3.22.18: a rebel alliance of quality content
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everybody's working on the weekend
there's no longer no place like home
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

Last week at work I got an Email from a friend. This is nothing new. It happens to me somewhere between 18 and 352 times a day. (These figures were generated with a highly technical formula known as Whole Cloth.) This particular Email referred to a Washingtonpost.com article on the growing number of companies that have chosen to morph their offices into playrooms to make their employees feel more at home at work. The article focuses on a company called iXL, where the workspace is characterized by "games, bright colors, chic furniture, and themed meeting spaces." The friend who sent me the Email did so because the article mentioned an innovation at his workplace: his team has implemented a tool called the Fooscam, where you can check the intranet on your PC to see if the company-provided Foosball table is open before you head upstairs to pursue a game.

Hoo baby. We're havin' some fun now.

Fooscams and feng shui conference rooms barely scratch the surface. I've read and heard of a hundred more, at all levels of reason. Kegs at meetings. Free child care. Flex time. Stock options. Docks for kayaking commuters. Health clubs and kitchens onsite, company retreats to Maui offsite. Perks, perks, perks.

It comes at a price, natch. iXL, for example, spent over a million dollars to revamp their facility. A million dollars? (Imagine the tightened vocal cords and the raised pinky: One meeeeeeeellion dollars.) That's a million dollars that could have been spent in a million different ways. Okay, it's an investment. And if it works - if it attracts and retains good employees - it's worth it. But does it work?


Different people want different things out of work. Some view it as a clock-punching exercise that takes them away from 40 hours of doing what they really want to do and being who they really are. Some view it as the thing that defines them. Work is a necessary evil, a path to righteousness, a calling, a strain, a candle that lights the way to dusty death, an argument of insidious intent, an opportunity to make friends, a distraction from family, a Purgatory, a Heaven, a Hell.

I don't know. I like my job. Actually I love my job. I will not be seduced away by promises of a Foosball table. (Not that anyone's ever tried to seduce me with Foosball … well, maybe once.) But some of the reasons I love my job are elements of the job that have very little to do with the actual work I do. An office. Free food. Occasional travel. Comp time. Colleagues who understand when I reference Lita Ford and "Leda and the Swan" in the same breath. And that personal Email I mentioned at the start of the article? In some offices, you can't do that. Can't surf the internet, can't use the company account for personal Email, can't make long-distance phone calls. Work and work only.

Different people have different standards. Some people would refuse a job at a place that didn't offer health benefits; some people would refuse a job at a place that didn't offer athletic facilities. Maybe one of the things the new dot.com companies -- because they are the ones implementing things like video games and naptime -- are doing is creating people who won't work at a place that doesn't have beanbag chairs. I don't think it's likely, I just think it's possible.

One of the reasons people cite as the impetus behind these workplace makeovers seems simple: long hours mean more time at work, more time at work means more attention to the look and feel of the workplace. I spend a lot of time at work, generally between 50 and 60 hours a week, but the difference between my work and my home environments is part of what I like. I couldn't work from home; I would be a lousy telecommuter. There are too many distractions at home. A pool table or a Playstation at work would be just as much of a distraction. (It was bad enough during the second overtime of the St. Bonaventure loss to Kentucky, and all I had then was AM radio.) Blurring the line has its downside too.

Because look: as an employer, if you want to make work more like home, whose home are you trying to make it like? Kegs at meetings aren't going to attract and retain the same type of employee that free on-site child care attracts and retains. Employers are clearly recognizing that a salary, no matter how high, is only one of a whole shed of tools they can use to keep who they want. But the employer has to pick. Do you want young people? People with families? Fresh out of college or fresh off the second marriage? Does the idea of these customized environments minimize the diversity of your workplace, almost automatically?

It'll be interesting to see how this goes over the next year or so. The proliferation of start-ups and dot.coms and mini-companies (again: tightened vocal cords, pinky to the lip, we shall call it mini-company) has, if you look at the evidence, pretty much directly led to a proliferation of less and less traditional environments in which work is taking place. Blurring the line between work and home will continue and, in some cases, probably should. It's an artificial distinction. Because, like it or not, you are not one person at work and another at home. You are the person that you are.

Beanbag chairs notwithstanding.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


over a hot stove
a woman's kitchen is in the place
by jael mchenry
topic: general
published: 4.6.05

you can go home again
and sometimes i need to
by jael mchenry
topic: general
published: 1.3.03


jeffrey walker
4.4.00 @ 6:08p

I likely shouldn't speak on this subject. I've only had one REAL job -- you know, the kind after you've finished undergrad -- the kind that you work at and you slowly begin to understand that you are going to have to work, here, there or somewhere, for a very long time>> the happy return to school funtime has ended. Of course, I only stayed there a year and seven months before running back to grad school. Still, our boss ocassionally bestowed gifts to us: a long lunch where he took the whole office out to a nice place at his expense, a christmas party, and a yearly day off with a free ticket to Busch Gardens. It not only made my god-forsaken entry-level job a bit more enjoyable, but it created a sense of community in the office. The lunches, the party, the trip -- we did all of these things together. And it made us happier - the youngster (me), the older attorney, the paralegal with two kids, all of us. I'm not saying these thing wooed me to the position, but the sense of family and "perks" I got likely kept me there right up until I returned to school, rather that jumping ship for more adventure.

joe procopio
4.6.00 @ 6:02p

Free coke is dead. Give me more cash and let me go home at 5:00.

nancy cronin
4.7.00 @ 11:53p

These companies just want to buy your soul and get you to work longer and harder for less. Do not fall for it! Sure there is some sincerity in providing a pleasant workplace but mostly it's a big vacuum sucking your energy from other elements of your life. You better like your work, or have the strength to pack up and leave when the work day is over.

joe procopio
4.11.00 @ 11:37a

Nancy, you are so right. I've done my stint working 16 hours a day at something I don't like for the promise of untold paper wealth. And the trinkets, this ping-pong and beanbag stuff, are just to keep the monkeys from going insane.

jael mchenry
4.11.00 @ 4:27p

Now, now, cynicism has its place but don't go overboard. I think some of these people who run these places are genuinely interested in the well-being of their employees. Untold paper wealth is great, but for some people it's just not enough. Maybe it's the motivation behind the perks and not the perks themselves that really are the effective part.

nancy cronin
4.12.00 @ 9:09a

Jael-I don't doubt that some companies are sincere in their wish for employees to be happy--and therefore bestow perks of all sorts to maintain morale and encourage motivation. However, it's not their job to make sure you pay attention to other aspects of your life--if you can find either pseudo or real satisfaction at work, a company will embrace either one. That's the point I want to drive home: be aware of and responsible for your own happiness.

joe procopio
4.12.00 @ 9:32a

Yeah, I'm really trying to turn the discussion toward one of my pet peeves, the assumed massive wealth available for anyone with some basic HTML training in becoming the next ebay/amazon/blue mountain. I have no problem with perks on the job, and I agree with you mostly (but you already knew that). I just have a problem when perks replace salary, especially the cheesier ones.

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