The Hustle, a weekly email newsletter for entrepreneurs, recently published an excellent post on why fancy perks like catered lunches, playground-offices and ridiculous benefits won’t make you happy with your job.
The article’s worth a read but in brief, staff perks and benefits are generally divided into two categories — basic shit and fancy shit. Basic shit are necessities — decent salary, CPF contributions and learning opportunities. Fancy shit are the stuff that people go WOW! about — celebrity-chefs, massages, laundry, or even personal trainers. Joining a company for fancy shit tends to lead towards mismanagement of expectations, and more importantly, joining an organisation for the wrong reasons.
As a startup, employee perks is a topic that is sub-consciously on our minds. Ever since we started building the team earlier this year, we had to strive for a balance between financial prudence and employee motivation. A startup does not always necessarily equals shitty pay, long hours and poor working conditions. But neither does it warrant for luxurious in-kind perks that we go out of the way to spend money for.
When considering how best to structure our employee perks, we’ve focus on two key qualities – resourcefulness (Do we really have to spend that money? Can we tap on existing resources / facilities / benefits?) and iteration (Is this what our employees really want? Are we implementing this just because others are doing it and we should follow to keep up with the pace?)
Why spend when we can leverage? Despite having multiple office options that offer us a more private, spacious setting, we chose to move into BASH, an open co-working space by Infocomm Investments (Blk 79, Ayer Rajah Crescent).
Discounted rental, access to the startup community and mentors are strong reasons that led to this decision, but importantly, this was an office that we were proud to have. An office we frequently invited our peers, partners, clients and mentors to share a cup of (free) barista-made coffee, cookies, brownies. And we have the ping-pong table, pool table and foosball table. Included in the rental.
While our space at BASH is temporary (and we are clearly outgrowing the space, in terms of seating space and noise level that is electrifying), our principle towards office rental, employee perks and building our company is to be as resourceful as possible. Minimise spending, maximise leverage.
Instead of dictating our employee perks policy and creating company-wide benefits that are forced onto our team, we offer a customised employee perks policy. No, we don’t have a 20-page guide documenting what employee perks we have, but what we have is an open-door policy. Want to attend that UI/UX design course? Sure! We’ll register for you (and claim government grants. Why not?) Want an extra screen to improve your coding-staging-production multi-tasking capacity? Let’s get one tomorrow!
Our employee perks are not fixed in stone, but we operate based on the simple principle — Spend money (or resources) like it’s yours. This is communicated ever since Day 1 during our on-boarding. If it brings you happiness and productivity that is a net win, why not?
Enjoying Perks Responsibly
One of the perks we introduced (as a result of iteration) was catering dinner. Our team works in vastly different timezones, with the sales/client success/marketing teams working typical hours (10am – 7pm) and the product team working the graveyard shift (4pm – 3/4/5/6am?). (But if you’re an engineer/designer who works normal hours, don’t worry. Half of our product team works normal hours too). Catering dinners was a decision we knew would be critical to the long-term happiness of our team. Outside the office in the evening isn’t terribly exciting with very limited food options.
We found a provider who offered us warm, tasty, healthy delivered meals in a bento box, and we cater for the team from Mondays to Thursdays daily.
However, our dinner’s do not come free to our team. Our dinner policy is simple: you co-pay $2 per dinner ordered, and if you order & not eat, you pay the full amount of the dinner.
We want to foster a culture of responsible enjoyment. The sense of ownership and that the dinner you see on the table is not free. Someone is paying for it (and in this case, it’s the company). $2 may not be a lot, but it is a commitment towards not wasting food and thinking before you order. And if you do waste food, you pay the full, unsubsidised price.
This has worked phenomenally for us. No longer do we have awkward moments when we realise we have not much dinner options other than PastaMania or a nearby bar. And it has brought much joy to the graveyard-shift who need not worry about food options or late-night work sessions.
Better yet, the co-payment does not go back to the company’s coffers. It goes to our Pleasure Pavilion fund, to re-stock healthy snacks. In short, you are paying for more food!
At the end of the day, we want work happiness to derive from basic shit, and the occasional fancy shit. If that’s a belief you subscribe to, check out what we are hiring for and come talk to us!
P.S. Some occasional fancy shit we get (free, of course):