How benefits influence happiness
May 7, 2021
I love it when someone on my team tells me they’re having a baby. It’s so refreshing. It makes me think that they feel happy, comfortable and safe and have decided to take a big step in their life.
But I realize that it can sometimes be scary telling your colleagues about a baby-to-be. Even though we all know life shouldn’t put limits on your professional career. Frankly, if you’re having a baby, job stability should be the last thing on your mind.
A long history of working from 9 to 5, wearing properly ironed suits and not coloring outside the lines created a social culture that, fortunately, has completely changed in our industry over the last decade or two.
How did that change occur? And where are we going?
Talent in the tech industry
Talent this, talent that. You might be tired of reading how talent is the heart and soul of the tech industry.
Besides, it doesn’t paint the full picture. People, good people doing a good job, that’s the heart and soul of any good company. It’s not enough to be talented. If you are talented but you aren’t happy or satisfied, you won’t be using the full extent of your talent.
The reason you hear so much about talent is that in the tech industry (for the most part), good people and good places to work with good conditions are a given. In many cases, talent does end up being the secret sauce.
The industry knows it. CEOs like Stewart Butterfield from Slack, or Luis Von Ahn from Duolingo, or Reed Hastings from Netflix have made clear that the power is on the employee’s side.What better way to attract and retain talent than offering better benefits, culture and challenges than the competition?
Let’s start with the basics
Medical insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, retirement plan, family leave… It’s boring just mentioning them. But you have to have them, not only by law but because it’s the first step for companies to become competitive.
How can we push that even further?
Due to our recent growth in the US, we decided to embark on the adventure of handling the relationship with our benefits providers directly. That has given us the possibility to offer our employees and candidates better coverage and a better price, and the cost is that, well, I have a lot more paperwork and meetings now (cue the world’s smallest violin).
What are the big competitors doing with this? They give you all the basics for free, some even cover your spouse and dependents. Heck, they don’t even mention them on their website. They think “this is a given, I do not have to tell you about it anymore because less than the basics would be an insult”.
I love to travel, so do you
Sometimes we forget that commercial flights became common in the 50s. That’s one generation ago, two tops (people born in 2000 can drink a beer now). Free travel, so to speak, is a very recent societal development.
Consider that Google Maps is just 16 years old (no beer for you yet). So not too long ago there were no planes, just car/bus/bike, and you had to lug around guide books to figure out where to go.
And where would I go? Before, maybe I would have had to rely on my neighbor who just likes to go fishing and get a tan for travel tips. That may not get me too far, so I’d probably prefer to stay home and travel to visit my family when on holiday. For that, I wouldn’t be needing a ton of paid time off (PTO).
But nowadays? You can always work from a beach in Hawaii (as some of our colleagues in the US did during the pandemic). Or even better, take a month to fish, disconnect and get tanned on a beach in Hawaii and stay with your loud family when on holidays for a week (love you mom, dad stop with your jokes, please).
Here in the US, we are kind of in a sweet position inside the industry when talking about PTO.
With 23 days, we are above average, and it’s pretty cool to hear what our team does with that time off. Road trips, a cabin in the woods, discovering a new city, visiting exotic countries, building your forgotten Legos, getting to know more of the city you live in, and so on. Of course, the winner always is going home. Why? Family (read with Toretto’s voice).
We are family
I’m sitting near a park right now. It’s 3 p.m. and I can see a toddler playing with a ball that is bigger than her, but she doesn't care, she’s happy, and she made me smile. Her parents? Maybe happy, yes, but they look busy.
There are like six other children running around with balls, skates, baseball bats. I mean, the scene is lovely, but I guess for the parents it’s like being inside an episode of the Walking Dead. You don’t have enough eyes for all the warning alerts your brain is sending you. How do they do it? Don’t they work? If they do, do they have family around to help? Friends?
Well, if they work for SNGULAR, they have a minimum of six weeks to enjoy the greatness of being a parent, and sixteen weeks to celebrate the goddess powers of giving birth. Yes, that’s at Amazon level, so it requires some recognition.
And no, they do not work for SNGULAR. I think I know all 111 faces of our US employees. But hey, I could ask them how rusty their Java is. We might have a position for them.
As every millennial (yeah, ‘82 here folks), my mantra is: Everything you’re saying looks good, but it can be better. What are you doing to improve it?
Let’s go back to the basics for one second. This is where the craziest benefits are starting to pop up. On-site fitness centers, yoga studios, nap rooms, barbershops, healthy cooking lessons, professional cleaning services sent to your house, taking your pet to work, and so on.
We are not doing badly here either. We already have a beer and espresso coffee in at least a couple of our offices here in the US, and our co-worker (and former NBA player) José Manuel Calderón helps us with training and events.
Why don’t we talk about unlimited PTO? That candy that many companies are offering now is not very sweet. No manager is going to approve you taking six months off just because you want to visit Singapore. Unlimited is based on productivity, trust and work/life balance, it’s not: “I work one day and rest 364.”
Even worse, it can also lead to the dreaded one-upmanship. This: “I didn’t take any holidays last year. Look at that slacker who did.” Not to mention having to kiss any unused vacation pay goodbye.
At SNGULAR, we consider that PTO is very important. Of course, you can do whatever you want with it, but we always encourage you to make the most of those 23 days.
During the pandemic, we told our teams it was important for everybody’s mental health to take some time off. I took a couple of weeks myself to just read and play video games. Our colleagues in Spain recently added an extra PTO day to be consumed on the employee’s cake day.
A flexible schedule, no long working hours, and overall, keeping people motivated and happy are way better than “unlimited” PTO.
Parental leave, no matter if you are Batman or Wonder Woman, or anybody in between, is important. But, what if you don’t want to have kids. Why should you care? Well, that’s your choice but, would you rather work with totally burnt-out parents or people who feel fulfilled?
Product companies have it “easy.” It’s easy to plan for somebody being out a full year as Netflix offers when you are Netflix and Ali Wong is killing it in your service, but what happens with project companies like us?
Well, fortunately, that is changing too. Some clients do not work with vendors that do not offer parental leave. They even ask the vendors to have a minimum. Way to go!
You may be asking: So what Dani, you did some one-minute-Google-research and now you are an expert on benefits?
I’m not going to lie, I did do some research and read a couple of “top 10” websites to get here. But we also have a strong team in the house that pushes me to write and gives me the information I need.
Benefits experts, communication experts, people experts, teach me every day. And what do I learn? On one hand, what’s going on in the market. On the other, and that is the most important thing for me and SNGULAR is what is going on in your heads. Whatever you, as a colleague, feel is important (and tell us about) is what we as a team will work to bring you next.