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The Problem with the Cool Tech Office. – “Are you okay?”

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When your employees can barely feed themselves, they don’t want $140 liquor.

This is nice, but…could I make $2 an hour more instead? Photo by John Hernandez on Unsplash

I have worked at a couple of tech companies, and I’ve visited the headquarters of several as well…Kickstarter, Airbnb, Facebook, to name a few.

I was always a support person (low end of the totem pole). Support workers typically do not make the big, sexy salaries of developers. Think between $30,000-$45,000 a year.

And when I see companies like WeWork (who fired employees then served drinks) threatening their workers with a good time, I still can’t believe we haven’t learned a very basic principle.

WeWork company parties be like…

If you have employees who can barely survive, they won’t enjoy your “cool” office.

Free massage day? Free breakfasts? Free booze?

The mantra of the employees barely scraping by will be: Pay me pay me pay me.

They will resent these cool perks.

You might think free food is a great perk if your employees are starving, but it’s kind of…not. It’s infantalizing. It smacks of “You don’t know how to spend your own money on food. Here’s what we want you to eat.”

I once worked in an office where we received a $40 gift card to a popular supermarket once a month. The perk was removed and replaced with free food. And it decimated the budgets of the lower income employees…people like me who were actually relying on that $40/month for food.

And instead of getting to actually pick the food I wanted from the store, I had to bring a plastic container to work and hope I liked whatever they were serving that day.

Let’s pretend you’re the broke person in your circle of friends.

To keep appearances, your bestie agrees to pay your way.

That might be nice once, but if it became routine…wouldn’t you start to feel like a bit of a charity case?

Wouldn’t you stop going to those events?

That’s how work begins to feel.

Giving free alcohol to employees who can barely pay rent? Don’t be shocked when they develop alcoholic tendencies.

Why does this even need to be said?

I continue to be shocked at how many of these cool offices assume the spaces will create feelings of goodwill within their employees. And it could, maybe…if every employee could afford the things within the office on their own.

If you have to rely on your office for cereal, for hygiene products, for massages, and you cannot afford these things on your own…well, these perks stop being perks. They become a kind of emotional blackmail.

Keep coming to the office so you have food and tampons.

What a great incentive.

Cool tech offices first need to make sure all of their employees can thrive.

This includes support people! This includes Uber drivers! This includes all those people who are participating in the gig economy!

Yes, if your business relies on these people, they need a living wage before your office has a refrigerator full of beer. Wine on tap. Scooters. Etc.

It’s shocking that this needs to be said.

So before putting money into a cool office and telling all your employees to dance for you…I implore you instead to consider paying them more.

That’s what they actually want.

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