It’s a great time to be looking for a job. Earlier this year, the unemployment rate in the U.S. fell to its lowest level in the last 49 years. With top talent hard to find, companies across the board are highlighting some unusual perks to attract job candidates, from In-N-Out’s offer of free burgers to companies promising free flying lessons and access to in-office barbershops.
Now, perks like these are definitely nice. But here’s the thing. I think job seekers are smart. They know that none of this compensates for a position that’s not engaging or for a culture that’s not healthy and supportive. Those are the real underpinnings of job satisfaction.
In building a company of 1,000 people with more than a dozen offices around the world, I’ve found this to be a fundamental truth. Without a solid foundation — where employees are valued and rewarded — no company is going to win the talent war.
However, all else being equal, I’ve also seen how the seemingly small stuff can go a long way in attracting and retaining incredible people. With that in mind, here are a few overlooked, surprisingly simple perks that we’ve found can really move the needle.
The company that sweats together, stays together
These days, lots of companies talk a good game about employee wellness and the upsides of keeping teams healthy and active. But it’s not just about offering access to a fitness center or having a gym in the basement no one uses. It’s about creating a culture where employees are actually allowed and encouraged to incorporate fitness into the job. In my experience, it’s this “right to sweat” — to show up at work in skin-hugging bike gear after a 20k commute, to pop into the office kitchen winded and sweaty after a noon crossfit class, to sneak out to the rooftop for mid-day circuit training — that our team loves.
We’ve worked hard from the beginning to normalize fitness before, after and during the workday. In the beginning, that meant bike rides at lunch and yoga balls in place of chairs. These days, our in-office gym is used at all hours by employees taking advantage of downtime. We bring in a yoga teacher for lunchtime classes and have offered everything from boot camps to kickboxing. Showers and locker rooms ease the transition from workout to workday. But my real point is that, far more than fancy facilities, what employees really crave is the social license to exercise on the job.
Test-drive your next job … on the job
Learning, personal development and experimentation are critical for job satisfaction among Millennials and Gen Z. (65 percent of Millennials cite personal development as the most important job criteria.). Indeed, a recent Gallup survey showed that the primary reason people leave their jobs isn’t a bad boss or subpar pay; instead, it’s role stagnation and the lack of career advancement opportunities. In a tight labor market, this goes double: employees who are bored or who don’t feel fully challenged in their current role don’t stick around.
We recognized this early on as a company. And because competition for talent in the technology industry is so intense, we realized we had to do something about it. Inspired by Google, we decided to give employees the opportunity to test drive brand new roles, within our organization. Our “stretch program” allows top performers to spend 20 percent of their time (or around one day a week) working on an entirely different project with a different team. For instance, we recently had a customer advocacy specialist stretch over to the corporate development team. After 90 days, everyone involved evaluates the results and decides next steps. Some employees join new teams; others return to their original department with brand new skills and perspective.
Who let the dogs in?
They said it couldn’t be done. When Hootsuite was just starting, we made the decision to make it a dog-friendly office. There were plenty of naysayers at first. (“What about allergies? What about barking? What about “accidents”?) Ten years on, our main offices in Vancouver have dozens of honorary four-legged employees, from a Great Dane to a French bulldog and everything in-between, who come in each day with their owners.
We have clear policies in place: dogs must all be approved and have to be well socialized. Yes, there might be a bark or two that cuts through the usual office clatter, but on the whole the dogs bring an exceptional calm and cheer to the office. Not only do we attract and retain lots of loyal dog owners, but everyone gets to enjoy the unique inter-species dynamic. (Yes, even the cat people.)
Fruit (yup, fruit)
We’ve all heard about the deluxe, all-you-can-eat-and-drink spreads that employees at companies like Google and Facebook get. Don’t get me wrong: this is awesome and probably entices many a new hire … but it’s not exactly in reach for every company. But you know what is? Fruit. For years now, we’ve had organic fruit delivered daily to our offices. (On-demand produce delivery services like SPUD make this easy.) The truck rolls up; out comes a delivery person with crates of fresh apples, oranges and bananas, as well as whatever else happens to be in season, from pears to plums.
Nothing revolutionary (or budget-busting) here, but I think the benefits of fresh fruit operate in a few ways. There’s something deeply sensory about fruit that works to energize an office — much more so than a vending machine that spits out colas and candy or a fridge filled with beer and energy drinks. Not to mention, munching on healthy snacks can make for healthier and happier employees in the long run, with fewer 2 p.m. sugar crashes.
Show and tell, 2.0
To lots of employers, the work relationship is transactional. Give me your expertise, I’ll give you money … and we’ll call it even. It doesn’t take a genius, however, to see that this kind of thinking is seriously short-sighted — especially in a record-tight labor market where the best people are seeking much more than just a paycheck. In my experience, the more employees are acknowledged as people with passions and interests that transcend the workplace, the more valued they feel and the longer they stick around.
This can take lots of forms, from sponsoring employee-led volunteer initiatives to family-friendly work events. But one unexpectedly powerful way we’ve discovered to bridge the personal-professional gulf is the old-fashioned “lightning talk.” Once a month or so, after work on Friday, employees are invited on stage to share their passions with the rest of the company. While colleagues unwind and socialize, speakers give five-minute, TED-style talks on anything and everything, from trail-building and socially conscious hip hop to the quest to bake the perfect sourdough loaf.
Topics have little, or nothing, to do with our work as a tech company, and that’s exactly the point. It’s a chance to mingle the personal and the professional. And it’s at this intersection where real loyalty and real bonds are ultimately built.
To be clear, none of these benefits is especially profound or costly to implement. They are by and large old-school and pretty low-tech. But, coupled with the right culture and company mission, they can help attract, retain and motivate an exceptional team. I’ve seen it happen again and again.