Antiperks in tech job offers
Company cuture bugs sold as features
After three years full of adventures, I parted ways with Sketch. Thanks to my savings, I could take a break and–as a wise friend of mine said–think of my career as a marathon, not a sprint.
My recent experience as a Product Manager has made me realize how much I enjoy organizing chaos and seeing every part of the digital production process as a huge intertwined machinery. So, mixing that up with my design knowledge, I’m now actively looking for a Design Ops position or similar role. While on it, I’m finding company job descriptions to be full of sugar-coated weird or straight up bad characteristics as benefits. Let’s call them antiperks.
Antiperks are bugs sold as features 🐞
Most times antiperks try to hide a bad or terrible team culture. These bugs sold as features come up so often I’ve written a list of them.
Maybe I’m procrastinating because looking for a job 24/7 makes you go nuts, and I can’t avoid looking for patterns? Maaaybe.
When writing down perks, imagine a terrible manager handling them
Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher always says when thinking of a digital product, imagine how it could be featured in an episode of Black Mirror. Translating that into company benefits, I’d say: When writing down perks, imagine a terrible manager handling them.
- A flexible schedule? you’ll be expected to answer your colleague right away, who’s working during the weekend.
- Async communication badly managed? You go away from your keyboard to have lunch and someone else makes a decision for you without your input.
- You’ll wear many hats? You’ll be expected to do a thousand things that aren’t normally part of that job. A ‘you do it once, it’s now your responsibility’ kind of culture.
🚩 Hypergrowth environment
Hypergrowth can be ok, not good or bad per se, but it’s normally listed under perks. It’s really interesting finding there’s a hundred ways of saying ‘the team is growing fast’ in a positive way. I’m not even mad, I’m impressed.
Even though we’ve grown a lot, we still work as a startup in many ways
👉 Translation: We don’t have processes in place because we are overwhelmed by the number of new people and we may change things when talented people start leaving.
We work on dynamic and fast-paced projects
👉 We make decisions on the go and don’t have a long-term plan, we expect you to work long (unpaid) hours.
Join us, we are on a quest to double the team in the next six months
👉 Be patient, we are not where we want to be and there may be curves ahead.
A fast-growing company normally has a fragile company culture if it’s not nurtured well enough because of the huge amount of new people.
It’s useful to know if the candidate has a similar experience. I get where this is coming from, but why sell it as a 100% positive trade?
For the management layer, a fast growing team means you’ll have impossible hiring goals on top of everything else. It’s normal to mention it as a way to warn people of what’s coming.
For the individual contributor, this means they need to meet and maybe mentor new people on top of their everyday work.
✏️ My suggestion: Think about the tone. Growing fast could be done well enough not to be a pain, but it’s additional work for everyone, not really a perk.
🚩 The sugar trap
Sometimes offers mention characteristics denoting they spend more energy trying to keep you at the office (virtual or physical) than allowing you to enjoy your own time on your terms.
It can be a ping pong table, a karaoke machine, a gym, sugary snacks, after-hours social calls, or “mandatory fun activities” after work.
Companies in Silicon Valley–Facebook–used to name their offices ‘Campus’ and build services for their employers, like gyms, restaurant-like cafeterias, and recreational areas, so people arriving from universities/colleges identified their office life with their previous student life. The idea was to push people into recreating their student habits of making personal connections on campus, and staying at work as much as possible.
I’ve heard an ex-Meta employee saying if you didn’t participate in company-based activities, and look for your own life outside of work, you weren’t seen as a ‘team player’.
At least saying ‘we are a family’ has grown out of fashion.
✏️ My suggestion: Good perks think of the person beyond being a worker. They allow you to have a good personal and work time balance.
🚩 Unlimited days off
Unlimited days off is not a bad thing per se. They have been recently popularized, but how this policy is applied and accepted depends 100% on company culture.
A few years ago a Spanish company’s HR department had to ask employees to take days off in December because most of them had asked for less than two weeks off that year. In Spain, you are entitled to a minimum of 22 paid days off per year by law.
Yesterday I found this example
I used to think infinite days off was a good sign. In real life, tech companies often have a workaholic-means-good culture. Why are we talking about workations instead of encouraging people to go away and fully unplug?
What used to be a well-thought perk has become a trap in itself if unsupervised. Like many other aspects of working remotely, this puts the responsibility on the individual, and that’s the most anti-perk part, especially in multi-cultural teams.
I had a colleague–and good friend–working from Mexico, where you only get days off after a year of working with no days off.
I currently live in Spain. It’s virtually impossible that we understand this ‘unlimited days off’ policy the same way. For me, the infinite part meant ‘more than 22’. For him, it was ‘More than 10 days from year 2’
Unlimited days off for a Spaniard means ‘More than 22’, for my Mexican friend, it’s ‘More than 10 days off from year 2’
Some companies have unlimited days off while encouraging a productivity-driven culture. Taking multiple days off at those companies is seen as selfish or lazy. In others, the amount of work prevents you from taking days off because getting three days off will translate into doubling your output for three days when you are back.
In any of the two examples above, a day off doesn’t mean resting in peace, and it’s seen as not worth it, even though it sounds great on paper.
✏️ My suggestion: Set a minimum mandatory number of days off per year when you offer infinite days off as a perk. It sets intentionality and will level up the bar for diverse teams and people prone to ask for less than a healthy amount of holidays a year.
🚩 Flexible schedule
A flexible schedule is a double-edged sword. A flexible schedule shouldn’t mean an elastic schedule.
A flexible schedule shouldn’t been understood as an elastic schedule.
