The Price of Free Stuff

Perks Don’t Make Employees Feel Perky

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to say that there is only one thing more important than money : — “l’argent” (money in french). For me, this sentence demonstrates one of the key differences between our generations. For her, having migrated from Tunisia when she was 15 and building her life from scratch, money was indeed the most important thing in the world. For my generation, and specifically for the creative class and the techies — it seems that money is no longer a first priority in making our big career choices.

Living in the age of unicorns, Silicon Valley seems to be brimming with young, wealthy entrepreneurs. Bright, creative, and driven Millennials from all over the world flock to Silicon Valley to be part of the action. Some are looking for fame and fortune Zuckerburg-style but most are looking for much more than extreme monetary compensation. They are looking to build satisfying, exciting careers in world-changing companies.

However, recent predictions of the tech bubble bursting are making low and mid-level workers in tech firms nervous. Employees are starting to question the validity and necessity of burning through VC money on uber-cool office furniture and game consoles. They could be right.

Solvency over Free Hors D’oeuvres

Fear of joining a sinking ship (or one soon to sink) is changing the way high-tech employees are searching for jobs. Job applicants, instead of appreciating the in-house bar, are eyeing the liquor warily — questioning whether this could be a sign of cash-happy, cavalier management. “It’s not like I don’t appreciate the free beer. It’s just that when I evaluate a new job offer, I want to make sure the company is going to be around for the long run. Drinks I can buy on my own. Finding a job I like is more difficult,” explained one tech employee. Potential employees are looking for signs of more conservative spending habits and hints that should funding dry up, the company has the breathing room (and the leadership) to weather difficulties and reach its goals.

Can I Add Something New to My Resume?

Another shift among Silicon Valley employees is the preference for personal or professional development over monetary compensation or showy perks. Startups are going to fail. This inherent instability means employees are always preparing for their next job search. They want to leave their present job with something to write on their resume. Companies with a focus on employee development are making headlines and attracting top talent. After all, which will be more useful when you look for your next job– having eaten organic lunches or having developed your public speaking skills?

No one says no to free stuff, especially to gym memberships and healthy snacks. But employees aren’t stupid. They know these perks cost companies money and many employees would prefer for companies to invest in more useful things, such as courses, training and opportunities for employee development, over acupuncture treatments or free Kindles.

If the predications are true about a slowing in funding in Silicon Valley, companies are going to be strapped for cash and layoffs will entail. Employees are preparing themselves for this turn of events. They are asking for changes in employer spending, choosing employers that display fiscal responsibility and, most importantly, choosing jobs that make their resumes more attractive.