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Developers and Free Perks: Page 2

Cutting back on perks may seem like a smart business move—until developers start leaving the company.  
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I rolled my eyes. “Shaun, do you think us goobers care about health care premiums? This company makes millions–they can afford it.”

Sudhir, who was usually pretty quiet, spoke up. “You all should be happy to have jobs. I have a lot of friends who are having a hard time finding decent opportunities in tech companies

“Now you sound like Sue,” I said.

Sudhir stood up and leaned over his cube wall. “That’s because she is right. I worked in many jobs in India where there was nothing free–except the air and water. And sometimes the water wasn’t drinkable!”

Shaun chimed in. “Amen, Sudhir. At least we have drinkable water!”

Frank laughed and said, “Have you actually tasted the water here?”

“Guys, you are missing the point,” I said.

Management expects us to work at least ten hours a day and many weekends. Every minute of my day at the office spent on anything but writing code is a minute that I could be going to the gym, gaming or sleeping. Plus, not having sodas and snacks impacts our productivity, right? We all have been using caffeine since studying late for finals in college because it clearly helped with unreasonable time demands.”

Shaun piped up with a look of consternation. “You have to be kidding me. Do you think nurses or security guards get free sodas? They work long hours too. Most developers are just used to being pampered because good ones are hard to find. “

Then he added his usual health-related snarky comment, “And besides, caffeinated soda will send you to an early grave.”

(This was before the days of super-caffeinated “energy drinks” which have caused some cities to sue their manufacturers regarding health concerns. So maybe Shaun wasn’t too far off. But I digress…)

Now it was Frank’s turn to roll his eyes. “Whatever, Shaun. Sipping soda helps keep me in rhythm while I code. It’s hard to explain–it’s like a part of my creative process. Security guards and nurses don’t need to be concerned about their creative juices.”

I interjected, “I don’t know about that, Frank, but I will tell you that this new policy likely is just the beginning of changes we won’t like. It’s a sign that things are changing–and not for the better. This isn’t a startup anymore. I’m sure the latest investors are trying to squeeze out as much profit as possible so we can go public or sell the company. These changes are clear signs that the culture of the company is changing right before our eyes. “

Sudhir peeked over the cube wall again, and this also got Shaun’s attention, who asked “What do you mean exactly?”

I stood up so everyone could hear.

The sodas are just the wake-up call. If the culture changes to be focused more on cost-cutting than on innovation and creativity, then would you still want to work here? I wouldn’t.”

And sure enough, in the next months Cheryl announced cuts to training and conferences. Then, predictably, annual performance reviews resulted in much smaller raises than years past and a couple of what management referred to as “necessity” terminations. We started calling Cheryl “The Turk” after the mythical figure that cuts NFL players during training camp.

The result was an exodus of talented engineers who weren’t going to wait around for The Turk to cut them too.  

Although the company was eventually acquired, most analysts thought it sold for a song. It’s my belief that this lower valuation was a direct result of the most talented engineers heading for companies with fantastic free perks, like Google, where they have stated their goal is to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world. Not only does Google offer free sodas and snacks–they have free lunches and massages.

Being concerned about free sodas, snacks and other perks certainly seems shallow on the surface, but sometimes you have to look beneath the surface to see what is really happening. Management should carefully analyze the impact of changes which could very well corrode company culture and negatively tilt the scales of staff retention in favor of the competition—who just happen to have a fridge stocked with free sodas.


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