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Opinion Editorials

How employee perks give competitive companies a serious edge

(BUSINESS) Breakneck speeds of innovation are now the norm in business, and the most competitive are offering employee perks in the name of progress.

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The nature of business is simple when you boil it down: get the edge and monetize it. To keep the doors open, companies either have to do one thing extraordinarily well that transcends trends or innovation, or they must continually progress and change the rules of their platform with each release.

Case in point, there’s little to improve on when it comes to a Chicago hot dog or a New York slice; these culinary feats will forever be favored because they’re ingrained into the culture as a staple. A pair of Levi’s jeans or Vans sneakers don’t need to innovate, the classic appeal of the brand sells itself.

Technology is a different animal. Innovation is everything.

People wanted a new app or SaaS (Software as a Service) tool yesterday, and they want to hit a button on their phone to get it. We want new apps to automate mindless tasks, and we’re always looking for a way to cut paperwork when it applies to everyday life. We want to pay bills with a click or know who’s ringing the doorbell via the camera attached to our network. We love Nest because it controls our house and who doesn’t love a Spotify playlist connected to a wireless speaker out by the pool?

Companies bending over backwards to create faster and with more of a wallop allowed for these breakthroughs.

Because anything technology-related is crushing financially-speaking, there’s a constant hunger for talent. And talented developers, marketers, SEO junkies, office managers, all use the hyper-competitive talent market to their advantage. If a new job pops up that pays more with better benefits, people will bounce without so much as more than two-week notice and a “sorry, not sorry” letter of resignation.

The company loyalty of the past is long, long gone.

Companies like Twitter or Google throw the kitchen sink at their teams to keep them happy and offer everything from education stipends for their kids, dollar for dollar 401(k) matching, improv classes, catered gourmet meals, and even monthly mani-pedis. These things seem crazy, but they’re small measures to make sure the best talent doesn’t walk for a huge reason – they need the best minds to keep pushing the brand to new heights.

Make no mistake; if a SaaS tool is dominating the market, there’s one right behind it, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. Because of the dog eat dog landscape, retention is critical. If the best members of a team move on after a year or two, pushing the brand forward becomes harder and harder because there’s a rotating door. Teams have to find ways to keep their staff engaged not only through work that matters and a thriving culture, but the perks offered need to be sticky and make it hard for employees to walk away from.

One of the more revolutionary retention methods of the last few years has been student loan debt repayment, and as a result, teams are staying together, longer.

The probability market for student loan repayments is massive.

Nearly 70% of new grads walk off the stage with at least 25K owed to private and federal institutions and the debt clock is ticking upwards toward $1.4 Trillion, with a T.

Because student loans are a soft target, it’s an easy win. Often touted as the new 401(k) for millennials, many companies are offering to match dollar for dollar with their teams or just make a monthly contribution on their employee’s behalf. For the companies, this move is killer because of simple math: the average student loan bill is low thanks to all of those deferments, loan interest rates, etc.

In some cases, the loan amount could be as low as a $200 monthly contribution, which is easy for an enterprise-level businesses pocketbook. The employee’s student loan is out of sight, out of mind, and often with a few bucks extra, moving the debt needle faster. The best part: the employee feels like the company has a vested stake their well-being and future growth.

One of the easiest wins for a company is how they view time spent in the office. Because wifi is everywhere and checking email on an iPhone is only a swipe away, more and more companies allow for staff to work remote. Life happens and some days, sitting at the desk is a real wrench in the gears if the dog needs to go to the vet or the AC goes out in mid-July.

A change of scenery helps, and for many people (and let’s be honest), banging out six hours of good work is a more realistic output than drifting through eight hours of “sort of” productivity. Fully 53 percent of workers want free time over a raise.

Companies with a liberal work from home policy lead the charge in perks employees want. Same goes for generous vacation time policies. Even if the average employee doesn’t come close to using their allowance, the central thread that matters is the freedom of knowing they can.

