Make us your home page
Instagram

Silicon Valley companies get creative with perks

Lacey Salet, an employee at Zynga, takes her dog to work. The San Francisco company’s 700 employees feast on gourmet meals, soothe stress with a massage or get a haircut, all for free.

Los Angeles Times

Lacey Salet, an employee at Zynga, takes her dog to work. The San Francisco company’s 700 employees feast on gourmet meals, soothe stress with a massage or get a haircut, all for free.

SAN FRANCISCO — The 700 people lucky enough to work for online social games maker Zynga Game Network feast on exotic gourmet grub prepared by professional chefs. They soothe stress with a visit to the company masseuse or reflexologist. And they take a break to get their hair cut. All for free.

If singled out for a quarterly award, an employee can win a weekend spin in a $200,000 Lambor- ghini or a carload of vested stock.

No perk is too small.

Administrative assistants are even sent to engineers' homes to wait for the cable guy so engineers can stay focused on developing the next hit game.

With the tech-heavy Nasdaq stock index up 90 percent in the past year, investors again are bankrolling new companies looking to invent the next big thing in social networking, mobile phones and other new technologies.

And that has led companies to try to outperk the competition once again.

"The competitive nature of Silicon Valley forces you to get creative," said Farbood Nivi, founder of San Francisco's online learning startup Grockit.

Other common perks include upgraded health plans, flexible hours, gym memberships and tuition reimbursement. There's the vast cornucopia of free snacks (vegan cookies and coconut water) and services (dry cleaning and leather repair).

Grockit picks up the tab for employee health insurance and contributes $100 a month to each worker's health savings account. During a workday, employees can gather at a long table at Grockit's headquarters — a hip Mission District loft — and enjoy free organic meals.

The perks being offered often reflect the character of the business.

Airbnb Inc., for example, offers free travel. The San Francisco firm that helps people rent out rooms to travelers dispatches its employees to visit hosts around the world. As a result, they can spend up to 5 percent of their jobs traveling.

Making employees happy

Sometimes, a perk is simply fun.

Social publishing company Scribd encourages roughhousing. Every evening, the freewheeling San Francisco headquarters turns into a go-cart track with employees either "scracing," zooming around the office in a figure eight, or playing "go-cart tag," earning points for bumping another player from behind.

The layout of the office, with its six pairs of eight-sided concrete columns running down the middle, also proved ideal for a zip line.

"Pretty soon we are getting a ball pit for the end of the zip line, and I'm still thinking about where we can put a hot tub," said chief executive Trip Adler.

At Asana, an Internet software developer, it's all about creating a workplace nirvana where employees can focus on their work and on the big picture, said Justin Rosenstein, who started the outfit with Facebook Inc. co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

The San Francisco startup doles out $10,000 to recruits to spend as they like on computers and electronic equipment. They also get catered meals and twice-weekly yoga lessons.

"Employees should pretty much get whatever will help them be more productive, since their energy and time are invaluable, and small expenditures can go a big way in making people happier and more effective," Rosenstein said.

Paul Saffo, a Stanford University professor who studies the future of technology, said such perks — like Wall Street bonuses — may sound extravagant but are not.

"Despite the downturn and the number of people on the street looking for jobs, filling or replacing a knowledge-worker job at a Silicon Valley company is a complex, expensive process," he said. "Companies have a very powerful incentive to do everything they can to make an employee happy."

Creative motivation

Motivational experts like Drive author Daniel Pink applaud Silicon Valley for its counterculture mind-set.

Unlike elsewhere in corporate America, where top executives vie for corner offices and country club memberships, perks here do not come with rank. But they do come with a sense of freedom and purpose, something employees crave more than free food and massages, Pink said.

He points to the motivational success of Google's encouraging engineers to spend 20 percent of their time on side projects of their choosing, some of which became major initiatives.

"The rallying cry at many companies is 'Let's raise earnings per share 2 cents a quarter.' That's not going to get someone to jump out of bed in the morning and race to do something extraordinary," Pink said.

Early pioneers, such as Hewlett-Packard Co., gave gifts to newlyweds and new parents, hosted annual picnics and showered employees with free snacks and coffee.

The "HP Way," based on the belief that happier workers are more productive and loyal, inspired generations of Silicon Valley companies to come up with new carrots, such as stock options that could turn into riches.

In 1999, Google revolutionized campus dining by hiring its own chef. It eventually opened 16 cafes that serve up free, mouthwatering meals to the growing work force at its Mountain View headquarters, which also boasts swimming pools and volleyball courts.

It offers other enticements such as free on-site medical care, laundry facilities and fitness centers as well as subsidized personal trainers and massages. Company shuttle buses equipped with wireless Internet ferry more than 1,400 employees to and from Google offices daily.

Zynga may have some of the more generous perks, said Amitt Mahajan, a lead developer on the company's popular game FarmVille who won a $5,000 quarterly award and took his girlfriend to Spain.

His colleague Ginger Larsen, an associate on another popular Zynga game, Mafia Wars, is hooked on the company-paid once-a-week acupuncture treatments, which appeared to cure stomachaches that had bothered her all her life.

Even with all the perks, Zynga's chief people officer Colleen McCreary says, the company is trying to work to prevent a potential fallout: a culture of entitlement.

"We do have a work force for whom this is their first job out of school," McCreary said. "I worry if they ever wanted to go work somewhere else. What a shock to the system that would be."

Silicon Valley companies get creative with perks 04/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 23, 2010 2:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Los Angeles Times.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Higher Social Security payouts help Florida post a big jump in personal income

    Personal Finance

    Personal income grew 1.3 percent in Florida in the first quarter of this year, a four-way tie among all states for second-fastest growth behind Idaho.

  2. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo in Parkshore Plaza on the market for $1.5 million. {Courtesy of Amy Lamb/Native House Photography]
  3. Trigaux: Task now is for Water Street Tampa to build an identity

    Business

    Adios, VinikVille! Hello Water Street Tampa.

    An aerial rendering of the $3 billion redevelopment project that Jeff Vinik and Strategic Property Partners plan on 50-plus acres around Amalie Arena.
[Rendering courtesy of Strategic Property Partners]
  4. Unlicensed contractor accused of faking death triggers policy change at Pinellas licensing board

    Local Government

    The unlicensed contractor accused of faking his death to avoid angry homeowners has triggered an immediate change in policy at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. SeaWorld shares drop Monday to 2017 low after disclosure of federal subpoena

    Tourism

    The Orlando parent company of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks saw its stock drop 3.5 percent Monday to $15.10, its lowest price of this year.

    Killer whales perform at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2011, before public pressure was placed on the theme park company to curtail its orca shows.SeaWorld has since announced an end to the traditional killer whale entertainment  at its theme parks. [AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack]