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Why You Should Skip the Quinoa Bar and Offer Employees a Library Instead

Want to really impact your culture? Forget Foosball and gourmet snacks and focus on books.

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BY Jessica Stillman - 06 Jun 2018

Why You Should Skip the Quinoa Bar and Offer Employees a Library Instead

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Startups are known for their lavish perks, from gourmet snacks to unlimited vacation. The rationale behind these goodies is no secret. A well stocked cafeteria and generous paid leave attract better talent and keep them around longer, and as an added bonus, employees just might come up with a business's next great money-making idea while palling around the Foosball table.

In short, perks cost a lot up front, but done right they should pay for themselves in terms of improved culture and creativity.

But if that's your company's aim, designer and author Erika Hall recently suggested on Twitter, then not all benefits are created equal (hat tip to Austin Kleon). There's nothing wrong with on-site hair cuts or a quinoa bar, but what companies should worry about first isn't empty stomachs, it's well nourished minds. And that means giving employees easy access to books.

The benefits of more books at work

Hall's series of tweets kicked off a lively discussion of the benefits of bringing book culture into the office. Hall, for example, noted that startup culture has often been accused of ageism and sexism. A bookstore might be a subtle way to push back against bias.

A bookstore would also provide a place to host non-boozy social events suitable for employees with kids. But there are other benefits to on-site books too. A bookstore could spark new and unexpected ideas, kick off conversations between colleagues, and offer a place to escape to where employees could truly reset their minds.

Finally, if it were possible for that bookstore to be open to the public, it might even better knit together the company and its surrounding neighborhood.

A book-related perk for every type of company

The discussion also pulled in a great many startup veterans, who chimed in with a variety of alternate suggestions on how companies might bring books into the office.

Some for example suggested a library might be a better bet (though Hall pointed out giving employees credit to the in-house bookstore would feel like a sweet perk and push them towards reading). Others suggested even just an office bookshelf, featuring anything other than training manuals and how-to titles, would be a good place to start.

Dave Hoffer, executive design director at McKinsey, suggested it might be engaging to have employees donate or recommend books for each other. "You could solicit book donations from coworkers who could mark the books as theirs," he tweeted. "Then you would be browsing and you'd read a cool book from Linda in Accounting and you could drop her a line to say you liked it." Soliciting book recommendations from employees and putting them up in your shop/ library as suggestion cards might be another approach.

And what if you have no office at all? That doesn't need to stop you from pushing your people towards reading, as user experience designer Ryan Bruner makes clear.

The bottom line is that books are one of human's oldest and most effective technologies for expanding minds, sparking creativity, and exercising empathy (that's why basically all the business titans you admire spend a ridiculous amount of time reading). If you want your employees to enjoy those benefits, then worry less about lunch and more about getting more books into their hands.

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