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Businesses Programming

Do Developers Need Free Perks To Thrive? 524

Posted by timothy
from the man-does-not-live-by-free-bread-alone dept.
jammag writes "Free sodas, candy and energy bars can be surprisingly important to developers, says longtime coder Eric Spiegel. They need the perks, not to mention the caffeine boost. More important, free sodas from management are like the canary in the coal mine. If they get cut, then layoffs might be next. '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.' Are free perks really that important?"
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Do Developers Need Free Perks To Thrive?

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  • rather have money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:07PM (#43784997) Journal
    I'd rather have a larger paycheck.
  • by xevioso (598654) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:07PM (#43785005)

    ...that something could be amiss. That said, quite often the perks come right back when the company does better.

    It's not just coders that like free perks...project managers, HR people, and the people who run the business like them as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:10PM (#43785033)

    Free soda, candy = free diabetes
    Free caffeine = free hypertension & stomach disorders

    Screw that garbage; give me sane work life balance. Burning the midnight oil coding is fun; I was young once too. After a while, though, your body just won't take as much abuse as it used to.

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:12PM (#43785057)

    Cutting the sodas isn't going to make much difference to your paycheck.

    It has a fair chance of lowering morale though.

  • by OverlordQ (264228) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:12PM (#43785063) Journal

    Yes, while having these perks is nice, the narrative in this story makes the guy sound like an entitled twat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:12PM (#43785065)

    Creating a supportive and productive environment isn't just something restricted to businesses employing software developers, it's just the only industry left that actually gives even the slightest bit of a thought to the happiness of its employees.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:12PM (#43785069)

    I'd rather have a larger paycheck.

    But in practice, a company that refuses to provide perks to developers is likely to pay them less, not more. Theoretically it could happen differently, but that's not the way to bet.

  • by Tony Isaac (1301187) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:18PM (#43785131) Homepage

    It's not the free drinks or candy, although those things are nice. What developers want is to feel like they matter to the company. One of the ways a company can do that is to provide some small freebies. But freebies alone don't cut it.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:19PM (#43785151)

    Options are a poor way of compensating employees. Just ask all the MS employees whose options are effectively worthless because the strike price is inappropriate for what the stock price will ever be. A better strategy would be to just do proper profit sharing or give them actual shares in the company.

  • by BetterSense (1398915) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:20PM (#43785163)
    That's the good thing about "money"...it solves the coincidence-of-wants problem, which is why people prefer to be paid in money instead of perks. However, with the government standing in the middle between your and your employer, you will never get a larger paycheck equal to the perks. Giving you the perks is more tax-efficient than paying you enough to buy the perks yourself.

    Spending $30/(month*employee) on candy bars can simply be written off as an expense. If the company wanted to pay the employees enough to buy their own candy bars, they would actually have to pay all their people $50/(mo*employee) or so that they have $30 left after income tax. And you won't get a group rate on candy.

    All things being equal, perks are a better value. Hope you like going to the gym that your employer uses for its gym membership program, hope you enjoy the coffee they buy, the healthcare plan that they offer, and the groceries at the company store (not quite, but we are getting there).
  • R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CityZen (464761) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:21PM (#43785177) Homepage

    Aretha Franklin knows what we need.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:22PM (#43785199)

    The perks themselves may not be that important to many employees. What matters is that the existence of the perks sends a message: that the company values its employees and is willing to put some amount of effort into retaining them. As the original article pointed out, if a company isn't willing to spend a few bucks on free food and drinks that the employees value, how long will it be until the work environment deteriorates in other ways?

    Things are different if you work for a nonprofit and/or government agency where there is less discretionary income. You know what you're getting into. But a for-profit company has the choice. If they cut out minor perks like free soda, they're saying that they are willing to piss off their employees to add a few bucks to the bottom line. Either that, or they really are on the verge of bankruptcy – and in both cases it's a good idea to be looking for the exits.

  • by Hadlock (143607) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:23PM (#43785201) Homepage Journal

    If you figure out who at your office does the perks purchasing, a birthday card and a phone call can go a long ways towards upgrading you from folgers to starbucks coffee grinds and generic to fanta brand orange soda, etc.

  • Caffeine and Time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScottCooperDotNet (929575) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:25PM (#43785249)

    It's not just the caffeine that benefits the company by stimulating workers, but also that you don't have staff doing daily coffee runs for a half hour.

  • by Joe Tie. (567096) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:33PM (#43785333)
    The majority of places I've worked that really put effort into keeping a stocked kitchen do so for pretty manipulative reasons. They plan on absurd amounts of overtime or even unpaid hours and know that people are going to be less inclined to agree if their body is screaming for dinner.
  • by unfortunateson (527551) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:35PM (#43785371) Journal

    1) A decent ergonomic chair that works for people 2 meters tall
    2) A door
    3) A manager who will
          a) go to the meetings on my behalf and send me the 3-line email with the one detail that I needed to be there for
          b) find interesting work for me to do
    4) A bonus program that has clear, achievable objectives that pay out at least something if I beat my goals -- don't pull the rug out from under my feet if I've been slaving, just because Sales can't get in the door

  • by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:37PM (#43785409)

    This is great, if you're a single male.