Another way to put a lid on employee churn? Companies are taking a real swing at healthcare.

Because affordable medical care isn’t always available, many companies are covering significant portions of what’s taken out of an employee’s check. Some ultra-progressive businesses like Google or Atlassian even offer 100% covered healthcare for their American workforce. While universal healthcare would make sense, many companies are picking up the slack and are keeping their employees healthy.

Employees, especially millennials, see these moves toward a workplace with a work/life balance, but also as a place that cares about their wellbeing. Gone are the days of death by a thousand papercuts during the workweek. Today’s workforce knows what they’re after and it’s up to companies to decide if they’re willing to play ball to make that work.

Progress is everything in business and if companies are looking to continue to lead trends or upend the status quo, they can’t have their brightest and best looking toward the horizon wondering what else is out there. Perks most definitely matter.

Robert Dean is a writer at Adia and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Tina

    February 26, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Great article! Human Resource Departments need to look at hiring creative “employee happiness coordinators” who aren’t corporate ingrains, who can feel the pulse of the workers. As a small start-up, I wish we had the funds to pay our employee’s student loan debt. Instead, we try to do what we can, like stock their favorite K-cups (so they don’t stop to buy coffee every morning) and I purchase lunch fixings each week so they don’t spend their money on fast food. I would love to hear from other small business/start-up business owners on what small perks they are offering their employees!

  2. Colin

    March 1, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Great article! You are definitely correct in saying that the company loyalty of the past is dead. I agree with the comment up above that HR departments need to look into hiring employee happiness coordinators who can feel the pulse of the workers. Often HR is out of tune with what employees really want for their work perks, and hiring somebody who can focus on that is a great idea.

    I think one idea that can help give companies the edge is in their reward and recognition program. It may seem small, but the way you reward employees can have a huge impact on retaining and attracting the best talent for the company. Companies like Bucketlist are breaking through to give employees experiential rewards instead of gift cards, and something as small as that can have a huge impact on company culture and attracting the right talent.

  3. Jeddie Busch

    March 3, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Employee perks are great but they often change early on especially for start ups. I would recommend only adding in a poerk if you were confident it would be in place for at least a year. Nothing worse than having something “cool” go bye bye.

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Opinion Editorials

Reality check: WeWork can make mistakes, lose billions – you can’t

(EDITORIAL) WeWork can afford (but shouldn’t be able) to literally burn money, but unfortunately you don’t so here is how keep that from happening

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Michelle Obama, toned-arm goddess that she is, gave me perspective on more than a desperate need to lift when she said about the mega-wealthy: “They are not that smart.”

American meritocracy is BS, and we all know it (I hope), but on some sad level, us 99% tend to think ‘Well, this person’s bank statement looks like a phone number with a personal extension on it, so they MUST know something I don’t.’

Well, no, not necessarily.

What the disastrous decisions WeWork made should tell you is that when you’re extra rich, you get to make extra mistakes.

For all the hand-wringing billionaires pay (or don’t) their subordinates to do for them about losing hundreds of billions to taxes, the fact remains they’ll still be left with more money than could be spent in any one person’s lifetime, plus the interest that just leaving that money in the bank nets them.

Now, wherever you fall politically doesn’t much matter here, this article isn’t meant to change anyone’s mind. What we should all be aware of though is that the cushion the rich getting richer have means something crucial to your business.

It means you cannot afford to look at the likes of WeWork guy and say ‘Well, hey, he was fine, so I’ll be fine!’

If you’re still in the rags portion of a rags to riches story, honey, you 100% will NOT be okay making the mistakes this guy does. And honestly, until you’ve got at least Oprah money, you won’t be.

So here are some pointers for starting entrepreneurs with moneyed faces on their vision boards.

1: Be aware of your starting point.

Are you working out of a garage? Is that garage the one in the guest house of your parents’ fifth home? Then you’re fine. Go forth and do dumb things, just do your best not to hurt anyone working under you who can’t see you’re going full King Lear on your business. Send them an Edible Arrangement garnished with a few hundred thousand dollars when your disaster chickens come home to roost.

