The cafeteria is a staple of contemporary corporate office buildings, and providing free or low-cost meals to employees is a common perk, particularly in the tech sector. Of course, if employees are eating breakfast, lunch, and even dinner in the same building where they work, that means they’re not patronizing local shops and restaurants. With that in mind, local lawmakers in San Francisco are proposing an amendment to the city’s zoning code to curb the proliferation of office cafeterias and drive more traffic to downtown eateries, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:
In an attempt to attract employees to local restaurants and businesses, Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin are co-sponsoring an ordinance that would ban “employee cafeterias” from new office buildings in the city. This comes as local retailers, particularly those downtown, complain of a drop in business as more companies offer their workers meals in private corporate cafeterias, Safaí said. …
An “employee cafeteria” is defined in the San Francisco health code as a space inside an office where employees are provided or sold tax-free food on a regular basis. These facilities are either operated by company employees or contractors. There are currently 51 such cafeterias around the city, Safaí said. The supervisors’ proposal would put the city at odds with the tech industry, which largely views free food as an essential perk to lure talent. …
Qualtrics, a customer and employee experience management company based in Provo, Utah, introduced a new bonus scheme in January that focuses on its own employees’ experiences. The new perk, which replaced the company’s $1,000 Christmas bonus, offers employees $1,500 expressly to fund meaningful experiences for themselves and their families. SHRM’s Kathy Gurchiek takes an extensive look at this “experience bonus” and how Qualtrics employees are using it:
At Qualtrics, a full-time employee who has worked at least one year at any of its 14 offices—regardless of one’s job performance rating or review—may submit a form outlining the experience he or she has planned. Qualtrics deposits the money into the employee’s account for that purpose.
“We’re not going to judge and say ‘you should do this or that.’ … We want you to do what’s meaningful for you, and we want to empower you to do something [special],” said [Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics], who used his bonus to visit his parents who had moved to Melbourne, Australia. Unused bonus money does not accumulate, as the company wants to encourage employees to savor life.
Qualtrics employees, 80 percent of whom are millennials, have used their bonuses in a variety of ways: diving with sharks, hiking the Great Wall of China, seeing Hamilton from the third row, or launching a charity to raise money for an orphanage in Kenya. The original idea behind the benefit, Maugham said, was to exemplify the company’s culture of wanting the best for its employees, but it has also paid off as a recruiting and retention tool.
Companies that allow or provide alcohol in the workplace often do so in order to attract young talent with an image of a fun, friendly, work-hard-play-hard culture, but a recent study suggests that booze might not be as attractive a perk as many startup founders seem to think it is. Oregon State University’s Michelle Klampe presents some new research from OSU business professor Anthony Klotz and Serge da Motta Veiga of American University that investigated the reactions of college students and recent graduates to the availability of alcohol in prospective workplaces. finding that in fact, drinking cultures often turn them off:
“Students preparing to enter the workforce ask a lot of questions about alcohol and job interviews and the best way to navigate those situations,” Klotz said. “And generally, people are confused about how to deal with alcohol in the workplace. Not everyone finds it appealing.” …
In both studies, participants were also asked questions relating to their level of political skill, which refers to the a set of social abilities that helps them effectively understand others at work, influence others in ways that enhance their own objectives and navigate social situations with confidence. Klotz and da Motta Veiga predicted that those with high political skill are more likely to be comfortable at alcohol-based events, while those with low political skill may be unable to take advantage of the social benefits that the combination of alcohol and work provide.
The studies showed that participants with lower levels of political skill were less likely to see themselves as fitting in and wanting to work at the company when the recruiting advertising and dinner out included alcohol. “This is a specific condition where alcohol is harmful in recruiting prospective employees,” Klotz said. “However, we didn’t find any significant upside to including alcohol for the participants that showed high levels of political skill.”
The authors don’t take a position on whether a culture of drinking at work is good or bad in general, but recommend that employers be up-front with candidates about the role of alcohol in their culture in order to avoid hiring employees whose interests and values don’t align with it.
