Still from Apple TV+'s "Severance."
Photo: Apple TV+

Unlimited vacation is not the benefit you think it is

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. This just in: Start thinking up reasons why your company needs to buy you the new midnight blue MacBook Air with the M2 chip just announced at WWDC. Also at WWDC, Apple showed off Continuity Camera, a way to use your excellent iPhone camera to replace your not-so-excellent webcam in video meetings (and anything else), as long as you have macOS Ventura and iOS 16.

Today: why ping-pong tables are red flags now, the startup CEO salary gap is going in the wrong direction, and organized mentorship programs might be the secret to success for Black workers.

— Meg Morrone, senior editor (email | twitter)

Anti-perks at work

We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Still, the idea that many corporate benefits aren’t always a benefit recently touched a nerve on Twitter.

“Been thinking about anti-perks in tech jobs. What perks *sound* good but are a hard no from you?”

The tweet came from Jessica Rose, a developer relations advocate, founder of a meetup series for programmers and aspiring programmers and co-founder of Trans*Code, a hacker org devoted to drawing attention to transgender issues and opportunities.

Rose’s “hard no” was to those so-called benefits that have been around since time immemorial (or at least since the dot-com era). “Don't give me food or hammocks or video games, just let me work remotely or go home on time,” said Rose.

'Don’t touch me'

The tweet thread was full of varied responses, but the paradox of unlimited vacation was the clear favorite. “Wow, people are just so suspicious about unlimited paid time off,” Rose told Protocol when we caught up with her to ask about the tweet.

Other workers balked at in-office massages (“don’t touch me”), free booze, open-plan offices (did anyone in the history of the world ever call this a benefit?), fitness rooms, nap rooms, escape rooms (really any rooms) and something called “blameless retrospectives.” Um, what?

If employees are going to be suspicious of whatever perks you offer, why offer any perks at all?

“So I'm aware of how wonderfully spoiled it is to complain about perks being given out in some kinds of tech workplaces,” said Rose. “I'm the most unimpressed by ‘perks’ which either directly undermine employment rights (like unlimited paid time off can do in some regions) or are intended to throw work/life balance out of kilter in the workplace's favor.”

Unlimited or flexible vacation time can work, but it helps when the culture is one where people are encouraged to take time off and experts agree that mandatory minimums go a long way in helping create that kind of culture.

Your best interests or mine? Why can’t it be both? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A director of Engineering at Google who formerly worked at Microsoft and Zillow called employer-sponsored coaching an anti-perk. “I’ll spring for a coach who is looking out for my best interests, not the company’s, thanks,” she said, adding, “I know I am lucky to be offered this, but it always feels like a trap.”

There’s good reason to be at least a little wary of these programs. Last year Protocol reported that when tech companies work with coaching programs like BetterUp and Bravely the conversations themselves are confidential, but the company often receives aggregated reports on the issues workers are expressing in general, the topics they’re discussing, what's going well for them at work and what's not.

When Protocol spoke to Twilio’s VP of Talent Management Andrew Wilhelms about the company's coaching partnership, Wilhelms explained that BetterUp provides a set of Twilio-specific priorities to coaches and Twilio can update those priorities and goals based on what kind of culture change the company needs to see.

This might feel overly controlling, or it might be a great way to help change a company’s culture for the better, especially if a majority of employees are feeling stressed and burned out and are more likely to tell this to a coach than their manager. Twilio told Protocol that 99% of the employees who used the coaching service last year said the sessions were a valuable use of their time, and that 94% said the sessions made them more effective at their job.

“Thoughtful, meaningful perks can benefit both employers and team members, by helping keep their team members happy and hopefully keep them in their role for longer,” Rose said.

Free SunChips < values-based work culture

Research shows that today’s employees don’t want snacks as much as they want work that aligns with their values, and that extends to benefits.

  • “I love work perks that demonstrate an employer's ethics and commitment to meaningfully supporting their team members,” said Rose.
  • These benefits can include big structural benefits like location-agnostic pay and support for different kinds of employee leave, but also smaller things like “sending people a small bonus on their birthday to buy a cake,” Rose added.
  • Rose also looks for “employers who don't subcontract out cleaning or security staff, to make sure that all of their team members get access to the same kinds of pay and support.”

