Free lunches, unlimited vacations, table football competitions or deciding your own salary are all stories about what other companies do to engage their employees. While these stories create a media buzz, copying another company’s engagement tactics is a waste of time and money. It’s not their perks, their office environment or even the “organised fun” that engages employees. It is their culture.

Google: it is not about the office space

It is tempting to think that the way to improve engagement is copy a company that has made the Best Places to Work list for many years. In my last blog I told the story of a company that copied Google’s office layout, how they got it fundamentally wrong and created envy not engagement. The perks get the media attention but Google insiders believe it is their culture, not the perks, that engage their people. A recent talk by Daniela Landherr, EMEA Technical Recruitment Manager, told how three things make Google’s culture attractive:

  1. working on extraordinary projects that have a global impact
  2. transparency and
  3. voice.

And this culture has taken years to build up and can not be copied by redecorating the office. As Google expanded globally, it worked hard to ensure the Google culture was taken to overseas offices by building teams with right mix of veterans and rookies.  To quote Google’s VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock it is not  easy to replicate Google’s ways as it is deeply rooted in their culture

“I don’t think it would make sense for just about any other company to try and replicate what Google does, because so much of how you manage people is [Google]-specific,”

Lesson 1: Don’t copy the free lunches and office layout. Instead consider how you can build your culture around your company values.  Are you offering a place where people see the impact from their work, they have a voice and there is transparency?

Netflix: Freedom and responsibility not vacations

Netflix’s “unlimited vacation policy” hit the headlines and was quickly copied by Virgin and Linkedin. But this is only one part of Netflix’s culture as a 124 page presentation about their culture explains. One of the seven aspects of Netflix’s culture is Freedom and Responsibility. Netflix developed a culture where they expect people to act responsibly and perform to a high standard without rules. They don’t care how many hours a person works and when they are in the office, only if they accomplish great work. To quote Chief Talent Officer, Patty McCord

“Netflix Vacation Policy and Tracking: there is no policy or tracking. There is also no clothing policy at Netflix but no one comes to work naked.”

Lesson 1 again:  Forget the unlimited vacation and focus on if you have a culture where you treat your people as responsible adults and give them freedom to perform well.

And there is more…..

The examples go on. Take Evernote’s CEO Phil Libin who makes barista coffee for his employees, Semco’s decide your own salary policy or Umantics where you can vote for your boss. But behind each of these stories you find it’s their culture that is important, not the policies.  Coffee time with the CEO only works if employees believe they can openly voice their opinions without fear of reprisal. Semco’s decide your own salary only works in a culture of organisational democracy.

So if you don’t copy other companies perks and policies, then what do you do to improve engagement? Take a look at how your people really feel about your company’s culture. Start with listening to what they have to say and the stories they tell. Then together you can act to make work and the workplace more engaging.