Perks or purpose: What’s the secret to a great workplace?

The annual BRW Best Places to Work list was revealed last week and I’m rapt to say that, for 2012, The Physio Co is the eighth Best Place to Work in Australia (the fourth year we’ve been on the list in our eight-year history – awesome work, team!).

What I’m much less rapt about is the concept that a strong workplace culture can be built by spending big on entitlements for employees.

A strong workplace culture is created by a group of people that choose to work with a business that they trust: a business that inspires and challenges them; treats them fairly and with respect but doesn’t take itself too seriously; celebrates their successes and supports them in the tough times; and exists to make a difference in the world and has some fun along the way.

A strong workplace culture is created when people share a common purpose and support each other to bring that purpose to life.

The strongest workplace cultures can survive the tough times. Because tough times happen: GFCs arrive; economies slow down; floods and earthquakes hit; clients can be lost. And, hopefully not in my business or yours, but sometimes people die at work.

When bad stuff happens, do you want a group of people on your team that only know the good times? A culture that’s only been created since you started giving away more perks than the competition? I certainly don’t. It’s in the tough times that the people who choose to be part of a strong culture individually ask “what can I do to help?” and they show that together “we can do it”.

But, according to BRW‘s article 10 Ways to be a Best Place to Work, the way to a great workplace is offering as many perks as possible.

Now, don’t get me wrong, offering benefits to team members is important, but I don’t agree it’s what builds the trust required for a great workplace. You see, perks create a culture of entitlement; a “what’s in it for me” culture where employees can always be expecting more. And unless you have an unlimited amount of money, you can always be ‘out-perked’. Any victory is short-lived because a competitor can always offer more.

For example, it’s popular to give employees a free day off for their birthday right now. That sounds nice, but what happens when someone offers two days or a whole week off? This approach to building a great workplace via a “perk-off” with the competition is a never-ending and very slippery slope.

Honestly, do you really want people in your team that only joined because of the perks? When the going gets tough, I reckon the motto of people attracted to a business with a culture of entitlement built on perks is “I’m outta here”. Like it or not, a black swan event will hit. Not if, but when. Will perks matter then?

The Physio Co only offers two of BRW‘s so-called 10 ways to be a best place to work, but we’re still in the top 10 companies to work for in Australia. How could that be? What do you think: Is it perks or purpose that create a great place to work?

Tristan White is a husband to Kimberley and a dad to little Alexandra. He’s a qualified physiotherapist, ironman triathlete, blogger and CEO of The Physio Co – Australia’s eighth Best Place to Work. His passion is to build a strong family and workplace culture and share what he learns with the world. Tristan’s Culture is Everything blog was ranked by SmartCompany as one of Australia’s 25 Best Business Blogs in 2011.


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