The first real job I ever had was in college, marketing websites for a ticket broker. The owners of the company were in their mid-20’s. We worked out of their house. I remember seeing the owner’s wife walk in every morning to say goodbye to him, in her business casual attire. A quick kiss on the cheek and he was back to working the phones while wearing gym shorts and Disney slippers.
Music always played in the background. Lunch was ordered in and we’d joke around. I loved it.
It was a far cry from my experiences visiting professional offices as a kid. Suits and secretaries and “yes, sir” everywhere. This seemed better, and certainly more my style.
Of course, in 2015 it’s not so unconventional to hear stories of flexible work hours, work-from-home programs, the company ping-pong table, and employee wellness programs that stretch from the corporate world on down to your trendy local startup. Employees expect more from their company when it comes to work-life balance. You can half expect a job candidate to be as interested in the healthy snack situation in the break room or the community-service projects you’re involved in as a company, as they are in their salary.
Employee Perks Done the Right Way
The benefits of doing this the “right way” are legion. From the company’s perspective, happy employees work harder, longer, and treat their work with a respect for how it affects the business. Happy employees are also more loyal. Loyalty is an important beast to tame, because without it, you’re sunk. It’s too expensive to lose employees, or have them acting poorly because they don’t care about you or the business.
Angela Ahrendts said, “Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.”
So in a world where more is expected of employers, what can you do as an entrepreneur to effectively brand your company as a fun place to work? And engender loyalty?
Be authentic. Stay away from creating a bureaucracy inside your company. Communicate. Be human. Treat your employees like humans, and be willing to invest in your own brand of fun.
Meaning, if you’re based in San Diego and are near the beach, have a bonfire for everyone. Throw a company surf-a-thon. Take everyone to a craft brewery and pick up the tab. Laugh and talk, and forget about work for a while.
A Family Business with No Family at All
That probably sounds so basic and unimaginative that you’re wondering where the real advice is. Reality is that very few people or companies actually do simple things like I’ve just suggested. If it’s so easy, why doesn’t it happen more often?
It’s so rare that I can count on one hand the number of companies I know personally that do this well. One is Elevated Search, owned by my friend Danny DeMichele. Want a cool example of how authenticity can breed loyalty and reap everyone the benefits? Danny’s companies – there have been many in the years I’ve known him – have been acquired, merged, changed, moved, and re-birthed, but the same 20 or so people always consciously choose to work together again. It’s a family.
They don’t all make a million dollars a year. It’s not about money. They love to work together, and trust one another. It starts at the top with the owner. He hosts annual Christmas parties at his house, and opening day parties at the racetrack in Del Mar. Every year. I’ve been to these events and admired how much everyone raves about their business or Danny, as if there’s no other option in the world when it comes to their career.
The benefits of the social events carry over into the workplace. Employees don’t work there for the paycheck. They work there because they want to do well for the group, and be around people they like. It’s a ‘family business’ that has no relatives or cousins on the payroll.
It’s Simple, But Few Do It Consistently
Again, it’s a simple concept. Few remember to consistently keep up with it – who wants to plan a happy hour or a company golf day for the tenth time, when sales are light and customers are ringing the phones off the hook? You have to view the happy hour as part of the bigger picture that ensures those phones get answered, and those customers get serviced.
Some businesses go wrong by doing the fun stuff in fits and spurts, or by coming off as inauthentic. Simply, you can’t fake this stuff. No Hawaiian shirt day as part of a corporate decree. The entire company has to participate on equal footing. This includes the owner.
So slam a pizza slice, turn up the radio, or welcome everyone into your home for Christmas. Your employees will love you for it, and your profits will increase too.