How to Keep your Employees, Part Two
The first part of this post and is about good things a company can do. In this part I’ll deal with some things a company should really avoid if they want to treat employees nicely and keep them. I’ll also list a few signs people looking to get hired can use when trying to assess a company.
If a manager always praises the same person, this will create resentment in the rest of the team. It can also make the favorite uncomfortable. Even if one person is a lot better than everyone else, the manager should find things that the others did good (for their level) or realize when they stepped out of their comfort zone and let everyone know. However, if there is someone on the team that you can never praise, think about if you really want them there. Maybe it is time to let them know they are not appreciated and it’s time for them to find someplace else to work.
At Spotify, I’ve heard they have a “Fail Wall” where people can post their own mistakes and have the team learn from the experience. This apparently works really well. The really, really bad way to handle a failure is for the manager to publicly shame the person instead. By yelling, mass e-mail, pointing out mistakes in meetings, in whatever form this comes, it is hardly ever a good idea. The one being shamed will feel accused and uncomfortable and it will most likely create anxiety in the onlookers as well. “What if it’s me the next time”. This is not something to build trust on and trust is key to get a great team.
Oh, so very common in the games industry. I’ve heard people say you cannot make games without crunching. Sure you can. With a lot less then is common nowadays at least. Research tells us that crunch is bad for employees health, motivation, creativity AND PRODUCTIVITY. A couple of weeks might work fine and even be a team-building experience (for people without kids), but months at the time is just never ok. If you do have a couple of weeks of crunch though, my advice is to have good support from management. Dinners brought to them at work, have a set of tasks to be done instead of basing it on hours etc. Set realistic goals.
One paper I read found that productivity increased when going up to 56 hours, but then they increased the work hours further to 70 hours per week. The difference between 56 and 70 was almost nothing. And this was regarding factory workers. I would imagine the impact on creative people might even be harder.
Mandatory, unpaid crunch builds resentment. It causes divorces. It makes people not just quit their jobs, but the industry entirely. When you do that, you make the recruitment pool smaller for all of us, so don’t. I have been part of projects with very, very little crunch that was released on time and was profitable. It is possible. I have a lot of sources regarding this topic in my presentation that you can download at the bottom of the post if you are curious.
Long Hours Culture
This is not the same as crunch. This is when people stay late because of the passion for the company, the game, for showing how good they are or any other reason that is not enforced. What it does however, is to make more senior people, who are more likely to have families, feel like they can’t compete. This might make them start to look around. Personally, I also feel strongly that you should encourage people to have a life outside of work. Get hobbies and broaden their mind. It might make them have new perspectives that they then can bring to work and enable us to create even better games.
Those four were the most important factors I found to have a huge negative impact when doing research for the speech. Now, read on to see what clues you can look at when you are looking for a good company to work for or a bad one to avoid.
Signs of a Good or Bad Company (For You)
As an employee, you’ll spend around 90 000 hours at work. That’s a large part of your life. Maybe you won’t spend them all at this one place, but it will still take up a big part of your life until you leave, so do what you can to make sure you get hired at a place where you can be happy and healthy. Do your research. Check the internet for stories/ratings. If you know people who worked there or even better, people who used to work there, ask away. Now is not the time to be shy. Your job is important. I will list some signs you can look for in the recruitment process to try to find out what kind of company this is.
The Recruitment Process
Yes, about the recruitment. How are they treating you throughout? Do they respond to e-mails, treat you fairly and seem to value your time? If this is a smaller company that does not have an HR department, things might take longer and that should be ok. Every company should treat you with respect and be professional though. The reply after an interview should be fairly swift. They know that is an anxious and emotional time and should not leave you hanging.
If you get to an interview, take a good look around. Do people look happy or stressed? Is the workplace unclean or unsafe looking? Do you see angry notes/signs? What do they have up on the walls? A fail wall for learning (like Spotify) might be ok, other interpretations might not. Ask about it. Try to really get a feeling for the place. Is this somewhere you’d look forward to going Monday mornings?
Probably the most important person. This is the person who need to really see you, see your successes and hopefully promote you. Talk with them about work styles and preferred practices. Ask what others have done before that they did not like.
If you get to meet the team, really treasure that time and try to get a feeling for them and their in-between culture. You want to make a good impression on them of course, but they should also want to make a good impression on you. Are they? Check how long everyone has been working there. If everyone is new, that is interesting. Is the company growing a lot? It might be ok. Did a lot of people recently quit? Warning sign. Ask about it.
Can the job be defined? If not, can success be defined for your position? If not, how will you, your manager or anyone else really, know when you did a good job?
Ask to see the employer handbook. If there is none, that can be ok for a small company. If there is one, but you can’t see it? WEIRD. If you get to read it, read through it carefully and look for things that are/are not compatible with you. If there is for example a no-moonlighting policy, I would see that as a warning sign. Why should they care that you are a dog groomer on Sundays? A non-compete clause is rather common and maybe not a warning sign per se. If you do want to make games in your spare time though, it might be worth to ask for an exception.
Well, it’s hard to summarize what’s basically a bullet list, but don’t be an ass takes you a really long way! This whole thing is from a presentation I held at Sweden Game Conference, so I have made a presentation which you can download here: how-to-keep-your-employees It also contains all the sources I’ve used.