What your “perks” say about your corporate culture

Some “anti-perks” are just common decency and respect, such as believing your employees are telling the truth when they call in sick. In response to Rose’s prompt, one senior system admin pointed out a job listing that offers an “honor-based sick leave policy” in addition to its “commitment to an open, inclusive and diverse work culture.”

And think twice about listing your game room in your job description, tweeted a product designer from Miro:

“When they advertise a ping-pong table in the job listing, it's a huge 🚩 for me. And I love ping-pong. If a silly perk like this [is] such a relevant part of your benefits package, that says a lot about what the company values, and likely its culture."

— Meg Morrone, senior editor (email | twitter)

The early-stage startup CEO salary gap is worse today than it was in 2019

The boom times of 2021 didn’t close the gender pay gap created by the pandemic. In fact, the pay gap is four times wider in 2022 than it was in late 2019 for early-stage startup CEOs, according to data from startup accounting firm Kruze Consulting.

The pay gap between male vs. female early-stage CEOs:

2019: $5,000

2022: $20,000

Biz Carson reports that the challenge for founders is that there’s very little transparency into what founders should be paid. And with a looming downturn already spooking companies to reevaluate their cash flow and trim costs where they can, there’s rising concern that women could fall further behind.

Read the full story.


Hybrid work success looks different depending on who you ask. Your company is made up of a cast of players, each with a role critical to a competitive and thriving business, and with an eye on their North Star: employee happiness. How do you appease all those stakeholders?

Learn more

Copy paste is for losers

Want to quickly pull data together without relentlessly copy-pasting? For example, putting together a list of potential candidates’ LinkedIn profiles into a Google Sheet. Automation tool Magical released some beta features yesterday allowing users to quickly access data across web tabs without integrations.

  • Harpaul Sambhi, CEO and co-founder, said Magical is all about eliminating repetitive tasks and preventing users from relying on Google’s “very bad” autofill.
  • For now, the shortcuts and data transfers are limited to whatever tabs you have open on Chrome. You can try Magical out via its Chrome extension.
— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email| twitter)

The role of career mentors in the tech pipeline

The national nonprofit Jobs for the Future (JFF) released a survey exploring the barriers that Black students and workers face in entering and advancing in tech careers. Consumer research agency AudienceNet surveyed over 1,000 Black Americans and found that mentors were an “invaluable tool” and an “important source of advice,” specifically formal mentoring programs (as opposed to informal ones). The study also found that mentoring programs were especially important for female Black leaders.

  • 55% of Black workers hadn’t had any kind of mentor before.
  • 45% of Black workers had had a mentor, split evenly between a formal mentoring program (24%) and an informal one (24%).
  • 92% of Black workers in formal mentoring programs said the program helped them set new career goals (compared to 79% of Black workers in informal mentoring programs who said this).
  • 77% had a mentor of the same ethnicity/race.
  • 7% said they would have liked their mentor to have been of the same ethnicity/race, but they were not.

Read the report.

More stories from us

Last week Tesla cut 10% of jobs. Bookmark our layoffs/hiring freeze tracker for the latest updates on who’s firing and who’s just not hiring.

The secret to a good night’s sleep is a boring life, apparently.

In the midst of a shaky tech market rife with layoffs and talent shortages, ServiceNow told Protocol that it is hiring more right now than it ever has.


Rightsizing, where each meeting space is outfitted for a specific purpose, is top of mind for facilities pros. Reconfiguring rooms to support new hybrid work schedules enables personalization and a safe return to the office. Understanding how employees will use spaces as they come back will be critical for success.

Learn more

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

The White House is paying its interns. Are you paying yours?

What it takes to build an HR department from nothing.

Life during wartime/work time: The term “hot-desking” comes from the military term “hot-bunking” used to describe how soldiers sleep in shifts, rotating in and out of bunks. H/t HR Brew.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to Have a great day, see you Thursday.

Recent Issues