Skip to main content
mia pearson

Sorry, but free M&M's just aren't going to cut it anymore.

Early in Google's heyday, much was made of the company's fun and loose corporate culture: the massage chairs, foosball tables and of course, cafeterias offering up free food with snack closets full of gratis goodies, including M&M's.

Such perks helped contribute to the search giant's bright and friendly corporate image and helped the company attract some of the best young talent coming out of universities.

Of course, it wasn't long before everyone started to follow Google's lead, trying to one up each other with lavish job perks designed to stand out from the competition.

But these days, free M&M's are table stakes. Offering a free snack closet isn't an example of an innovative company culture anymore, not when so many other workplaces can boast the exact same offerings.

What truly sets an organization apart isn't material, it's emotional.

People who work in a culture where they feel free to express affection, caring, and compassion for one another are more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance, according to Harvard Business Review.

Still, all too often managers place too great an emphasis on the superficial perks – things designed to give the appearance that employees are cared for – without the underlying emotion.

Love is not a word you hear in the office very often, but it has a strong influence on workplace outcomes.

In my 20-year career, here are a few key things I have learned about culture:

Ensure your employees feel valued. Maya Angelou once wrote that "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

To ensure meaningful connections with your team, a good manager needs to go the extra mile. One thing I do is commit 10 minutes of every day to call someone. This could be an employee, a contact, or anyone else who is important to me, to recognize them and let them know they are appreciated it. Reach out. You'll be surprised how far such a simple gesture will take you with your team.

Show up. All too often, executives aren't there for the smaller things taking place in an office. Every Tuesday, I'm doing pilates in the office with my team members. I make a point of showing up to small team celebrations. At our semi-regular Friday 'sips and nibs' sojourns. It's not enough to have an events team organize company events for the employees, or to simply fund the office party and make a courtesy appearance. Make the time to show your staff that you're part of the team, and don't believe you exist above it. What could be more important than investing time with your team?

Encourage work-life balance. Striking the perfect work-life balance isn't easy for any employee, but it helps when a healthy home life is encouraged and embodied in the culture. Long hours are unavoidable during busy times, but a work hard/play hard attitude prevents employees from burning out.

Many businesses do the opposite and look for ways to maximize on-site office time by providing amenities that encourage people to stay at work much longer than necessary. Between free gourmet meals, on-site child care, nap rooms and house cleaning, why would someone need to leave?

Indeed, at many companies, the idea is to make the transition from the dorm life of university to the perk-filled corporate world as seamless as possible for some young people, encouraging them to live to work, instead of working to live.

On the extreme end, Facebook and Apple both came under fire last year for offering female employees up to $20,000 in insurance coverage to freeze their eggs.

On the one hand, some saw this as employers encouraging female employees to delay starting families. Others saw it as a bold step forward for women taking control of their bodies and their corporate destiny.

Setting the example for a healthy work life balance can also be achieved through company-wide sports, exercise classes, or after work outings. Both the business and the employee benefit and it doesn't have to be fancy or outrageous in cost.

Creating an emotional and caring culture will lead to more wins and breakthrough moments for your team and ultimately make everyone happier to come to work every day.

To start the New Year off right, spend less time trying to woo your employees with free M&M's and more time learning how you can help them achieve their personal and professional goals.

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

Follow Report on Small Business on Pinterest and Instagram
Join our Small Business LinkedIn group
Add us to your circles
Sign up for our weekly newsletter