At one time — before the digital revolution, before companies such as Google came around and began offering their employees non-monetary perks just for showing up to their jobs, perks such as free lunches, massages, happy hour events, and workplace parties — staff members were happy to get their salaries and, perhaps, the occasional raise. In the tech world, that culture of incremental raises appears to be gone, and in its place has come a flood of competitive perks driven by specialized office managers that hold the title: “workplace coordinator.”
The details of this situation come to light at the Wall Street Journal where Rachel Feintzeig examines the excess of workplaces at tech companies the likes of Pinterest, Asana, Adobe, and Shutterstock. At Pinterest, a woman named Jen Nguyen holds the office title of workplace coordinator. Her responsibilities? She provides the so-called “basic standards” of the workplace environment that include free food and events like Jell-O shot-making “studio night.” Proverbial partners such as Razia Ferdousi-Meyer who manages such operations at Shutterstock, is in charge of remembering what kinds of snack bars and potato chips employees prefer. She also must remember which employees like chocolate water.
Workplace coordinators also manage more lavish perks such as the company policy at Asana of allowing each employee a $10,000 budget for the decoration and furnishing of his or her own desk and the Adobe Oktoberfest celebration. For those keeping record: Adobe offered six varieties of beer.
Companies hand out these sorts of services, often at no charge to employees, to keep them happy and keep them busy. Stephanie Rogers, an engineer at Pinterest, says a muay thai class allows her to exercise while she’s on the job.
“If they’re going to keep me here with exercise classes, I’m going to work longer,” she commented.
Attitudes like Rogers’ prevail among employees of tech companies. They offer their employers top talent, and they expect to find rewards for their hard work and dedication. Of course, requests for freebies can get out of hand. An employee at Pinterest recently asked for a zipline from the office to a nearby bar; an Adobe employee requested that the company purchase a Slip N’ Slide for office use. The zipline request, by the way, was denied, but the Slip N’ Slide issue is reportedly still on the table.
Rick Heitzmann, a managing director at FirstMark Capital, which was Pinterest’s first investor and which continues to invest heavily in the company, defends the level of spending that Pinterest puts into these workplace extras. He calls them “appropriate for a company at this stage.” He said world-class companies have to make investments of that sort to keep their talent pool full.
Perhaps the two biggest drawbacks for any companies spending thousands of dollars on their employees is that they cannot lower their standards by decreasing perks, should financial matters take a turn for the worse, and they may be less likely to offer raises. Tech companies may see freebies as replacements for incremental raises. That sort of attitude can turn sour quickly if employees feel the trade-off is not worth it.
Companies obviously need to strike a balance between giveaways and the traditional model of offering increases to employees paychecks. Given a balance, though, workers at the companies WSJ profiled seem happy. That means the perks are doing what they are meant to do. As long as the millions of dollars keep rolling in, investors will continue to place their hopes in companies with the potential to keep revenue growing every quarter. As long as that keeps happening, the perks will keep coming.
Image courtesy of Dave Basulto via Flickr