Sigmund Freud believed that people were lazy, that no one works unless they’re threatened, and that human beings, as a general rule, are like your sister’s ex-boyfriend: devoid of ambition, sickened by responsibility, and only out for themselves. Whether or not they’re all unemployed guitarists doesn’t matter.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow and professor Douglas McGregor had different published theories that seem to agree that people actually enjoy working, and that it’s our nature to seek out knowledge and productive activity. I’m a destitute writer and I don’t like theories. I have some scratch-off tickets and opinions, though. People are often jerks. I like to work alone, and I use a steady stream of English Breakfast tea and talk radio to get me through my day. I don’t need an employee motivation strategist to tie a carrot to my stick, but I work for myself, so the point here is moot.
Perks are just that, perks. They pick you up, they keep you going, and if you have to give up a life of leisure for a cubicle-sized enterprise, well, there’d best be a reason to keep you coming back day after day, five days a week, nearly all year round.
One could argue that simply having a job in this day and age is a perk.
Employee motivation isn’t some woo-woo thing reserved for California tech companies, it’s been proven across the board that if you want to make the dog fetch the stick, you have to offer a piece of bacon. Workers need incentives, otherwise they don’t work well, they burn out, they shit-talk your company on their blog. Deprive an employee of coffee and sunlight and the next thing you know morale drops, Xerox machines are kicked, and coworkers start sleeping with one another after they clock out. It never amounts to good.
Performance-based motivational techniques are favored in large companies, but I don’t know if that’s fair. I think that every employee needs a daily motivator, even if it’s something as simple as a comfortable chair, a free burrito, a fun lamp on their desk. The lamp one might strike you as cheesy, but that job I was fired from took both myself and the other primary office-based employee to Ikea . We were told to pick out some stuff for the office, and that the CEO would pick up the tab. I had an awesome lamp that made me feel very proud of my desk. I plead the fifth on whether or not I took it when I packed up and left the building.
Starbucks, for example, is known for calling their baristas “partners.” They have notoriously awesome benefits that include domestic partnership, the profits from the hokey “coffee gear” are put into accounts dedicated to employee services, and there are even charities for employees that provide grants to fellow employees going through difficulties. (The one that comes to mind is CUP, aka the “Caring Unites Partners” Fund.)
The company philosophy may be “Leave no one behind,” but the real reason why I’d ever want to work for the green machine is because they leave no one uncaffeinated . Sure, there’s a nice 30% discount for workers, and you get a free bag of coffee per week, but if you strap on that apron you’re able to funnel nearly every concoction you make. This has led more than one employee to speculate that the complimentary coffee is “Starbucks’ plot to make their employees work very quickly.” Maybe it’s just the jitters that make a good number of these employees seem like they’re actually having fun in situations that would drive me fucking insane. A single declaration of “Vente skinny soy mocha latte, no whip!” would drive me to run face-first into the nearest wall. But the partners are motivated, even if it’s just that they’re stimulated.
Another cool thing about Whole Foods is that you’d be working for a company where no executive makes more than 14 times the average worker’s pay. Sure, that’s fine, but why work there? The discount is good. They let you take classes to forward your Whole Foods career. They’re known for having satisfied employees, which I’m sure is because of the fact that their store teams are half-American Apparel models, half-rockstars. But really, why work there? Unless you’re going to tell me that I get free Shirataki noodles and a watermelon, I’m going to tell you that you haven’t given me a reason to stand on my feet all day, dealing with sweaty, post-yoga MILFs. Okay, maybe that’s the perk.
The most memorable jobs I’ve had stick out in the word-filled mush of my brain because they had quirks that kept me there, and I’m not just talking about health insurance or a 401K. One company let us out at three on Fridays. Another let us order business related books from a company Amazon account. The last “real” job I had, the one where I was fired for the first time in my life, would take the employees out for drinks on Friday afternoons. (My dismissal and their alcohol consumption were unrelated, unfortunately.) Simon once worked in an office that had a skateboard ramp so that the workers could do kick-flips on their coffee breaks. Stumptown Coffee, a stalwart of espresso in Portland, was known not only for providing their baristas with health insurance, but massive company parties that included free tattoos and a mechanical bull. Considering that they dealt with my boss at the pilates studio yammering on her cellphone and demanding a skinny soy latte twice a day, every day, I still don’t know if those perks could stop me from being motivated only to punch women on cellphones in the maw.
Ben & Jerry’s, a company only slightly more corporate than Stumptown, started a “Joy Gang” in 1987 in response to employee demand. This group has implemented motivational means as conventional as fifteen minute massages for manufacturing employees, to weird pick-me-ups like honoring Barry Manilow Day: “In celebration of Barry Manilow’s birthday (an otherwise uneventful day), Manilow tunes were played in the lunchroom and occasionally over the paging system. Manilow buttons were distributed, posters were hung, and we voted on our favorite Manilow tune. At The Copa won hands down.” Other wacky company morale boosters included Elvis Presley Day, a permanent casual dress code except for one day known as “Dress UP Day” where the staff wears suits, and the totally awesome celebration that occurred on January 28, 1993. “Triple Event! Because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and because they all fell sort of on the same day, Joy Gang held a combo-celebration to honor National Clash-Dressing Day, National Kazoo Day, and Alan Alda’s Birthday. Clash-dressers played kazoos throughout the day and ate lots of birthday cake in honor of Alda .” And you thought that simply working for a philanthropically-inclined, hippie-founded company that that makes flavors like Chocolate Therapy and Coffee Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz would be enough.
Well, watermelon breaks, skateboarding hours, and cunnilingus aside, I propose some on-the-job perks for Ministry of Imagery.
1. In-office snow-cone machine. (Since the office is the house this would be beneficial to the work-life balance as well, but maybe not so beneficial when it comes to avoiding diabetes.)
2. Mandatory naps. Company policy now has an “optional daily nap” clause available to all MOI employees, but making naps mandatory will likely add more structure to the day, promote relaxation, and possibly boost company morale in the pants.
3. Flavor testing. I have no idea how this would work, but it’s worth a try.
4. Gender Awareness Day. The office celebrates my period. Which hasn’t come around since January, so this holiday might be nationally recognized by the time I have to take a trip down aisle six at CVS.
I guess further incentives are kind of unnecessary, though. Owning our own company and doing what we love kind of make us motivated to begin with. Well, that and the whole almost-starving thing.