1)I have a friend who’s looking for a job. For real, a friend. Not a “friend.” While I’m also currently searching for new work, this isn’t an after-school special in which we all know the real identity of the “friend.” But like the moral tales you sometimes watched when you got home from class, this story also offers a valuable lesson.

What I’m about to describe is every candidate’s worst nightmare. It’s something that lots of people wonder: Does this actually happen? It happens. Sometimes like this:

My friend Steve* (of course there’s an asterisk) was recently offered a job at America’s Most Disorganized Employer* (there it is again!). He was eager to accept it, except the offer letter lacked enough details. Beyond salary, it mentioned little else. Clearly, a red flag demonstrating a sloppy hiring process or total ignorance about what candidates value, or both.

So Steve did what every candidate should in such situations. He contacted the hiring manager for more information. That’s when he learned that America’s Most Disorganized Employer allows only 10 days for PTO, including sick days. But who cares. Is there free soda? A ping-pong table?

Nothing like companies offering stupid, meaningless perks to try to hide an unwillingness to recognize that people have lives outside the workplace, right? The best talent such firms can hope to lure are job-seekers desperate for work.

Steve was one of those people. He was planning to ultimately accept any offer, but again, he did what every candidate should. He negotiated for more money and more time off, to which the hiring manager replied, “There’s wiggle room.”

No there wasn’t.  Continue reading

Why You Don’t Deserve Recognition for Your Results

stars-303203__340(1)(1)(1)(1)Beware of people who say things like, “I’m the sort of person who likes to get things done.” They almost always make this remark when trying to impress an interviewer, colleague, or manager. The implication is that while all the losers around them are busy being losers, these are the stars of your organization. Often, though, they’re just jerks, or walking clichés at the very least.

The reality is that all of us like to accomplish things. That’s why I hate the term results-oriented to describe anyone.

Know what else I hate? Best practices. So you can imagine how I feel when I hear pundits, executives, and everyone else preach that a best practice for building a results-oriented workplace is to recognize employees who produce…results.

It’s a line that so many people repeat so many times that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact.

It’s actually an alternative fact, an opinion disfigured into a recommendation because it makes intuitive sense. If this seems intuitive to you, too, your intuition is fooling you.

Rewarded for Luck

A while back, I spoke to Michael Mauboussin, Credit Suisse’s head of global financial strategies and author of The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. He explained something that you probably already feel in your gut but might be too panicky, egotistical, or deluded to admit: Many of your achievements—the same ones that earn you praise (or punishment)—are largely beyond your control. Mauboussin explained:

There’s a continuum of things that are pure luck on one end and pure skill on the other. When your outcomes are truly a reflection of the work that you’re doing, a results-oriented evaluation is not unreasonable, like in manufacturing, which is very skills-oriented. But things like launching a successful R&D project are inherently probabilistic, with a lot of randomness and luck to them. There are profound influences that are hard to anticipate.

And get this: The higher you are on the ladder, the greater the role that luck plays in your work. You know what else grows with each rung? Compensation. All of which means that a four-leaf clover increasingly determines what you earn in cash and recognition as you move up a hierarchy. Continue reading

This Is Gay

Scan 6-2-2Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?

This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.

Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.

Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.

As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:

  • I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
  • I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
  • I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
  • I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
  • I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
  • I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
  • I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
  • I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
  • I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
  • I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
  • I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.

I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals.  Continue reading