Here’s a great article about some California corporate cultures from the October issue of Vanity Fair (“Best Business Practices: The Perks of the Trade,” by Bethany McLean) — is your company like these?
Never in history has a group of employees had it so good. It all began with Google, which elevated perks—like free gourmet food cooked by star chefs (which reportedly costs the company some $100,000 a day) and free Wi-Fi-enabled coaches that shuttle workers between San Francisco and Google’s Silicon Valley offices—to an art form. Google’s engineers are allowed to spend 20 percent of their normal working hours on Google-related projects that excite them, a practice that led to the development of Gmail, among other things. Google became the gold standard, and in 2008 the perk war began in earnest when Facebook hired away one of Google’s top chefs, Josef Desimone (along with Google executive Sheryl Sandberg, who is now Facebook’s chief operating officer).
Today, free food prepared by gourmet cooks has almost become a cliché at Silicon Valley companies, along with such on-site services as haircuts, dry cleaning, and even medical care. Ditto for taking your pets to work—although there’s always a way to one-up. Game-maker Zynga, for instance, offers pet insurance too.
Some companies have something for everyone—literally. In the Valley, LinkedIn is famous for its Coke Freestyle machine that dispenses 129 flavors of soda, so employees who want, say, an orange Coke can custom-make their perfect fix. Other companies make their product the perk. At electric-vehicle-maker Tesla Motors, employees can take the Tesla Roadster out for a weekend spin. Still others try to appeal to their employees’ better instincts. At Salesforce.com, employees can take six paid days a year to do volunteer work.
Like Google’s 20 percent policy, the perks can offer more than convenience or fun. At Netflix, employees are allowed to customize the mixture of cash and stock in their compensation, and there’s no vacation policy—meaning that employees can take all the time off that they wish. And if you’re a young computer whiz, why not be an intern at online reviewer Yelp, which prides itself on offering its charges the opportunity to do a lot more than fetch coffee? It was a Stanford student named Ben Newhouse who helped invent Yelp’s hugely popular Monocle application, which shows you all the nearby businesses, along with their Yelp reviews, wherever you and your smartphone happen to be.
There’s a logic to all the freebies and flexibility: Companies are willing to offer anything (O.K., almost anything) in order to win the war for talent. Google worries—and rightly so—about how hard it is for a big company to come up with the next hot thing. Thus, the free meals aren’t so much about providing food as they are about providing what Google’s head of people operations, Laszlo Bock, calls “manufactured moments of serendipity,” where a happenstance conversation in the food line might spark an idea. To increase the odds of interaction, Google even measures the length of the lunch line. “We don’t have it down to the decimal point,” says Bock. “But below 3 minutes is not good, and over 10 minutes is not good.”
At Google, all the perks haven’t stopped a number of employees from leaving. The company’s latest strategy to retain employees isn’t just another newfangled perk, though: Last fall, Google gave all of its employees a 10 percent raise, increasing pay to well above the average. Thanks to that, Bock says, Google is now getting and keeping more talent. Cash is still king.