Vulture for Culture

Aug 23, 2017 | Copy, Freelancing

When I was a card-carrying permanent copywriter, going into the same office every day, my list of workplace priorities before I took a new job looked something like this:

  1. The people
  2. The work
  3. Career advancement opportunity
  4. The Boss
  5. Workplace environment
  6. Distance from my front door

As long as the work was fun and interesting, the people friendly and the commute within the M25, I was more or less up for it. Ever since I went freelance, however, the list looks a bit more like this:

  2. Everything else.

But this isn’t about tea (it’s never about tea, is it?). This is about what the tea represents. A cup of tea or coffee to wake up my poor fuggy brain in the morning is one of a handful of small things that I think all offices should be able to offer me as an employee. See also: somewhere to sit, a reasonable room temperature that resembles neither the Sahara nor the North Pole, and a clean set of facilities to make use of. It doesn’t sound like I’m demanding much, but you would be AMAZED at how few companies properly consider their employee culture. In fact, never mind culture. You can keep your ping-pong tables and your Friday night beers. I’m not demanding anything nearly so progressive. Some companies aren’t even meeting basic human needs.

As an employee – temporary or otherwise – I should be able to work in someone’s office in reasonable comfort. Same goes for every living, breathing thing in that office. An enormous household name whom I freelanced with for six, long weeks last year was the worst I’ve encountered to date. Cavernous, strip-lit offices crammed with acres of untidy desks that nobody ever seemed to clean. I sat there for 45 minutes, waiting for someone to collect me from the desk that a frazzled receptionist had ushered me into. The Creative Team were so over-worked and frantic that they worked around me, ignoring my presence and reaching over me to get things. The Head of Creative eventually set a pile of briefs in front of me, telling me to grab him if I had any questions. Um…YES. I have questions! Am I going to be properly briefed? Is it always this freakin’ hot in here? What is ANYONE’S name? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHERE ARE THE LOOS? The terrible truth was that none of these things were addressed. I had to go looking for the ladies’ loos half an hour later and ended up roaming the hallways like a lost child in a supermarket, feeling like an idiot when I had to ask someone a) where are the loos? And b) how do I get back to my desk?

The company in question didn’t even have so much as a staff kitchen, instead preferring to force employees to the Pret on the corner to pay £2.20 for a cup of hot water and a tea bag. I mean, perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but toilets and tea-making facilities…this is basic stuff. How can companies possibly hope to entice new talent with such shitty consideration for employee comfort?

Up at the other end of the scale, a new breed of company (most of which have recently graduated from startup to fully fledged mega brand) seems to be smashing every conceivable employee expectation. A very cool brand whom recently had me in for a few weeks of writing very nearly couldn’t rid of me. Large, loft-like offices that, while not flashy or shiny, were warm, friendly and boasted a kitchen stocked to Mum-standard efficiency. Staff all ate breakfast every day together at the company’s expense like one big, well-fed family.

This particular company’s fastidious care for their precious team members didn’t stop at free Pom Bears and Ribena though. Employees were allowed – nay encouraged – to experiment with such flexible work features as bringing their (well-behaved) dogs into work to sit under their desks, bringing small children on school holidays in to hang out in the dedicated office play area for part of the day and a completely judgement-free option to work from home whenever you needed to. Astonishingly, all of these benefits (Pom bears included) were extended to temporary staff too.

While this exemplary attitude towards staff happiness is perhaps not achievable for all companies, it did throw considerable shade over companies that can’t even supply a working kettle.



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