Tech perks under fire: the end of free food and massages

Free food, gym, game rooms, massages, unlimited paid time off – many can only dream about the perks that tech workers enjoy. Now, the good times seem to be over. But it’s not all bad news.

“You know, when I first dipped my toes into the tech waters, the perks were astounding,” Kelly Indah, a software developer, security analyst, and the editor-in-chief at technology website Increditools, told Cybernews.

“Picture catered meals, unlimited holidays, complementary gym memberships, and so on. These companies were pulling out all the stops to attract top-notch talent. In-office yoga classes and massages during lunch breaks, now who could resist that?”

But the looming economic crisis has prompted a policy change in many companies. Indah doesn't think that’s all bad news, since there’s a shift towards more sustainable and value-based benefits.

“You see, free meals and office massages, while delightful, don't quite compare to job security or a competitive wage. (...) Yes, the crisis has changed the perks scene, but it's also brought about an era of thoughtful, employee-focused benefits. I've heard from colleagues that they've never felt more valued and supported,” Indah reckons.

One way or another, the tech world as we know it is going through some fundamental changes.

Google eliminated snack bars, Meta ended free laundry and dry cleaning services, no more free lunch and daycare for Twitter employees. Along with the mass layoffs, these are other ways for Silicon Valley to cut costs.

But it’s not just the big tech companies that are shedding benefits to stay afloat. Many tech firms, big and small alike, lured talents with different perks amid a worldwide skills shortage, especially when it comes to niche specialties like cybersecurity.

I’ve reached out to various tech insiders to get their take on this. While free massages might no longer be an option, some experts believe that companies are well aware that the “perks purge” might lower morale. For that reason, the benefits that matter the most probably won’t go anywhere.

Perks – what are they?

Your company might pamper you in many different ways, from free snacks and toiletries to more substantial things like health insurance, extra holidays, and flexible work arrangements.

Elmar Mammadov, a software engineer and tech career specialist at CS Careerline, listed some common perks that might be at stake:

  • Flexible work arrangements: Remote and hybrid work models, accelerated by the global pandemic, are somewhat of a headache for companies that prefer on-site collaboration. Having everyone in the office also reduces cybersecurity risks and costs.
  • On-site gyms and wellness programs: According to Mammadov, these were the perks highly sought after before the pandemic. Reevaluating costs, companies might consider disabling or downsizing these benefits, since employees are reluctant to come to the office anyways.
  • Commuter benefits: Such as subsidized transportation or parking options. Companies might adjust the benefits until the economic situation improves.
  • Free foodandgame rooms: In some cases, perks are getting removed for a reason. For example, in Meta’s case, employees were exploiting the offer of free food by loading up on steaks in their take home boxes.
  • Unlimited paid time off: It has been gaining popularity recently. However, from a company perspective, that’s quite a generous and costly benefit to keep.
  • Paid parental leave and daycare: These are some truly amazing benefits for employees with kids. Yet it’s costly for employers so they might consider adjusting them to cut expenses.

“Some companies may be better equipped to maintain their existing perks, while others may need to make adjustments to adapt to the challenging economic landscape,” Mammadov concluded.

For many, flexible work arrangements might be the most precious benefit to lose. A few companies that tried to get employees back to the office have seen mass walkouts. But it’s not that remote work was such a great option anyways – the so-called Great Resignation was partly fueled by employers’ not-always-justified need to track their employees.

Remote work is here to stay

Yes, your boss might want to see you in the office more often. Yes, Zoom meetings might feel like a seance.

A meme picturing Zoom meeting as a seance
Courtesy of @artmemescentral, Twitter

However, the pandemic accelerated the move towards a hybrid work environment, and experts reckon it’s here to stay, even if with some policy adjustments.

“I've seen companies trading free lunches for work-from-home flexibility, and office game rooms for robust health insurance packages,” Kelly Indah said.

Johan Alexander, CEO of tech company APKCima, shares her view. He expects flexible work arrangements, a stronger focus on employee well-being, and remote work options to remain just as significant.

“Apart from that, there’s a high chance that companies might explore innovative approaches to engage and support their employees virtually by leveraging tech and digital platforms,” Alexander said.

In other words, companies that can afford perks might be moving towards more sustainable ones. They’ll offer remote work support instead of free lunches, healthcare benefits instead of laundry and dry cleaning, and virtual engagement tools instead of on-site game rooms and gyms.

At least, that seems to be the dominant opinion from the experts I’ve spoken to.

“Although there are a number of employees in the tech industry who’ve been laid off due to the pandemic, there are still companies offering perks that demonstrate their care for the remaining staff. This is a sign that these companies understand the value of their employees,” Michael Collins, managing director at London-based IT services company SphereIT, told Cybernews.

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