The two worst examples I have on this are:
- A recruiter talking about flexible hours: ‘You may have to work for a whole Saturday when your manager asks you to but then you could take a random Wednesday’.
Who is this flexible for?
- A company I worked for was convinced flexible hours while working remotely meant you were available 24/7. ‘You can get a call at 9 PM one day to have a Zoom with your colleagues by 10 PM’.
✏️ My suggestion: Job offers could explain what they mean by flexible. ‘You can adapt your working hours as you please as long as you communicate it in advance’. Or ‘Make your schedule as long as it overlaps at least 3 hours with the rest of the team’.
🚩 You’ll work with a group of young and driven professionals
Sometimes this means the people on the team have more drive than long-term plans. The desirable scenario would be to have a good balance of background and age diversity.
Years ago, after a long conversation where it was clear I was a good fit, an interviewer asked me my age. My face must have shown my surprise because he tried to comfort me ‘Ehhm. You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to. I’m just asking to see if we are on the same level. I’m 33’. It was his first-time role as a manager, and he wanted everyone on his team to be younger than him. He didn’t call me back. I was one year older than him. I got the impression that he was looking for a fan base, not a team.
✏️ My suggestion: If the team is young, you can explain it making sure everyone can feel welcomed. Something like ‘We are young but looking for all kinds of candidates because we appreciate when our experiences complement each other’.
🚩 Looking for a rockstar
Rockstars, highly experienced, excellent at, superb, outstanding, unicorn, …
Thankfully, this kind of language isn’t used as much anymore. These words tend to attract entitled lone wolves, highly competitive profiles, vain people, and mostly men.
It’s proven women usually down-sell ourselves, and tend to apply for jobs they when we meet 100% qualifications. Descriptions about excellence filter out a lot of good candidates.
A broader description of skills will increase your candidate pool and make it more diverse
✏️ My suggestion: You can be as specific as you want about what the role will entail. But please try to tone down specificity and excellence when describing the candidate’s characteristics.
Instead of ‘Perfect English speaker’, you can say ‘Working English proficiency’. This subtle difference won’t filter out non-native English speakers. Accents aren’t a sign of ignorance. That person with an accent is adapting to you and talking to you in your language.
A broader description of skills will increase your candidate pool and make it more diverse.
🚩 Remote position in this particular city
I avoided this kind of position even before remote work was as widespread as it is right now.
I understand some companies aren’t able to hire people in other countries. But if the remote-ness is linked to a small area I don’t think it’s really going to be a fully remote role.
Based on my experience, it sounds like remote practices aren’t that well embedded in the culture yet. It may mean some team members are extending their 2020 lockdown working-from-home experience, and they are slowly opening up that possibility. Setting a particular city usually means employees are asked to be present to some extent you’ll most likely be required to attend in person to meetings, events, etc.
✏️ My suggestion: Be open and a position as hybrid, or open to working from home when is restricted to a small area. It’s a better description and will save you a many candidates time.
🚩 European time zone
This is a short one. You are missing a whole continent in the exact same time zones as European countries and it’s making you look pretty bad and narrow-minded.
✏️ My suggestion: Add Africa when talking about +2 -2 GMT time zones. Or use EMEA–Europe, the Middle East and Africa–when it fits.
🚩 Mental health provided
Some companies provide mental health options for their workers as an inside department. It’s a good trend by itself but it has some flaws.
Some of these mental health companies don’t have personal plans, only professional ones. This means you’ll lose your therapist when you quit or get fired.
You’ll lose your therapist when you quit or get fired.
In some cultures sharing the fact that you have a therapist is kind of taboo, so this benefit won’t be used by them.
In others, like mine, it’s so weird and kind of violates my privacy that my employer knows if and when I’m having therapy. So I wouldn’t accept it either if I can afford to pay for it.
I guess this comes from USA-based role descriptions, where your healthcare is linked to your job.
From an inclusivity perspective, this service is usually provided only in English because it’s the language spoken at the company. But, you know, having a meeting about a digital product is not the same as talking about my deepest fears or worries. I would rather talk to a therapist in my native language. Distributed companies working with people around the world, providing English-only therapy show very little accommodation for non-native English speakers.
An alternative could be psychologist cost coverage but is a tricky solution, at least for me. On one hand, it sounds encouraging, on the other you are still required to tell your company about such a private matter.
✏️ My suggestion: Offer enough time and money to let people choose to go to therapy if they need to and make sure it’s something normalized and not stigmatized or made fun of in internal communication.
🚩 DNA testing
For your wellbeing with gym membership, gadget, […] travel and cyber insurance, DNA testing, dental insurance, and more.
[Scratching vinyl sound] Wait, what? DNA testing as a perk?
I swear I’m not making this up. All examples in this article are real quotes and experiences. I don’t even know where to start with this DNA nonesense. It is beyond orwellian.
✏️ My suggestion: Please, don’t.
✏️ Summary to write better perks
- Hypergrowth is good to mention, avoid listing it as a perk.
- Schedule social activities during working hours. Respecting your worker’s personal time is the benefit.
- Add a minimum number of paid days off to infinite holidays.
- Clear the air about what does flexible schedule means in practice.
- Make sure everyone feels welcome when describing the current team.
- Be specific about the role, and broad about the candidate.
- ‘Work from home allowed’ is a better description than ‘Remote but only in this particular place’.
- Use EMEA instead of Europe-centric language to describe time zones.
- Offer enough money and time for people to choose to go to therapy without being involved.
- I still can’t believe a company would offer DNA tests as a perk.