Perks vs. Culture – What It Takes to Retain and Attract Talents

September 4, 201912:54 pm
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If you think creating an “insta-worthy” workplace is enough to retain employees, you might need to reassess that.

Foosball tables, nap pods, catered lunches and bean bags could be among the things that come to mind when discussing workplace culture. But clearly, workplace perks and culture are two different things. For example, you can BUY perks but you CANNOT buy culture. 

Not to mention, it is the culture and not perks that will bring greater impact when it comes to attracting and retaining top talents. A survey found that 77 percent job seekers would consider a company’s culture before applying, while nearly 90 percent cited that company culture is more important than perks to ensure productivity and satisfaction. 

With Shahid Nizami, managing director APAC at Hubspot, we discuss more about perks, company culture, and how leaders can benefit from and improve both. 

Mr. Nizami, do you think “insta-worthy” perks such as nap pods, lunch, or foosball tables can really attract and retain talents?

You can’t buy your way into the heart of employees with perks, nor can you dazzle them with fancy office spaces or well-stocked pantries. These benefits may help make the work environment more comfortable, but in the long run, companies need to recognise that the way people work and live has changed.

Of course, perks are sexy to talk about, and that’s why they’re often front and centre when people discuss workplace culture, but the real driving force behind culture is the autonomy they get to do their work, the transparency of the information we provide — those are the real things that make someone love their job on a day-to-day basis.


Shahid Nizami, managing director APAC at Hubspot

See also: Leader Tips: Focus on Manager Experience to Create Better Workforce Culture

We believe that really smart, remarkable people want to work with colleagues whom they admire in an environment that challenges them. That’s the core of what company culture is about.

So, how to align benefits with culture? Can you give us an example?

Many people think culture equates to perks. We feel the exact opposite. Our culture is driven by the outstanding people who work here, and the problems they get to solve every day. The perks are just a byproduct of that environment.

HubSpot’s company mission, for example, is to help organisations grow better. But besides helping our customers grow better, we also invest in employees’ personal and professional growth. Why? Because we know that our employees won’t stay at HubSpot forever. But while they are here, we want to help them increase their market value by creating constant opportunities for them to learn and grow. That not only makes them love coming to work every day, but also makes them more productive and engaged in that work.

We have Free Books Program which was one of HubSpot’s earliest learning perks and we’ve evolved it over time because it’s frequently used by employees. Employees can also request any book (within reason) through a form and we will send them a Kindle or hard copy for free. We have a growing library of books both digitally and offline that employees can tap into as well from the program.

And then, of course, there are other fun practices we’ve grown that are completely driven by our team, such as Waffle Wednesdays, which has become quite the highlight for many employees.

Moving on to automation and tech, how can a company address Industry 4.0 to create a better work environment?

An important part of our culture is driven by an engaged team who feel constantly challenged by their roles and responsibilities. By leveraging the right automation tools, we can help free up more of their time to focus on the problems that matter, and allow them to dedicate resources to creating greater value for our customers. 

Hubspot Office

Please, tell us more about HubSpot’s Culture Code. How does it differ from other strategies when it comes to creating a better workplace culture?

Culture is often invisible and difficult to define or dictate. Our Culture Code, which has been viewed over 4 million times online, documents clearly what we as a company believe in, and the values that drive us. As an organisation with culture as a fundamental component of our core operating system, it’s important that we ensure our culture is completely transparent and unambiguous.

We also ensure that it’s not a static document. At our core, the foundation of what makes HubSpot’s culture has remained the same as we’ve grown into a global company with seven offices around the world. However, constant employee feedback and a willingness to revisit and edit our Culture Code to reflect those changes ensure that we aren’t dwelling in nostalgia but rather building a company at a scale that our employees can be proud of each day.

What is your advice for employers in order to work together with employees to create the right culture?

If you want to work together with your employees to create the right culture, the first step will always be to build a culture of trust and transparency.

The natural inclination for many global public companies is to hide things, yet transparency has always been core to creating culture. But, a culture of transparency doesn’t just happen — you have to build it. We default to sharing as much information as possible. If you trust people, they’ll reward your trust, so we default to sharing pretty much everything, from financials to strategy, with everyone in the organisation, including interns, executives, and everyone in between.

When companies have a challenge with creating a positive and successful culture, it often stems back to secrecy between leaders and teams. By being transparent and open, we remove the incentive for teams and leaders to solve for themselves over the organisation.

Another lesson we learned as we scaled our company culture is that you cannot fight nostalgia. As we grew from a 50 person company to a global company with 9 offices and over 2,500 employees, we had to actively fall out of love with the traditions that got us to the place of scale and break away from them to get to where we wanted to be long term. How? By being candid, honest and admit that you don’t all have it figured out.

Is there a “right time” to leverage business and work culture as a competitive advantage?

Our culture is what defines and drives us as a company, so it truly is something we leverage as competitive advantage day-to-day, be it in terms of having a results-focused team or an extremely customer-centric mindset.

Naturally, there are a few aspects of business where culture plays an exceptionally important role. One area is in hiring and retaining talent. Culture can be a powerful weapon in the war for talent. Defining and codifying sends a clear message as to what kind of people you want to attract, and gives candidates a sense of what to expect of life in the company. An attractive culture not only helps you recruit but also helping you find the right fit for the role.

Company culture can also be surprisingly important to customers. Much like how employees today cannot be motivated solely by remuneration, potential customers purchase services based not just on your product and pricing, but also on your company and what it stands for. Customers today know that what companies believe in heavily influences how they operate, so culture also helps inspire trust in potential buyers, which in turn impacts the bottom line.

About workplace diversity, young and old generations prefer different things when it comes to benefits. What is your advice for employers regarding this?

The increase in the workplace diversity is great for businesses – it means that companies are now assembling teams with a much wider range of experiences and viewpoints, which is essential to innovation.

One key to workplace policies is by having our culture initiatives built from the ground up. This way, it reflects the actual intent and desires of employees more accurately. At HubSpot, we have a culture lead in each of our offices, with a culture committee that rotates its members regularly. This committee spearheads and drives cultural initiatives for the office, and is instrumental in continuing to shape and evolve our unique culture in a way that is inclusive of everyone.

Hubspot Office

Read also: Unique Perks a Company Can Offer to Boost Productivity

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