I have mixed memories of Diwali growing up. I used to see sweet boxes in some of my friends’ homes and was told it was from their dad’s office. Free laddus every year! It was a big deal those days, and I wondered if my dad worked in the wrong place.
Forty years on nothing has changed. “We should send something more meaningful this year,” declared my HR head, adding one more addition to the jungle of ideas on the whiteboard. The discussion point was the company gift for Diwali.
Our marketing and admin heads had already jotted “creative”, “valuable”, “long-lasting”, “quirky”, “emotional”, “carbon neutral”...and more. For an hour, we were gridlocked in a yes or no debate over the very idea of gifts. Thanks to lobbying from some of us, the gridlock was cleared in favour of ‘keeping up the tradition of gifting for Diwali’.
One more strong reason relevant to current times is that in the hybrid or remote work world, the family now not only knows the nature of work but is also familiar with the bosses’ names. Hence, this is a significant influencer for corporates to continue their send goodies home initiatives.
Sounds frivolous? Look beyond the narrative, and there’s a deeply emotional and economic expression of the enterprise in play. An expression that drives a mammoth $250 billion global industry of corporate gifts, goodies, and giveaways; call it 3G. Don’t forget world over, most governments have doled out freebies and subsidies for decades, and one can’t blame enterprises for bringing those practices to their employees!
Think about the benefits that are dished out by large MNCs to their employees. Google’s Onsite massage therapists, hairdressers, and laundry services have become folklore. Meta, the erstwhile FB, offers a $4000 bonus to employees who have newborns. Netflix offers unlimited parental leave. HubSpot and Amazon pay for the tuition of their employee’s education.
Starbucks offers Spotify subscriptions, and Campbell soup funds its employee’s kids with free after-school programmes for up to 12 years. The list goes on. These marque companies have created breakthrough solutions for their customers and must have found value to continue these 3Gs to their employees. If you paid attention to the recent town hall of Sundar Pichai at Google, one could sense that employees weren’t happy with new cuts in certain areas.
Do some of these nice-to-have benefits breed a mindset of entitlement among employees? At one of my erstwhile offices, we had birthday holidays for employees. One of my colleagues’ spouse, working for an MNC bank, demanded the same from her employer.
Her irate CEO called me and belittled the birthday leave as trivial and listed many of their more attractive benefits. Such has been the pressure on employers that they are forced to talk about benefits more than the quality of work and the difference they make to their ecosystem.
Some of these have to do with the fragility that enterprises have developed post-Covid. The increased noise around mental health, quiet quitting, unprecedented attrition, and dipping productivity have made organisations nervous about their employer value proposition. The optics for the leadership won’t look good if they slip in their tangible 3G.
Enriching roles and connecting the purpose to the teams are intangibles that can take time to build or show results. Additionally, with the average tenure of leaders reducing over time, approving these free giveaways allows leaders to demonstrate some quick-fix results in their employee surveys.
The result is that the challenge of creating impactful roles leading to enriching careers has given way to how focusing on retention by providing feel-good benefits to employees.
A feeling of entitlement
Over the years, irrespective of the organisation I worked or consulted for, I am surrounded by queries like:
- Can we have an offsite at Goa?
- Can we send cakes to my team on birthdays?
- I bought some pens for my team as gifts, please reimburse it
- It’s a company meeting, no drinks for dinner?
- I am feeling sick, I shall work from home today
- My parents need Mediclaim cover too
“Organisations, too, are caving into the demands of the ‘frills-seeking entitled workforce’ without any significant gains in productivity. There is this implicit fear that any strong principled stance would lower their Glassdoor ratings or result in bad PR on social media or directly impact their attrition.”
Organisations, too, are caving into the demands of the ‘frills-seeking entitled workforce’ without any significant gains in productivity. There is this implicit fear that any strong principled stance would lower their Glassdoor ratings or result in bad PR on social media or directly impact their attrition.
Any benefit to benefits?
Now with all the 3G benefits, the employee should be a happy stayer. Here is the twist. A recent survey by resume.io listed the top 20 companies where employees don’t stay based on their average tenure. Guess what? Amazon, Meta and, Google, Hubspot were among the top 15, with an average tenure ranging from 1 to 1.5 years.
We can all argue that tenure doesn’t matter, impact does. But if all the gifts, goodies, and giveaways, don’t result in a decent tenure of employees, are there really any benefits to these benefits?
A senior engineer who recently attended an interview with a tech major shared this interesting experience. “In the entire one hour of the meeting, the hiring manager consumed more than 75 per cent of the time talking about the perks and benefits and highlighted remote working at least thrice. “It was difficult to miss the desperation to hire me and a lack of direction on the role,” he said.
It looks like enterprises are desperate to be seen as great employers in the short term and loath to make the shift from 3G to 3P or, rather Purpose, Professional development, and Productivity.
This Diwali, should we worry about the size and the quality of sweet boxes from our employer or if they are bringing the right light to our careers?