Why Perks Don’t Equal Company Culture

Holly Oegema is a student in Software Engineering studying at the University of Waterloo. Currently she is working on the 360Insights development team as an intern.

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A common trend that I’ve seen in the tech industry is that the quality of company culture is often determined by how many employee perks are offered. A lot of job seekers will see bean-bag chairs, free food and a ping pong table and nod their heads and exclaim “Ah yes, this is a company I want to work for. Look at this great company culture.” Likewise, companies will try to attract the best and brightest talent by investing their time and money into providing ridiculous perks for their employees such as free monster trucks or Friday helicopter rides. Perks nowadays range anywhere from free lunch to Google’s private bus service for its employees. The common misconception is that if you spend the money on perks, the culture will follow, everyone will be happy and there will be sunshine, rainbows and free lunch.

Now don’t get me wrong, perks can be used to enhance an already great culture, but there is no way that they can be used as replacement for culture. Perks may attract people, but culture is what keeps them.

The roots make the culture, the fruits are the perksThink of corporate culture as an apple tree. It is really easy to pick the apples. It’s a lot harder to water the tree and take care of it. Perks are easy. You usually just spend some money and implementing them is usually the responsibility of a few people. Culture on the other hand, requires the effort of everyone in the company. Everyone has to contribute to watering the cultural apple tree. Culture is the personality of the company; it defines the environment in which people work. It is what determines a worker’s happiness and productivity. It is more than a bunch of half-hearted ‘values’ scribbled on a wall somewhere. A great work culture can be painted as an inclusive environment, where individuals are appreciated for who they are, the talents that they bring to the table and are recognized for the impact they make. If someone goes into work everyday and genuinely enjoys being there and the people they work with, there is a really low possibility that the person will wake up one day and say “I need to leave the company I work at, because they don’t offer free bicycle rides like they do at company X.”

Likewise, apples don’t taste as good if they are harvested from a rotting tree. If someone is surrounded by toxic people who are out to get them, no amount of reptiles in the office is going to convince that person to stay.

Just as you can’t place a bowl of apples on a table and simply expect a full apple tree to just grow out of nowhere, you can’t expect to grow culture from perks. However, you can plant an apple tree, and after some tender loving care, you can grow some apples from that tree. The perks that stem from the corporate culture tree should be a result of intention and care for the company’s culture and a reflection of its values.

If you were to travel the world and notice the cultures present in many different countries and community they will all have one thing in common: their cultures were created by people, not perks. Why should company culture be any different?