    Women and babies get to be expensive, I hear.

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:39PM (#43785429)

    Not everything is about Math. Employees will feel more rewarded by a company supplied meal than they would with the equivalent (or substantially more) cash. Especially if the boss has stayed and joins in the meal too.

    Equally, pick the wrong perk and do it in the wrong way and it'll be a demotivation. I was once given an envelope of vouchers with the entire office gathered around as if I was employee of the month. Ack. I left that place soon after.

  • by DingerX (847589) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:40PM (#43785437) Journal
    It's a fundamental aspect of human psychology. If the owner of the house you're in provides something for free, then you have a host-guest relationship. If not, then you have a mercenary one. This holds from airlines to assembly lines. Guess which approach is more effective at getting people to do what you want?
  • by mbaGeek (1219224) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:42PM (#43785465) Homepage

    the head of NCR (way back in the first half of the 20th century) was asked about the generous "fringe benefits" the company provided (including a golf course). He pointed out that employees were move productive when provided with the benefits. In his opinion NCR wasn't "giving away" anything, just doing what was best for the company.

    any "perks" (like free soda) only increase productivity if the employee is happy with their base compensation. If someone thinks they are drastically underpaid/unvalued then no amount of freebies will matter

    if someone feels like they are valued and doing important work - then they will be more productive/loyal

    my guess is that the return on investment for free soda/coffee (in increased productivity) is extremely high - but it isn't about the soda

    There is actually quite a bit of research on this type of thing - I'd recommend "Drive" by Daniel Pink and "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely (he just did a coursera class as well) for anyone interested ...

  • by Above (100351) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:45PM (#43785513)

    I do believe it is a canary in a coal mine. I'm amazed at companies that will have no problem spending $125,000 in salary on a high end programmer, which is probably $150,000 with benefits and all that but if they want a second monitor for $400 it's a big no-can-do. Soda/tea/coffee is $0.10-$0.30 a serving, even if someone were a major drinker at 5 servings a day of the expensive stuff that's $375/person/year, or about the same cost. Gives you an idea of what they are willing to spend on a happy, productive employee.

    People don't need a lot to be happy, but basic respect and curtesy go a long way. If you went to someone's house to visit them one of the first things they are likely to offer is some sort of beverage. It's basic hospitality. And the company isn't just inviting the employees into their environment, but what about vendors, partners, or customers come to visit? There should be something to offer to them.

    Lots of management types are under the impression that getting a paycheck is what makes people happy. It's a false logic, just because not getting a paycheck makes people unhappy doesn't mean it works the other way around.

  • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:48PM (#43785559)

    For the price of free soda your paycheque may go up but a dollar a week. Once you take into account the overheads it's a lot more cost effective to just give someone soda. (Please no-one interperet that as big-government making it too expensive to employ people.)

    Also, money is nice, but I place a high value on a nice place to work. I spend over half my waking hours at work, getting a soda and a cookie isn't much but it makes me feel a lot better about coming.

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex.project-retrograde@com> on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:51PM (#43785625)

    Near ten years as a software developer with no major medical bills (crossing fingers it continues).

    Who gives a fuck about your anecdotal evidence? You could go your whole damn life without ever setting foot in a doctor's office. That shite doesn't matter. What matters is that in aggregate that the outliers like you are being used as excuses to charge higher prices. You may not pay for it directly, but you do pay for it in everything else you buy. You're being foolish. Cut it out.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @03:57PM (#43785769)

    People cannot make a sane argument against it.

    They will however make greedy short sighted childish arguments against it.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:13PM (#43786029) Homepage

    I think this is a more appropriate way of looking at things. If you want to keep valuable employees happy, it helps to show them that they're appreciated. That might mean giving them free candy and soda, but there are many other options. It might mean that you let them leave a little early or have an extra day off. It might mean that you give them a more flexible schedule or let them work from home. It might mean that you give them more interesting and more challenging projects. It might mean that you make a point to say "Thank you. Job well done."

    The ways of showing people that they're important and appreciated are varied, and part of how you show someone that you appreciate them is by bothering to figure out what makes them feel appreciated.

    Soda and candy? That wouldn't make me feel appreciated, and I wouldn't worry about a company that cut those. I'd be more concerned about a company that treats its employees badly but hopes to buy them off with soda and candy.

