Vocean Blog

Refactoring Employee Satisfaction

by Shawn Adamek | Dec 10, 2019 | Blog

We’ve all heard the overused (but true) mantra that a company’s most important assets are its employees. After more than 25 years in the Silicon Valley I can’t tell you how many times I have heard senior leaders utter some version of the phrase “our company is dedicated to investing in our employees.”

There is almost no end to the efforts leadership makes to show their employees how dedicated they are to providing them with a stimulating work environment. In the tech industry, it is common - in fact somewhat expected - that competitive companies will offer a long list of fringe perks in addition to the basic salary, equity and a medical benefits package to attract and retain employees.

After living through the dotcom bubble burst myself (just barely) and remaining in the techindustry for the next two decades, I find it interesting that not much has changed in this respect. A large number of prospective employees still shop for new positions with a checklist of perks while companies continue to feed that fire by offering increasingly creative and luxurious benefits.

This mentality has fed itself for years and has slowly convinced both employers and employees that these perks are an essential part of maintaining a happy and motivated workforce. Certainly, the tech industry has gained a reputation for being one of the worst offenders in this category, creating a benefit-based arms race that continues to escalate while tech companies fight to attract new employees.

Uber, Dropbox, Tesla, Square,Facebook, Airbnb, Netflix, and Twitter make up a list of pretty impressive Silicon Valley unicorns. And it’s no surprise that thesecompanies rank at the top of thosewith the most impressive benefits packages. Yet all of these companies ranked lower than the national average for employee tenure in 2017. In fact, only Netflix had a tenure of over 3 years, while Dropbox, even in the face of an IPO year had an average tenure of 2.1 years (the national average was 4.6).

While it’s dangerous to confuse correlation and causation, this data is a head scratcher at the very least. Just using common sense, it’s reasonable to assume that the companies with the most impressive list of employee perks would have a longer tenure than those offering “average” benefits. Why would anyone want to leave a company offering catered meals, unlimited vacation, an on-site gym, stock options, yoga classes, and remote-controlled robots you can use to attend meetings while you work from home? (Yes that last one is a real thing.)

People leave companies because they are unfulfilled. To be more specific they are unfulfilled in a way that no pinball machine with infinite credits, or free taco Tuesdays can remedy. Of course, finding the solution to universal employee fulfillment is as elusive as solving world hunger. But there is, without a doubt, one fundamental aspect of employment that we know contributes directly to employee satisfaction and tenure – appreciation.

Appreciation is a broad concept that is difficult to define and even harder to put into practice. I’m not talking about the ‘pat on the back’ appreciation when an employee hits a deadline, or even a promotion for an employee who goes above and beyond. This type of reactive appreciation is of course important for visibility and recognition. However, more proactive appreciation can carry with it far more impact. This requires a deeper level of appreciation than simply rewarding employees for what they’ve done.


This is about rewarding employees for who they are. It’s about respecting their intelligence, experience and creativity, while fostering an environment that empowers them to communicate their ideas in forums that are free of judgement, destructive criticism and ego-driven feedback. It’s about giving every employee the tools and infrastructure they need to make their voice clearly heard and respectfully considered.

Of course, creating an idyllic environment that balances employee autonomy with operational requirements is a monumental task that even the most successfully run companies struggle with. Prioritizing proactive appreciation requires an enormous amount of tactical execution as well as a keen understanding of the intricacies of a company’s diverse employee population.

In future blogs, I’ll be taking a look at a particular employee population that is being unintentionally underserved, and in turn, experiencing a significant increase in job dissatisfaction. Stay tuned for more thoughts from the Vocean brainburst vault.


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