“Without going all Google,” I started saying, long before “workplace culture” was a household concept. The question was, how do you retain top talent without transforming your offices to an adult Disney World, and the answer was simple, really. As simple as: you look for cultural fits between you and your employees, beginning in the hiring process, and then you invest in salaries and empowerment rather than gimmicks. This has worked for some my top device and biotech clients.
Amazon, Apple, Google… these now-mega-co’s made workplace culture cool, made us think maybe there really was some benefit to an in-office pool table and roof-top bar. And I’m not going to tell you that these co’s didn’t pull a lot of young talent fast. But then something started to give. Like the onslaught of disgruntled individuals cited in the NYTimes article turned insta-corporate-image-problem for one of the executives, here. Or like this unnamed Apple retail worker in the UK who recently broke the company’s notoriously secretive contractual agreement to not speak to the press, here. As a disclaimer, these companies are phenomenal companies that have contributed to society – Our family uses the heck out of their offerings. I only point them out because they are well known.
Do you see what I see in these quick to go viral employee rants, leaking out of those companies best known for their workplace cultures? Because here is what I see:
1. I see a professional class of individuals they are overworked and underpaid. And they’re really (as in, really) mad about both.
2. I see zero references to pool tables and game rooms and vegan cafeteria options at the moments in which these employees jump ship.
3. More primal still: I see these employees jumping ship.
4. And then I hear executives desperately defending themselves with the assertion that workplace cultures will never fit everyone… along with the words, “for better or for worse, they are enduring” (2015 Letter to Shareholders).
In my head right now is a single thought and that thought is this: everyone who has ever written on capitalism, past, present, or future (and I don’t mean everyone who has written a bullet-pointed blog, but I mean everyone who has written with the intent to contribute to our understandings of how economy works), has written on the costs of labor. In summary, in 2016, you get what you pay for. And what must get said just after that is: we pay in salaries and opportunities. We do not pay in coolness of an office space. At least not when push comes to shove.
I am pretty sure some of these executives agree. And I already know their commitment to retail employees was never a commitment to retaining top talent. If you, in contrast, are looking to retain top talent, the only thing you need to do is pay for top talent and provide opportunity. Given that the market sets that price, you’ll need to keep an eye on your competitors, but in all other regards, you should find this state of affairs freeing. No, really.
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