Don't Let the Perks Fool You

Recent business headlines point to the challenges profit at any cost present.  Christopher Mims wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal that “Amazon.com Inc. has a Facebook Inc.-size problem: It’s become such a gigantic, sprawling, powerful business that its inevitable missteps are beginning to erode trust in its products and services, good will in Washington, and its ability to achieve globe-spanning dominance.” Or check out the short video that The Visual xapitalist produced of the top 15 brands since 2000, featuring the rise of the mega companies Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. It is a startling time and yet the digital age means that we can see more into the inner workings of organizations than we could before, Profit cannot continue to be the singular gold standard for companies of tomorrow. And when we look inside many big companies, we feel dirty.

How is it that we know what a sick organization looks like, and yet we can’t seem to build many people-centered ones? Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer (2018) argues in his book, Dying for a Paycheck, that human sustainability should be as important as environmental stewardship. Pfeffer considers workplaces their own environmental hazard, citing data that suggest that unhealthy workplaces are responsible for approximately 125,000 deaths and $130 billion in excess costs in the United States each year. Clearly people at work aren’t doing well.

The last 10-plus years of media attention focused on the workplace has made it seem that healthy workplaces are all about the perks: on-site dry cleaning, nap pods, and 24- hour coffee stations. Wild and crazy perks, largely coming out of Silicon Valley’s explosive growth in the tech sector, include arcades, jobs without titles, and unlimited vacation time, which draw our attention to the surface aspects of a company. But what I’ve seen repeatedly is that what really matters to people are the subtle, internal perks. It seems that the media has been focusing on the wrong things. And the costs of this are grave.

Not only are year-over-year profits unsustainable, but profit is losing status as a motivator for workers. Unlike previous generations of workers, Millennials and the generations

behind them (Generation Z) care deeply about the “why” of the organization where they work. They hunger to be able to connect the dots between the work they do and the reason their company exists, both locally and globally. Proactive leaders of tomorrow’s companies will spend time discussing and sharing the context of everything they do.

Changing the heartbreaking wealth disparity starts with responsible and accountable business owners and shareholders who are making a profit today and who have power. It’s our job to notice the wealth disparity, to call out its inequity, and to actively and courageously make room for our fellow citizens of the world who also work hard, but don’t have equal privilege and access. For our world economy to work, we cannot just turn our heads away from the “other 3.5 billion.”

Business that expands and benefits some but diminishes and harms others is ultimately good for no one. As noted writer and teacher Meg Wheatley (2002) says, “In a complex system, there is no such thing as simple cause and effect. There’s no one person to blame, or to take the credit.” It’s time for organizations to get back to basics and remember what the people who work for them need, and what the world needs.

Bravespace workplaces can and will be used to remedy the ills caused by unhealthy workplaces, wealth disparity, and the dark side of profit as a singular goal. The solutions aren’t complex, but they aren’t easy, either. The work requires action from every single employee, and from leaders especially. I’ve seen it happen in businesses all over the world, and it’s a powerful experience to watch organizations get it right. What it takes is a recognition, acknowledgment, and mindset that we’re connected, both locally and globally. When we do something here, it has an effect there, within organizations, between organizations, and in communities. We are interdependent, and organizations that understand this and operationalize it will become Bravespace workplaces, fit for human life.

Jim Morris