by Monique de Maio

If you’re running a small business, you need talent just as badly as the big guys do—but you don’t need thousands of dollars in operating costs. You don’t have a dedicated HR team to handle payroll and benefits packages; you don’t have an aggressively air-conditioned office in a high rise; you might not even have a water cooler to stand around. So how do you get the smartest people in the room to jump on board with you and help you grow? I would like to address how companies of any size can attract talent like the big guys.

The conclusion that I see some startups coming to is to reject ‘corporate culture’ and offer benefits and perks that sound fun and sexy to the kinds of people they think they want to hire. (Tech startups are the worst offenders, with entrepreneurs thinking they need to recreate Cupertino and the San Francisco tech scene in the suburbs of New York and Philly.) I’ve seen job postings advertising ‘an office dog’ and ‘a break room kegerator!’ (I wish I was joking about that one.)

I see lists of benefits and perks that seem designed to attract the kinds of people in Apple’s lifestyle advertising. Walking meetings, free kale and yoga classes, discounts on electric scooters and tablets, office club and bar outings…all cool things, to be sure, but I can’t help but wonder whether these companies are trying to attract talent or drinking buddies. Not to mention that while everything on that list would likely be of interest to an urban twenty-year-old, there isn’t much there to turn the head of, say, a forty year old parent or a sixty year old seasoned professional.

Instead of trying to turn your office into a frat house, why don’t more folks try to recreate the stability and support that a corporate office provides? Someone who is great at what they do, and can afford to be choosy, doesn’t need to take a chance on what they perceive to be a fly-by-night operation, and won’t be tempted by amenities that they could easily afford for themselves. Let them buy their own yoga classes and Chemex cold brews if they feel so inclined. Come to the interview table with the data and figures to demonstrate that you’ll still be around in six months, rather than a list of toys in the break room and a laundry list of ‘perks’ that are really just a thinly disguised lifestyle checklist that ensures that your employees all have the same interests as you.

One great perk that is overlooked embarrassingly often are maternity and paternity benefits. Corporate culture right now makes it insanely hard to be a parent and have a job. You don’t need a huge office or budget to make life easier for working parents. Offer remote working options and flexible daytime hours. Coordinate car pooling and child care services. Offer maternity AND paternity leave that’s meaningful. Heck, just do anything to make your business environment anything other than outright hostile to working parents and you’ll already be ahead of the game.

Above all, offer a professional work environment based on a culture of respect. And ditch the kegerator.

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