Tech companies wage perk wars to attract talent

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Perk Wars are raging across our nation.

With cutthroat competition for talent and a sizzling job market in Silicon Valley and beyond,
tech companies are seeking to attract and retain employees by pretty much spoiling them rotten.

The valley has always been a fertile breeding ground for workplace goodies, championed famously
by Google with its gourmet cafeterias and on-site massage rooms. But in these talent-hungry times,
Google seems almost stodgy compared with startups like the crowdfunding platform Tilt in San
Francisco, where employees after a year on the job get a free plane ticket to anywhere in the
world. Or real-estate giant Zillow, which offers free overnight shipping of breast milk from
nursing moms on business trips to their homes. Or even software behemoth Salesforce, which recently
held a “Miracle of Mindfulness Day” in which experts equipped “employees with mindful tips to help
them through their work day.”

Millennials are getting a ton of “bennies,” thanks in part to all the startups whose mission is
to deliver cool perks for other startups. Executives at Blueboard, which helps GoPro and others
reward their employees with mind-blowing experiences, are seeing explosive growth.

“Companies are realizing that millennials really care about perks,” said co-founder Kevin Yip. “
And they’re looking for more and more ways to keep employees excited and to keep them from leaving
the company for another.”

With its belief that employees prefer experiential benefits over financial ones, Blueboard
provides perks for clients like lessons in stand-up comedy or the chance to be James Bond for a
day, complete with rented tux, a sky-dive and lessons in making the perfect martini.

Companies are trying to outdo each with perks, said Meg Virick, a business professor at San Jose
State University, because wages, at least nationally, haven’t risen dramatically. “So these perks
are taking up a bigger and bigger chunk of the total compensation offered to employees.”

Part of the attraction to employers, she said, is that “they’re revocable if the company gets
into a financially tight spot; you can offer yoga classes one day and stop them tomorrow. You can’t
do that with wage and salary structures.”

More companies are offering financial perks specially tailored to young millennials coming to
work in a part of the country grappling with soaring rents and home prices. With some new hires
carrying huge student debt, the financial picture can seem overwhelming.

As Richard Cordray, director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, put it: “Some of
the initial research on financial education in the workplace already suggests that a financially
capable workforce is more satisfied, more engaged, and more productive for their employers.”

San Francisco-based Sindeo Mortgage helps its 75 employees with — you guessed it — low-cost home
loans. Staples is using vampire-themed games to get employees excited about money-management and
investing in a 401(k). And a firm outside Seattle called Pacific Market Research provides its
employees with financial skills training.

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