Slides, jelly shots and frozen eggs – tech giants really want to keep staff happy

24 Nov 2014

The growth of ‘workplace co-ordinators’ in the US shows just how far tech companies are willing to go to attract the right people.

A new report from the Wall Street Journal has shed new light on a brand new industry within an industry, ‘perk managers’.

With staff retention key amongst tech companies all over the world, going the extra yard in more and more facets of employees’ lives is clearly key.

“We are just providing basic standards,” says Jen Nguyen, head of workplace at Pinterest in the US. Offering free food and obscure activities are a big part of what it takes to keep Pinterest’s roughly 450 employees productive and happy, she adds.

What’s eye-catching about the report, though, is Wall Street Journal claims that tech companies say it’s “hard to avoid creating at least one full-time position devoted to the pursuit of worker happiness once a company hires about 100 employees.”

Snow parties, DNA tests and computer décor budgets

US companies are becoming experts at these add-ons, with one (Asana) offering a US$10,000-per-person allowance for computers and desk décor. Others offer free travel, food, healthcare etc. While one company plans a whiskey tasting event, another hires a snow maker to fill a basketball court for an employee celebration.

Google even offers free DNA tests to employees with cancer, while Apple and Facebook cover the cost of egg freezing for female employees. Indeed the comparisons between major companies, with regards their perks, can clearly influence a prospective employee’s decision.

“If you had asked me five years ago, I never would have known this existed in a job description,” says Layla Baird, who works in Nguyen’s team at Pinterest. Shutterstock’s Razia Ferdousi-Meyer says her responsibility “to know who likes the Kind bars, who likes the potato chips, who likes the coconut water” feels like her previous job as a guest-relations coordinator at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.

What seems to have happened is the relentless race to peak perk means that, now that everyone is on board, it’s difficult to stop. If funding retracts and the perks are in line for the chop, how will that look to current and prospective employees?

Also, as the perk culture evolves, staff will start asking for weirder and weirder things. A Pinterest employee asked the company to build a zip line to a nearby bar, while an Adobe staff member wanted a Slip ’N Slide for workday use. The zip line got a no, according to the Wall Street Journal, but the Slip ‘N Slide has not yet been ruled out.

Indeed the growth of the industry as a whole has seen smaller, complementary businesses getting in on the act too, but it’s fair to ask when all this will stop?

Office party image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt
By Gordon Hunt

Gordon Hunt joined Silicon Republic in October 2014 as a journalist. He spends most of his time avoiding conversations about music, appreciating even the least creative pun and rueing the day he panicked when meeting Paul McGrath. His favourite thing on the internet is the ‘Random Article’ link on Wikipedia.

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