Everyone was surprised when they first heard that Google employees are given free meals and haircuts. They were even more surprised when they learned that, in between coding sessions, employees could play a game of foosball or go for a massage.
For the caveman MBA, trained in the classical theories of margin optimization, there is nothing more vexing than moving beyond the zero-sum and into the complex calculations that underpin employee motivation.
Companies with fat margins are usually the first to reinvent business practices, and the rest are dragged along with them. It was Apple that taught us retail success could be achieved without sales commissions, and it’s the boutique consultancies that are letting their employees nap at work. High-margin businesses are like the labs where conventional business wisdom is tested. If a new idea seems to work, competitors soon follow and – over time – so do the majority of the market.
Look at a tech job advert today and it’s like Roald Dahl wrote the job descriptions. Instead of Oompa Loompas, you have hairdressers and chefs. TechCrunch Cribs shows us that today’s tech workers take the slide instead of the elevator, scooter to their next meeting and hang out in the office bar. Beer kegs are almost mandatory, and no office is complete without video games and ping pong tables.
Some ideas are so good that others can’t help copying them. And much like the way companies have copied Google, you can’t help but imagine that companies will soon be copying some of the techniques that have led to Stanton Optical’s Success. Each year the company rewards top performers by giving them their own line of eyewear, and the winner in 2011 named her line of glasses after her daughter.
When employees are treated well, and success is rewarded, the culture of an organization can quickly start to change. It may take time, but the results can be startling when they come. The trick is not to abandon the old-school methods of managing the costs of employees, but to think about the value of motivational tools in a more nuanced way.
Recognizing the success of your employees through a reward system comes at almost zero cost, but – managed correctly – it could have untold effects on productivity and results. When you give your employees free meals, it may seem expensive, but it could mean that your employees are healthier, that they work more hours, or that they are less likely to switch jobs, which could save you tens of thousands in recruitment costs.
If your managers believe you have a zero-sum relationship with employees, and their minds fritz out at the thought of giving employees anything for free, it’s time they were schooled in methods of modern employee motivation.