Is that garage out of a house your friends rent, and also you rent it, and also you’re sleeping there? Then ‘Neumanning’ and letting the chips fall where they may is not the strategy for you. Every move you make requires cost analysis, time analysis, ‘Check yourself, sis’ (applicable to all genders), and the humanity that comes with knowing anyone you burn is 100% on your level, and can 100% put those flames back on your ass later on.

2: Keep in mind how much bigger a billion is than a million.

Billion, million, they sound the same, they have zeros, so… they’re basically the same thing, right? No, obviously.

A billion is a thousand million. Another way to put this is 1 million seconds is 11 days, 1 billion seconds is 31 years

Does Beyonce Knowles-Carter have more money than you? She’s worth 400 million, so probably. Oprah Winfrey is worth 6.75 Beyonces at 2.7 billion. At 1 billion, Adam Neumann is worth a little over two Beyonces.

If you don’t even have the assets of a half Beyonce, then you’re not playing on the same platinum court as WeWork, my friend. You’re not backed by a wealthy Japanese financier who is backed by a Saudi Arabian prince.

You cannot afford to make the same mistakes. Put a glaring picture of your mom / my mom / Mr. Terry Crews on your business credit card to help you remember that the mural in your rented office is less important than trademark fees, and calm down.

3: Sip up on that Perspective-Ade.

Or, put another way, just read the first two points here again. This isn’t kid’s stuff, and survivorship bias is beyond real. ‘They don’t write stories about the ones who played it safe,’ is a technical truism I hear from people who think they’re Evel Knievel for putting a mini-mini-golf course in a real estate parking lot.

No arguments from this corner on that, but I have an addendum to it… when was the last time you heard about someone taking a giant risk, losing it all, having to go back to retail, and crying every night?

It’s not just an MLM thing, people.

Analyze yourself, you assets, your ass coverage (insurance, colleagues’ goodwill, your pants) – you are not WeWork, so make like Simba, and remember who you are and what you actually have to work with.

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Opinion Editorials

‘OK, Boomer’ can get you fired, but millennial jokes can’t?

(EDITORIAL) The law says age-based clapbacks are illegal when aimed at some groups but not others. Pfft. Okay, Boomer.

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A brand new meme is out and about, and it’s looking like it’ll have the staying power of ‘Fleek’ and ‘Yeet!’

Yessiree, ‘Okay, Boomer’ as related to exiting a go-nowhere conversation with out-of-pocket elders has legitimate sticky potential, but not everyone is as elated as I am. Yes, the Boomer generation themselves (and the pick-me’s in my age group who must have a CRAZY good Werther’s Original hookup), are pushing back against the latest mult-iuse hashtag, which was to be expected.

The same people happy to lump anyone born after 1975 in with kids born in 2005 as lazy, tech-obsessed, and entitled, were awfully quick to yell ‘SLUR’ at the latest turn of phrase, and I was happy to laugh at it.

But it turns out federal law is on their side when it comes to the workplace.

Because “Boomer” applies to folks now in their mid 50’s and up, workplace discrimination laws based on age can allow anyone feeling slighted by being referred to as such to retaliate with serious consequences.

However for “You millenials…” no such protections exist. Age-based discrimination laws protect people over 40, not the other way around. That means all the ‘Whatever, kid’s a fresh 23 year old graduate hire’ can expect from an office of folks in their 40s doesn’t carry any legal weight at the federal level.

And what’s really got my eyes rolling is the fact that the law here is so easy to skirt!

You’ve heard the sentiment behind #okayboomer before.

It’s the same one in: ‘Alright, sweetheart’ or ‘Okay hun’ or ‘Bless your heart.’

You could get across the same point by subbing in literally anything.

‘Okay, Boomer’ is now “Okay, Cheryl” or “Okay, khakis” or “Okay, Dad.”

