There’s a pretty clear picture that can be painted when you hear the words “tech company perks”: one of free and plentiful granola bars and sparkling water in the kitchen, standing (or cycling) desks, and the requisite grouping of bean bag chairs situated next to a ping-pong or air hockey table.
Though the Southeast is traditionally a few years behind on following the standard expected in Silicon Valley, these days, tour many of the region’s “Best Places to Work” tech companies and you’ll get the same vibe. Tech talent seeking to stay in the big city hubs in the Southeast can easily find a workplace with a game table or two, scooters wheeling through the lobby, and free snacks — or even full meals.
But, do today’s employees even care?
“I don’t care about snacks. I don’t think I’ve played a game of pool once or chess once,” shares Jordan Arogeti, a senior sales executive at Atlanta-based SalesLoft. She’s been with the company for three years and is adamant that she loves her job — but it’s not because of the granola bars.
What did make a difference to Arogeti, however, was SalesLoft’s recently rolled-out parental leave policy, which formalizes a generous leave policy, as well as other benefits, for new parents. Arogeti is expecting in September and plans to take full advantage of the new policy.
“As a salesperson it’s really hard to turn off, but I recognize that this is a part of your life that you’ll never get back,” she says.
There are several core perks that employees should be able to expect, even at a startup: medical and dental insurance, vacation and paid sick time, performance incentives, and a retirement plan. However, some companies really do go above and beyond to provide benefits that will not only make employees a little happier, but make a real difference in their lives. Here are a few that we found.
Creating avenues for flexible vacation
Unlimited PTO and flexible vacation is commonplace these days — but many case studies have found that these policies actually lead to employees taking less time off due to guilt or confusion about what their team actually expects. Especially at a startup, which may not even have an official vacation policy in place just yet, employees often end up taking no time to refresh.
This lack of rejuvenation time not only affects the actual employee, but their family — children lose the educational benefits of traveling and spouses lose quality time to be together.
Stackfolio, an Atlanta fintech startup, has solved this problem with a unique solution. As part of the global Google for Entrepreneurs network, Stackfolio employees have access to free office space in cities all over the world. Using this, they’ve instituted a policy where employees receive three weeks each year to travel with their families to any of the cities where they can access workspace, stay on the clock for four days (while their family enjoys vacation time) and gets the fifth day off without it counting against their PTO.
“In a small team that is growing and working a zillion hours a day, someone leaving for two weeks has a non-insignificant impact,” explains Pavleen Thukral, Stackfolio’s co-founder and CEO.
“So you can take the family to Tokyo. They can have fun, and you get three-day weekends with them there all three weeks, without using any leave,” Thukral says.
Omar Esposito, the company’s Chief Revenue Officer, used the policy to visit New York City with his wife and children; he plans to use it again later this year. And without it, he says these trips wouldn’t have been possible.
“That type of NYC vacation honestly wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I, as a key exec in the first year of launch of our product, wouldn’t have been able to take a whole week off while I had to deal with clients. But my family was able to take that week in NYC, while I still got a three-day weekend with them.”
Of course, not every company is part of such a network. But with the growing popularity of co-working spaces like WeWork, more and more companies may be able to offer employees workspaces in places they might want to visit. There’s also always the option of remote work. A startup team might never rest — but that doesn’t mean their families shouldn’t.
Helping employees transition to parents
Parental leave and other new family benefits are the norm on the West Coast — Netflix offers one paid year of maternity and paternity leave to new parents, Spotify offers six months, plus covers costs of egg freezing and fertility assistance, should employees want it, and the list goes on.
However, other regions, including the Southeast, have lagged behind. Numerous studies show that the time parents spend with a newborn in the earliest months of life has significant benefits for the child’s health. The U.S. is the only wealthy nation without a formal policy guaranteeing paid time off when workers become new parents.
Progressive companies in the region are realizing this is something that can make a real, lifelong difference in employees’ lives, and are starting to mirror those West Coast tech firms.
SalesLoft Chief People Officer Christine Kaszubski, who developed their parental leave policy, says that she looked at what was trending at places like Google, Facebook, Apple and the like.
The result was a plan that is, Christine says, “to our knowledge, the most robust plan in the Atlanta market.”
New mothers at SalesLoft receive 12 weeks of paid leave; new fathers and adopting parents receive six. Mothers who have given birth may have the option for an additional six weeks of paid medical leave under short-term disability.
Upon returning to work, the employee gets a transition month, where they have the option to work 50 percent of the time from home. The family also receives a year’s worth of diapers, home cleaning, and meal deliveries for 12 weeks.
“The crux of what I was so passionate about was that across the board for equality, for same-sex couples, for father and for mothers, that opportunity to be home with your new child is a once in a lifetime. We wanted to make it around the employee availability, knowing that they come to work as a whole human,” says Kaszubski.
Family-focused support is increasingly becoming a focus as tech companies continue to gain flack from the public and the media for unequal gender breakdowns. SalesLoft already has a better gender breakdown than the average, with around 37 percent women employees, a statistic that Kaszubski says is mirrored in the traditionally men-heavy sales and engineering teams.
Arogeti says that at her former company (which didn’t offer a robust parental policy), she would have considered not returning to work after having her child.
“Companies have a hard time attracting and retaining top talent, especially women, at this stage of life,” she says. “I would have been more likely to say, I’m just not going to go back. At SalesLoft, that’s not a question — the question is just how quickly.”
Supporting employee wellness — in all aspects of being
“Wellness” is now recognized as a term that goes far beyond providing a standard healthcare plan. Large companies have been offering wellness stipends and subsidized gyms for decades, but many are taking it beyond that and bringing wellness straight to their employees.
“We’ve transitioned into this period when employees are expecting their company to provide wellness,” says Sammy Courtright, co-founder of corporate wellness plan provider Fitspot, which provides services to companies and commercial real estate firms in 22 markets across the country.
Fitspot began by focusing on physical health with fitness and yoga classes and services like massages or nutritional advising, but found demand for another wide swath of wellness: mental and psychological health. Data from CareerBuilder highlights the need for these programs — more than 60 percent of workers say they are “burned out” in their current job, and over 30 percent report high or extremely high levels of stress at work.
“People are craving more information about how to manage stress,” Courtright says. Fitspot now breaks down their wellness plans into five pillars: physical, nutritional, stress management, mental (intellectual development), and financial. They have added stress management workshops, meditation, financial advising and more to the onsite services they offer.
Courtright says the new services have resonated extremely positively with clients like Tinder, NCR, CBRE and Blackstone — last month broke records for most Fitspot sessions held, as well their highest monthly revenue.
And, of course, their own growing team — 17 now, but on track to double within a year — gets to take advantage of Fitspot programs. Courtright is proud that they’ve introduced some former soda fans to the healthier alternative of kombucha.
These are just a few of the benefits employees indicate may genuinely make a difference in determining if they’re happy and fulfilled in their job — and whether they intend to stay, even if a better monetary offer comes along. As the technology field opens up even wider and workers might be able to pick up a new job at the drop of a hat, Kaszubski says it takes a dedicated effort from company leadership and the human resources team to develop a holistic ‘employee experience.’
That concept, says Kaszubski, is what separates a perk from a truly-impactful benefit.
“[Perks are] kind of just what’s a given with the tech culture. What [employee experience] provides is the opportunity for an employee to see a future within the organization, because they understand that they’re going to be supported, that they are able to have a holistic life… it is understanding that my organization wants to provide an experience and a culture that supports family life, supports growth, supports development and flexibility.”
“While perks are great, free lunch is great, it doesn’t necessarily support me becoming my better self,” she says.