  • by gameboyhippo (827141) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:14PM (#43786045) Journal

    The problem is that this conversation illuminates that you're not very good with money. When you take a high deductible plan, you don't use the savings on beer and video games (or whatever you're into), you save it. Then when you've saved enough, you can go in and start investing the money and make even more money. If you're one to want to spend everything you make or you get sick often, then it's a bad idea. But if you're responsible, don't smoke, take care of yourself, etc... it's a good way to earn more money.

    You have this liberal conception that insurance companies have infinite money. They don't. They make their money by investing money paid by people like you and then earn off the interest. They expect that they will pay out every dollar that is put in, so they profit off of the investments. The scam is low deductible, high premium. Let me guess, you also have whole life insurance, right?

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:21PM (#43786183)

    A shorter version that pretty much sums up all political discourse from the right in the USA is "Fuck you, I got mine!".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:25PM (#43786241)

    My aunt has survived 5 bouts with (supposedly terminal) breast cancer on the Canadian public system.
    My father survived 13 years longer than his original 6 month prognosis on the Canadian public system.

    If I'm hit by a car my treatment is immediate and complete with no one worrying how it will be paid for.

    Yeah, there are long waits sometimes and sometimes people die. But they die because of long waits, not just to save a corporation some money.
    I once took my mother to the emergency room for chest constriction. Within 2 minutes through the door they gave her the initial "want's wrong" check-up and rushed her in for heart treatment. No waiting.

    And people don't die "regularly". That is propaganda and the simple fact that our life expectancy is longer than USA hold light to that.

  • by BigDaveyL (1548821) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:43PM (#43786591) Homepage

    You couldn't be more correct here.

    I am a 30-something single white male and I pay less than $1500 for home and auto insurance combined and I get fairly decent coverage. If we allowed the same type of competition/options for health insurance, I bet we would see prices come in line.

    Your point about charging a third party for routine visits. The insurance company gets charged $400 for a simple 15-minute visit. The analogue is getting your oil changed on your car - you don't charge your auto insurance for it and it costs $19.95.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:44PM (#43786611)

    Sadly my only option was an FSA, which means they keep the money anyway so I might as well just pay for the more expensive insurance.

    How that is legal I cannot understand.

    On top of all that, this means only the young and well off can afford coverage and woe be to the underprivileged or the elderly.

    The FSA is a stupid joke of a health care policy - how can anyone accurately predict their out of pocket medical expenses for the following year? Fixed expenses like medicines can be predicted, but I just paid for expensive dental work mostly out of pocket with no way to deduct it because I didn't have the forsight to predict that a dental condition would exhaust my meager Dental Insurance annnual cap.

    Rather than an FSA where I have to lock up money in a bank account, I'd like to see medical expenses be fully deductible without having to reach the 7.5% AGI limit. Why should Jane get to deduct her $1200 of predictable $100/month medications, but John can't deduct his $2000 of unexpected dental work? John probably needs the deduction more since his was an unplanned expense.

  • by gameboyhippo (827141) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:51PM (#43786735) Journal

    Yes. I only think for myself since I would rather keep the money I earned than to give it to someone who's unwise with their money. Greed in action. Caught me red handed.

    Your words betray any sort of confidence that you know what you're talking about. Yes, they have two types of profits. One for when they collect more in premiums than they pay out (rare) or one in which they make a profit from their investments (more common). They are primarily interested in making investment income. I have first hand information regarding this.

    See, you bought into this weird "rich people are evil" concept. It's okay to make money. It's okay to be wise with money. It's not greedy or thinking of only yourself. You seem passionate about helping others. Imagine how much more you can help others if you didn't squander your money. I've never quite understood this whole, "I'm not winning, so you can't either" type mentality. Try winning for a change and then help others with your winnings.

  • by uncqual (836337) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @04:52PM (#43786757)

    So, quit. The deal you had when you were hired is irrelevant to the deal you have now unless the contract still binds you and the other party. Salaries change, markets change, etc so I don't see why you even mentioned it.

    Also, if the company initially paid P1 for your insurance with a deductible of D1 but the only way to cover you for P1 years later is with a higher deducible D2 (even in CPI adjusted dollars due to medical costs outstripping general inflation for some interval), why would you expect them to not raise the deductible to D2 and continue to pay P1 for your coverage.

    Everyone "wants" more. Markets, in the long term, decide what everyone "gets".

    Do you really "need" more? Are you not getting sufficient hydration and calories to sustain life? If not, you should probably spend the time and personal resources you spent responding to me and instead go for a walk and scavenge some discarded recyclables to sell. Few highly paid people in STEM fields really understand what people "need".

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday May 21, 2013 @05:16PM (#43787115) Journal

    When I'm here at 8 o'clock at night -- I would much prefer free soda (or a pizza) to an extra $100 in my bank account.

    I wouldn't. I'd rather not be there at 8 o'clock at night. This is a sure sign of poor management.

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