You can’t do that with the n word, the g word (either of them), the c word (any of them) and so on through the alphabet of horrible things you’re absolutely not to call people—despite the aunt you no longer speak to saying there’s a 1:1 comparison to be made.

Look, I’m not blind to age based discrimination. It absolutely can be a problem on your team. Just because there aren’t a bunch of 30-somethings bullying a 65 year old in your immediate sphere doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere, or that you can afford to discount it if that somewhere is right under your nose.

But dangit, if it’s between pulling out a powerpoint to showcase how ‘pounding the pavement’ isn’t how you find digital jobs in large cities, dumping stacks of books showing how inflation, wages, and rents didn’t all rise at the same rate, or defending not wanting or needing the latest Dr. Oz detox… don’t blame anyone for pulling a “classic lazy snowflake” move, dropping two words, and seeing their way out of being dumped on.

Short solution here is – don’t hire jerks, and it won’t be an issue. Longer term solution is… just wait until we’re your age.

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Opinion Editorials

Uber CEO regrets saying that murder is part of business

(EDITORIAL) Uber CEO calls murder a mistake. Should society support a business that seems to think death is just part of the cost of doing business?

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On February 21, 2016, I woke up early to notifications about a shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An Uber driver shot multiple individuals. Although I live in Oklahoma, the Facebook algorithms correctly deduced that this incident would be of interest to me. I have family and friends in Michigan, some in the Battle Creek area, just miles east of Kalamazoo. Later that morning, I learned that one of my friends had been killed in the incident.

Uber was criticized for the incident. Lawmakers across the country called for tougher background checks on Uber drivers. It was a PR nightmare for the company. Ultimately, it was the driver who was charged. Earlier this year, the driver pled guilty to all counts against him and was sentenced to life in prison. Uber continued operating, although then-Governor Rick Snyder did sign legislation that increased regulations for the ride-sharing industry.

I say this out of disclosure. This Uber tragedy affected me in a way that may cloud my opinion. I believe that Uber should be regulated more than it is. But recent events have made me question why society supports Uber and what I believe is a toxic culture.

How does Uber keep managing their corporate profile?

Uber seems to weather their PR crises fairly well. They’ve been criticized for inadequate background checks. Sexual harassment allegations at corporate headquarters shook up the management team. Uber has suffered data breaches. In 2018, the organization settled with the FTC for $148 million. Still, the company enjoys a market share of transportation services.

In 2018, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia took over at Uber as its new CEO, replacing the CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. It was reported that Kalanick “led the company astray” from its moral center. Khosrowshahi said at the time, “In the end, the CEO of the company has to take responsibility.”

Just days ago, during an interview, Khosrowshahi said that “the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘mistake.’” It was a political murder. Khosrowshahi compared the assassination to a self-driving accident with an Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian. It didn’t take long for Khosrowshahi to issue a retraction, saying that he “said something in the moment (he doesn’t) believe.”

Is Uber’s culture toxic?

Khosrowshahi says that his comment shouldn’t mark him as a person. He thinks that what he said was a “learning moment.” When a CEO misspeaks in an interview that isn’t just local, but international, maybe we should pay attention. According to him, murder isn’t a big deal. I wonder if he would say that if it was his father who died, or his friend who was killed by a driver.

When my friend died in the Kalamazoo shooting, I had to seriously think about how I viewed Uber. My friend wasn’t even using Uber at the time. She was getting into her own car at a local restaurant with some friends of hers. I recognize that Uber wasn’t responsible for the driver going on a shooting spree, but I have to wonder if it was Uber’s culture that led to a lack of response at the time.

Uber’s new CEO seems removed from how its services affect individuals and communities as its previous CEO did. When a company thinks that murder is a “mistake,” maybe it’s time to rethink about supporting a service that doesn’t seem to think about people, its employees, its drivers and its riders.

It may be more convenient than a cab, but it’s time to look at Uber’s real impact on society. I hear Uber saying that innocent deaths are just the cost of business. Is that the basis for a billion-dollar corporation?

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