Distracting Yourself From Workplace Benefits

On Weighing Benefits From Distractions

In you read anything at all about the modern tech workplaces, you’ll likely be presented with vague, promising descriptions about companies that are creating “the next big thing”. Office perks are sort of a secondary currency in the modern workplace. The thought process behind such an investment in benefits is rooted in: “Happy developers build better products”

I’m not here to argue against the findings of such a study as much as I’m looking to examine how people interpret it. What actually is a benefit? Can we attach a monetary value to it? Furthermore, what determines how effective a benefit is?

Some employers seem to be in and out of phase as to what good benefits might be. Today, I want to share two different stories about employers trying to understand benefits.

Out of Phase. Video Games.

My first internship was with a small company that wrote customized desktop software. The company’s flagship product was built using a combo of VB-Script and other .NET components and ran on Windows XP.

The product was a really, great and long-lasting money source for the company. However, its age was really starting to show. To make matters worse, Microsoft announced their intentions of sunset Windows XP in the near future.

Suddenly, we were faced with some pretty huge problems:

  • Update our product to properly run on Windows 7
  • Migrate all of our clients (and their data) over to Windows 7
  • Pull it all off before Microsoft sunsets Windows XP.
  • Handle support and customer service requests from our current, aging application.

Though we were armed with a wonderful team of engineers, we had an overwhelming amount of work to do. The effects of this newfound workload began to kick in pretty quickly. Many engineers began to work longer hours and with stress increasingly daily.

Pretty soon, the company culture took a downturn. In a time where motivation is key, our engineering staff desperately needed some form of relief. As it turns out, upper management had an idea for a solution: a video game console.

The idea of buying a video game console for a engineering team drowning in important tasks seems out of touch. Instead of taking action to help relieve their workload, management decided to offer a distraction from work instead of something to actually help them finish the work.

The console’s impact was as expected: During my year and a half at the company, I saw the console used twice.

In Phase. Champion The Creators.

I didn’t realize it when I started, but getting a job working for IZEA turned out to be a pretty sweet gig. My first day on the job, I was told to mark my calendars a month from now.

“We’re all going on a company cruise roughly a month from now, make sure you’ve got an updated passport.”

Those were words I didn’t quite expect.

Sure, its easy to come into a job and have the employer declare: “Look! We have all the things you like and want! Aren’t we great? Now, do this awful work.” Yet, I think the best part of IZEA is that they sold me on the job contents before they introduced me to the benefits of working for them.

In essence, I came into the company expecting simple and basic benefits. I would have still continued on my way without a blink if I wasn’t told about the cruise. They weren’t purposely hiding this information from me either. Some of the benefits and perks were mentioned to me over the phone. However, they just seemed like the normal healthcare, fun time, and nice people pitch.

Some days I come into the office with a boat load of work awaiting me. Many weeks can be frustrating and downright demotivating. Yet, I’ve found that the incentives offered to me at IZEA don’t distract me from the work I do. Instead, the benefits really motivate me to take the day head on. They act a whole lot like an afternoon cup of coffee on a rainy day: Sure, I can survive without it, but it can help change my perspective of my day.

Though I can’t scientifically prove it, I think the reason that IZEA is so effective at treating me well is because they ask me what I think. While I’m never going to be a fan of everything they treat me too, they do at least ask me wether or not I use certain benefits. Their process is usually as follows:

  • Add a new benefit
  • See how people respond
  • Iterate or modify as needed
  • After a few iterations, replace benefit or keep it.

While this seems quite simple, it can take awhile to effectively build the right benefits for our staff. What is prominently shown is some sort of process. Every benefit I’m offered isn’t some wild guess. Most decisions have some sort of data or demand behind them. This is most likely why they’re able to create such a good culture. IZEA doesn’t only champion the creators, they champion the workers as well.

Stabilized

There’s no secret formula to discovering how effective a benefit might be. Neither is there a way to tell that a benefit will immediately become a distraction. The result of offering some kind of incentive to your employee’s is rooted in what means the most to them. Do a lot of your employee’s have families? Maybe consider offering more family-oriented healthcare plans. Or what about a 4-day summer work week?

Effective benefit packages can be a lot like speaking to a crowd. A truly effective speaker is going to know his or her audience. While you won’t be able to please everyone, an effective speaker will tailor the main points of their content to better relate to those hearing it.

In my experience, out-of-touch management tend to implement out-of-phase benefit packages. It doesn’t mean that they’re stupid, but it does mean that they might want to consider getting to know their employee base more. You’ll be surprised by how far a few conversations go.