From getting certified as a B Corporation in 2012, to its proposal for a social safety net for gig economy participants, to its expansive parental leave policy and other generous employee benefits, the online handicrafts marketplace Etsy has made a point of positioning itself as a socially responsible business that takes good care of both its employees and the users who rely on it to sell their creations. Since going public two years ago, however, Etsy’s growth has stalled and its stock price has fallen considerably as investors balked at a business philosophy that appeared to them insufficiently profit-minded. Now, Max Chafkin and Jing Cao report in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek feature, activist investors are stepping in to push the company in a more pro-growth direction, which means rethinking some elements of its culture and particularly spending less money on compensation and employee perks:
The answer, as [tech investor Seth Wunder] saw it, was that the company had been careless with its spending—Etsy’s general and administrative expenses amounted to 24 percent of total revenue. (EBay and MercadoLibre.com, the Latin American online marketplace, each spend about 10 percent of revenue on such expenses.) Etsy had been hiring like crazy, having increased its staff 55 percent since the end of 2014, and doling out all manner of perks: an elegant Brooklyn headquarters with Manhattan views, art installations, and a “breathing room,” along with salaries and benefits common at much, much more profitable tech companies. Wunder’s Black-and-White Capital began buying Etsy stock, eventually acquiring 2 percent of the company. The stake is relatively modest—Black-and-White is Etsy’s 16th-largest shareholder—but it was more than enough to launch an activist campaign.
Nothing says “startup culture” like cool perks, and nothing says “cool perks” like a cold beer with the team at the end of the day, whether served up by the office bartender or from the kegerator or beer fridge in the break room. But just as the rest of startup culture isn’t right for every company, when that culture involves alcohol, it can create problems: Take for example Zenefits, where in-office boozing was enough of an issue that the suite of reforms CEO David Sacks implemented upon taking over the company in February included a ban on alcohol.
We’ve given a lot of attention lately to the diversity challenges that can arise from hiring on the basis of “culture fit,” and here, too, alcohol can make matters worse. After all, not everyone drinks alcohol, and a company where camaraderie leans heavily on drinking together can be profoundly alienating to those who don’t. That’s why Wired’s Klint Finley thinks “it’s time for tech to rethink its relationship with alcohol”:
Most of the non-drinkers we spoke to for this article didn’t mind being around people who drink, so long as those drinkers are not drunk. What really bothers non-drinkers is feeling underappreciated. … When companies rely on alcohol to reward employees, non-drinkers often end up shorted. Nabil Maynard, a former quality assurance engineer at Dropbox, recalls last year’s company holiday party that featured several brands of fancy Scotch but few concessions for non-drinkers. “All there was was mixers,” he says. “Couldn’t they at least have bought some fancy root beers?”
Martha Hoelzer/Feature Photo Service for IBM
IBM announced on Tuesday that it will soon allow many of its US employees to take advantage of the company’s Watson AI supercomputer to make cancer treatment decisions and explore clinical trial options with the power of its massive data collection:
Through a unique collaboration with Best Doctors, an expert clinical consultation provider, qualifying IBMers and their family members will have access to Watson’s suite of oncology offerings for insights on cancer treatment options, when covered under IBM’s U.S. medical plan. The benefit will be available as of January 1, 2017. With the patient’s permission, the Best Doctors team will collect medical records and feed relevant data into Watson. Watson will then generate a report, which will be reviewed by world-renowned expert oncologists in the Best Doctors network. The final assessment will be provided to the patient and their treating oncologist. …
The Watson services provided through Best Doctors will include Watson for Oncology, Watson for Genomics, and Watson for Clinical Trial Matching. Watson for Oncology provides clinicians with evidence-based treatment recommendations related to breast, lung, colorectal and gastric cancers. Watson for Clinical Trial Matching helps clinicians match eligible patients with relevant clinical trials. Watson for Genomics analyzes the genomic profile from a patient’s tumor and provides clinicians information about potential cancer-causing mutations, providing insights on targeted therapies.
Leaders at IBM tell the Wall Street Journal‘s Rachel Emma Silverman that Watson will help employees and their oncologists make much better-informed decisions about their care, among other benefits:
In the minds of many pet owners, there’s not much difference in terms of love and loyalty between an animal companion and a two-legged member of one’s family. Millennials are the largest generation of pet owners today and the largest generation in the workforce, so some employers have been reaching out to them with pet-friendly policies: SHRM’s 2015 benefits survey last year that 8 percent of US organizations allowed employees to bring their pets to work, while 9 percent offered veterinary health insurance. Even pet bereavement leave is catching on at a smattering of employers, though this benefit is much less common.
Letting employees bring pets—in most cases, dogs—to work may bring some benefits in terms of morale and employee well being: According to a recent survey of employees and HR leaders by Banfield Pet Hospital, a pet-friendly workplace is widely perceived as a boon to morale and stress reduction, as well as an attractive perk that makes candidates more likely to consider an employer. So what’s not to like?
Well, veterinary student Matt Miller argues at Slate, what’s good for the pet owner isn’t necessarily good for the pet, and your typical dog isn’t comfortable in an office environment: