Co-founder and CEO of CrowdRiff
I still remember how it felt to issue our first paycheques.
I remember the immense feeling of responsibility, knowing that this money would go toward things like food, rent, and family. I remember the gratitude I felt for the people who spent the best hours of their day working to fulfill this vision we had. When it came to taking care of people, my co-founder and I knew we wanted to go beyond the typical work experience and honour the team that was committing so much to us.
Today, the idea of the millennial-friendly workplace has become synonymous with free lunches, ping pong and unlimited vacation. As a startup founder, there's a lot of pressure to provide those same flashy perks as other tech companies – especially when you're competing for the same talent pool. Toronto is in the midst of a technology boom, and hiring for certain positions, such as engineers and designers, can be cutthroat. Sometimes it kept me up at night. I didn't believe, as a millennial myself, that this was really what people wanted from a workplace.
I decided to stop mulling it over and start listening. The more conversations I had, the clearer the patterns became. Millennials are now in their 30s, and when they were unhappy with their jobs, the main causes of discomfort were never lack of perks. Instead it had to do with the more human side of things: not having enough time for loved ones, or confusion about how their work would support family leave. Employers were offering employees things like a state of the art virtual reality arcade, but had zero support for new parents beyond the Ontario minimum leave.
The truth is, the flashiest benefits aren't necessarily the ones that will make employees the most fulfilled. They simply don't address the important problems people face when juggling work and life. And so we made the decision to forego many of the typical perks millennial-heavy offices are associated with and instead invest that money in the benefits that extend beyond the workplace. It comes down to fundamentals, rather than foosball tables.
To start, I knew we had to to design a parental leave plan that was not only generous, but also clear and easy to understand. Our reason was simple: New parents are already having to figure out a million new things at once – a complex, parental leave plan (or having none at all) shouldn't have to be one of them. In the end, we settled on offering six months of leave top-up for any new parent. Startups might be taken aback by the expense, but we felt it was more important than parties or an in-house chef.
We don't shun team lunches entirely; once a week, we bring the team together for a "Salad Club". The company provides only salad leaves, but everyone brings in an item or two to share and add. What's great about this is that the food served at Salad Club is representative of the many different tastes and backgrounds of the people in our company and often sparks new conversations and experiences. When you order in, that collaboration simply doesn't happen.
In my view, many startups have been getting the formula flipped. Fun perks aren't a bad idea, but they shouldn't be the first priority or focus. The perks-first approach so many millennial-heavy companies default to and idolize only provide short-lived solutions to complex people and lifestyles.
Whether we're bonding over our shared and diverse stories, celebrating milestones in our personal life or launching a new product, the role of a leader is to support their team's journey. Millennials are growing up and looking for meaning, connection and support for the next stage of their lives. An arcade just won't cut it.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the continuing Leadership Lab series.