Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Are Fabulous Work Perks Needed For Top Talent? Google Says 'No'

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 29, 2013

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(Above from left) Doug MacMillan, Bloomberg; Melissa Daimler, Twitter; Rowan Trollope, Cisco Systems; and Todd Carlisle, Director of Staffing at Google.

There’s enormous competition for software engineers and many companies offer an ever larger array of work perks convinced that it will help them recruit the best.

Kathleen Pender at SFGate.com reports: Tech, social media employers offer perks aplenty 

 

Tech workers are being wooed with napping stations, unlimited vacation, free housekeeping and errand-running, yoga classes, on-site doctors and masseuses, and gourmet cafeterias…

Social Print Studio of San Francisco is a good example of the modern startup. Along with health care, but no 401(k) yet, it offers unlimited vacation, napping boxes, and a fully equipped jam room where its 20 employees and their friends can record a song or video. 

Foremski’s Take: Are such work perks really necessary? And do they do more harm than good by competing with local businesses?

Google is famous for its work perks such as hiring top chefs to cook gourmet meals for staff and having games rooms, etc.  But when I attended an Inforum panel about “How to attract tomorrow’s talent,” Todd Carlisle, Director of Staffing, shocked fellow panelists from Cisco, Twitter, and Bloomberg, saying that they were not necessary. 

He said no job applicants ask about work perks, and no one turns down a job based on what perks are available.

Adult day care…

When I met with Jedidiah Yueh, CEO of virtual database company Delphix, one of Silicon Valley’s hottest startups I asked how the company recruits top engineers. I asked if it offers a games room, etc. 

“No. We don’t run an adult day care center. The best engineers want the opportunity to work on solving hard problems and that’s what we do here.” 

So if work perks aren’t necessary why do so many companies insist on providing them? Surely, that’s a distraction from their business? And it’s not good for the surrounding community because they are competing with local small businesses trying to make a living providing basic services such as dry cleaning, etc.

This is especially worrisome when a large company such as Google continues to expand its footprint in the middle of Silicon Valley, and its free food and services are pushing local business into bankruptcy. It’s a situation that will worsen when it opens two large office complexes in downtown Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Twitter’s negative effect on local businesses is even greater because its HQ is in San Francisco’s Tenderloin — the city’s poorest district. Yet Twitter is receiving as much as $55m in tax breaks from the city as part of an agreement it made to gentrify its neighborhood. Instead, it ends up competing with local businesses, making the situation worse.

What’s the point in communities having such tech giants in their midst when they result in job losses and high rents? 

[Please see: Living In The Shadow Of The Googleplex: Communities Struggle To Keep Jobs]

Drinking the same koolaid…

Another aspect of this work perks trend is that staff don’t get out much. They spend less time interacting with outsiders and far more time inside their work environment. This leads to a uniformity in thought and culture.

With less experience of the outside world they won’t be getting many bright ideas that could help their companies succeed in real-world environments. And they won’t be evangelizing their company’s web services either. 

Tech company workers live in a pampered world where they miss out on developing skills of basic self-sufficiency such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning their apartments. It’s just like living at home with mom except it’s even better because mom’s not there to tell you to pick up your room — it’s no wonder that the young engineers gain a reputation for being entitled.

Telecommuting failure…

Todd Carlisle was asked about telecommuting, and he said Google had looked at a lot of data on which was better for productivity: office or working remotely.  He said the data showed no difference.

Yet Google’s massive fleet of white unmarked buses, with their sinister looking blacked out windows scoop up tens of thousands of staff every morning from street corners all around San Francisco and the Bay Area, annoying residents and adding to traffic delays. Why?

Delphix has the right answer. Otherwise, you end up recruiting staff who mostly care about perks than the job that needs to be done, which is not the way to build a motivated world-class workforce. 

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The audio from the Inforum panel is here: How to Attract Tomorrow’s Talent and Prepare for the Future Workforce

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