Talent Daily Debates: Are Everlane’s ‘Passion Days’ Effective Cultural Onboarding?

Talent Daily Debates: Are Everlane’s ‘Passion Days’ Effective Cultural Onboarding?

Smart executives know that an organization’s culture drives top-line growth, but it can be difficult and time-consuming for new hires to learn the ins and outs of the culture as they get up to speed. Companies are constantly searching for more innovative and effective ways for their new employees to learn the culture. For example, l’Oreal released its Fit Culture App for new hires last year, which uses “texts, videos, employee testimonials, … quizzes, games and real-life missions” to “give each and every employee, from the moment they arrive, the keys to succeed in full alignment with company values such as multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion.”

More recently, Quartz’s Leah Fessler profiled the onboarding program at the ethical clothing company Everlane, which sets the cultural tone from day one by making every new employee’s first day a “Passion Day”:

“It’s called a passion day,” says Michael Preysman, CEO of the direct-to-consumer clothing startup, which hit $100 million in revenue in 2016. Every Everlane employee starts their new job with a passion day, on which they’re given $100 to spend doing something they love. … There are no limits on what the cash can be spent on, so long as it’s outside of the office and legal. And while they’re not warned ahead of time, every employee has to share how they spent their cash upon being introduced to the entire company the following week. …

Passion days are an extension of an already hyper-individualized hiring process. Everyone who applies to Everlane has to complete a project, regardless of their seniority, to evaluate their skills. “One of our core values is to hire people who are entrepreneurial thinkers—people who are creative and passionate,” Preysman says.

Some of our expert researchers at CEB, now Gartner, had different points of view on whether Everlane’s Passion Day program is an idea worth emulating. Here’s what they had to say:

Andrea Kropp, Research Director: It’s great to see companies putting action and money behind their culture initiatives, especially when the culture they are striving for is very different from the norm. The vast majority of new hires have worked somewhere else before, even if just part-time or in a family business, so they’ve already been exposed to someone else’s culture. If you know your culture is dramatically different, you need something attention-grabbing to show new hires that you are serious and not just paying lip service to the idea of being different.

The Passion Day practice aligns well with Everlane’s cultural priorities of entrepreneurial thinking and radical transparency. It might not work as well at an organization with different cultural values, such as operational excellence or collaboration, but because it fits Everlane’s stated priorities so well, it works. It’s certainly much better than showing new hires a PowerPoint presentation about company values on day one.

Matt Dudek, Research Director: You’re saying an employee’s first day should be a free PTO day, and you give them $100 on top of that to do whatever they want with? That doesn’t seem like money well spent. There are so many better ways to introduce someone to a company. Don’t get me wrong: As an employee, I’d love it, but as a manager, leader, or investor at Everlane, I’m shaking my head.

Andrea: The standard list of “ways to introduce someone to a company” is rather short and uninspired in my opinion: a group welcome session with HR, lunch with the boss, a peer mentor to introduce you around and show you the ropes, creating an About Me page on the corporate intranet? Pretty bland overall. None of these experiences will jolt someone out of a previously established behavioral norm and get them acting in line with a new culture. Conversely, an experience like bootcamp for new military recruits delivers a huge jolt. I applaud Everlane for recognizing that an immersive and unique experience is a great way to establish new cultural and performance expectations. If through experimentation Everland finds a better first day experience than the Passion Day, then they should do that instead, but don’t go back to the way 95 percent of companies deal with the first day of work just because a few people found your experiment odd, or because it costs $100 more than the first day would have cost the company anyway.

Matt: I’m all for innovation and experimentation in creating a culture that performs, but it’s hard for me to see Passion Days as anything more than a publicity stunt in a tight labor market, because the employee doesn’t actually learn anything about the company or its culture. You spend Passion Day alone and outside of the office, not with coworkers. Then the outcome is a “gotcha” moment where you’re put on the spot to share what you did with your day (although I guess the cat’s out of the bag on this one). The ROI just doesn’t seem to be there. If it were, why not do this every year? What’s holding them back? Doing this every year would be the ultimate proof point that this creates value for the company. If I were to build on this idea, I’d at least require the new hire to take a current Everlane employee with them on their Passion Day. Or better yet, challenge employees to work their passion into changes in how the company operates. For example, if you’re in the finance department, how can you find new ways for Everlane to save money and thus donate more to charity?