To anyone who has worked in an office before, it would seem incredibly unlikely that it would be possible to make office culture any worse. The modern office was designed by history’s most evil architects and sociologists to foster an environment in which any personal expression or joy is snuffed out immediately, replaced with repetitive, bland malaise that is only punctuated by the occasional sad birthday cake. Somehow, it got worse.
In an attempt to address that very problem and lure young, creative people out of their hazy sharehouses and into offices, Silicon Valley startups started offering things like in-house snack bars and bean bag areas and ping pong tables. For a time, this was good. But, as all good things are, once it was subsumed into the monoculture of office life, all of these perks were transformed into funhouse mirror versions of themselves, becoming just as monotonous and chore-like as the terrible rituals and rules of office life they had sought to replace. Instead of having the option to do funs things, fun became mandatory, making it very much not fun at all.
If you’re wondering what that might look like, I am so, so pleased to be able to offer you quite possibly the final iteration of fun, mindful, quirky startup work culture, as it was described on the ‘careers’ page of the website of Silicon Valley insurance startup Health IQ.
Answering the relatively simple question ‘What is it like to work here?‘, the page gives a series of dot points that get more insane as they go on – which is impressive, because they start like this:
Every employee who joins takes a pledge to celebrate the health conscious while they work here and for the rest of their life.
This might just be me, but I do not want anything from any job I do to involve a stipulation that continues until I die. No thank you.
We’re only getting started, though, because you’re about to be introduced to Health IQ’s panopticon gym:
GYM AS FLOOR PLAN
We don’t have a pool table. Instead we have a gym in the middle of our office. Not in a side room, not in a corner, it is right in the middle of the entire office. Our conference room is made up of 4 treadmill desks that face each other so you can do a walking meeting while seeing a presentation, rain or shine.
Nothing makes me more excited about the idea of working somewhere than thinking about all of my colleagues watching me stick my ass out like an idiot while failing miserably to properly execute a squat.
If that doesn’t tempt you, what about having your food stolen and disposed of without your consent?
We don’t have sugar, candy bars, soda (diet or otherwise) in our office. If you bring some it will .t thrown away.
You might have heard a lot about startups having brutal, punishing hours but, hey, Health IQ isn’t about that. They want you to leave at a reasonable time like 5 or 6 so that (wait for it) you can have a short break and then keep working:
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD
We work a lot of hours since this is a startup. However, we all leave at 5pm/6pm so that we can go to the gym, eat dinner at a health hour, and see our kids before they go to sleep. After 8pm/9pm we get back on the computer and do conference calls if needed.
Seems kinda funny that heading has the word ‘play’ in it, when it leaves time for literally zero of it.
The page also detailed “feats of strength” competitions that are done after “most” standups, and made a point of stating that they “share health articles and health stats and think it is fun, not annoying“. Sounds absolutely wild, you guys.
They’ve since updated the page with a few changes that make them seem less totalitarian and insane. For instance, the pledge loses its compulsory status and infinite nature:
Employees who join can choose to take a pledge to celebrate the health the conscious. We believe in our mission and want employees who feel the same.
They’ve decided to stop describing the gym as an inescapable focal point of the office and describe other healthy activities that are also acceptable:
We have traded in the ping pong/pool table space for spin bikes, weights, rowing machines and yoga space. Exercise is an important part of living a health conscious life. We make it easier by bringing the gym to you and setting aside 30 mins each day when employees who want to can workout. Some use it daily to workout vigorously, some take a walk, and some meditate. How you use it is up to you we just provide the resources and most importantly the time.
Food theft now sounds moderately less likely:
We don’t offer sugar, candy bars, soda (diet or otherwise) in our office. If we find it in common areas it may get thrown away. We do offer organic nuts, fruits and veggies to kill that mid morning or afternoon snack attack. Employees may bring their own to keep at their desk.
Excruciating overtime is still a factor, but at least now letting it bleed into your home life is a luxury:
We all work a lot of hours since this is a startup. However, while many startups have a late culture where people work until 7pm+ we all try our best to leave at 5pm/6pm ish so we can go to the gym, eat dinner at a healthy hour, and see our kids before they go to sleep. When late nights are necessary, we are able to work from the comfort of our homes rather than having a culture that expects people to stay late in the office.
I am sad to report that feats of strength are gone entirely.
This is just me spitballing, but how about instead of trying to lure people with insane, obscure perks, you just offer them better pay and fewer hours? Nah, I’m just being crazy, hey.