Louise Serio

In the last decade, some of the largest and most successful companies have engaged in an employee perks arms race. Apple* holds regular beer bashes for their employees, complete with free drinks, food and live music. Dropbox hires chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants to serve food in its free cafeteria. Amazon lets employees bring their pets to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure employees enjoy these gestures—and I, for one, would love to bring my ferocious six-month-old kitten to work. However, in terms of advancing a company’s culture in concrete and lasting ways, these perks fall short. That’s especially true for millennials, who now make up the biggest chunk of the workforce, and for whom these benefits are presumably meant to entice.

A landmark Gallup study found that, rather than cheap gestures, millennials want growth and opportunity at work. Eighty-seven percent of millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important to them in a job. Although it’s clearly a priority for employees, employers aren’t meeting this need—less than half of respondents said they they’ve had opportunities to grow in the past year. Perhaps most worrisome, less than 20 percent of millennials surveyed for the study said they receive regular feedback—a key ingredient for personal and professional growth.

The data here are clear: businesses should prioritize meaningful growth opportunities for their employees over one-off morale boosters, like buying a ping pong table or installing a beer tap in the office lobby.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on hiring practices brings an interesting perspective to this conundrum, and what it means to assess candidates on “cultural fit.” If you only hire people you want to “get a beer with,” you’ll end up with a company where everyone looks, acts, and thinks the same way.

For any workplace, that kind of homogeneity is a bad thing, but for a strategic communications firm, it’s deadly. Outside perspectives aren’t just “nice to have” or an element that helps us check a box. This diversity of experience is a fundamental part of the business strategy; it drives our purpose and gives meaning to our work.

One of the things I love about Reservoir is the depth of career, cultural, and educational backgrounds that we bring to every project that comes in the door. We have team members who have run entire branches of the largest public relations firms in the world, policy experts, former lab researchers, chief spokespeople and journalists.

Every day, we bring these diverse perspectives to bear on our clients’ most important opportunities and challenges. This atmosphere is also richly rewarding for employees; all of us get the chance learn from our colleagues’ depth and diversity of expertise.

When I was interviewing at Reservoir about a year ago, I asked a pretty standard question to my now-colleague Greg Jarvis: “What do you like about working here?” He said that as a  rapidly growing firm, he was excited about the fact that Reservoir’s opportunities are also his own. The company’s successes and growth, he explained, is motivating factor to do his best work. 

Greg’s answer provided a window into a company culture where employees want to consistently deliver good work, grow with the organization and advance its values. We’re not without our perks here at Reservoir (and as anyone will tell you, I’m a “pizza Thursday” evangelist), but trendy employee benefits should never be confused with, or distract from, company culture.

Company culture has everything to do with employees who are bought into the mission and vision of the organization, and almost nothing to do with the Michelin-starred chefs in your cafeteria.

* None of the companies mentioned are Reservoir clients.