Breakfast, lunch and fitness studio: people working for a tech start-up in Silicon Valley hardly need to leave work any more. That's what employers hope, because there is a shortage of skills in this sector. So fringe benefits are often a decisive factor for people weighing up whether to take a new job or not.
Anyone who takes a tour of the Facebook campus in Menlo Park also gets an impression of the range of food on offer. From the pizza stand to the salad bar, there is something for every appetite. In between meals, you can grab an energy bar at the snack counter. But food is not all that the social media group offers its employees. The staff can bring in their dirty clothes for washing: "Many of our colleagues do not have time to do it themselves. Or they are just so young that they have never done their own laundry", a spokeswoman explains. There is also a bike rental service on site, so that people can commute in an environment-friendly way to appointments nearby. Even doctor's appointments can be made at the clinic on the company premises.
Just a few miles away from Facebook, there is a similar story at the search engine group Google in Mountain View. Staff praise the health-conscious cuisine here. In the main building, the employer has built a fitness studio that is accessible at any time – and a visit there shows that the centre is in constant use. Another benefit for Google workers in the Bay Area: The company lets people who live in San Francisco use the office in the city, because the commute from San Francisco to the Valley can take about an hour, depending on the traffic.
People working for a tech company don't have to take public transport. Both Google and Facebook operate shuttle buses between the city and the main company locations to the south. So that no precious time is wasted, the vehicles are equipped with WiFi.
The visual bookmarking site Pinterest calls its employees "Pinployees”, as press spokeswoman Mithya Srinivasan tells us. "We hold 'Makeathons', in which we transform spaces inspired by Pinterest contributions or work on projects that further develop the platform", she tells us about the company's activities. Meeting up outside work seems to be important here. In "Studio Nights", the Pinployees teach each other something new, the most recent being how to make sushi.
But Pinterest wants to offer its employees more than just fun. So the employer supplies tickets for public transport, pays gym memberships and negotiates discounts with telecom providers.
At the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, the work culture is an important part of the company's success, says co-founder Danae Ringelmann. The CEO and her co-founders put a lot of thought into which values they wanted to convey to employees. One of the products of that process: the Employee Award, which is presented monthly to particularly dedicated staff of the San Francisco-based start-up.
The social media start-up Buffer provides new entrants with gadgets: every employee receives the Kindle Paperwhite eReader and the Jawbone Up fitness tracker bracelet. Anyone can acquire e-books at company expense. "It is important to us that people fit into our team," says co-founder Leo Widrich. Employees are motivated to train and develop continuously – hence the books and the fitness tracker are standard equipment. Power naps are also allowed at the office in San Francisco. Three times a year, the workforce travels together on retreat to tourist destinations such as Thailand or South Africa. "These trips are the most productive weeks of the year," says the manager.
One fringe benefit that many people in the San Francisco Bay Area particularly appreciate: dogs are allowed in many offices, and this is usually listed in the vacancy notice as a benefit. San Francisco is known for having more dogs than children in the population. So it is not that surprising that hardly any companies offer child care as a benefit.
In addition to the fun-associated extras, tech employers in the U.S. also stand out from the crowd because of their other benefits. Most offer health insurance that includes family members, paid parental leave and flexible vacation days. That's very unusual in many traditional sectors in the United States. However, in Silicon Valley, social benefits are an effective way of attracting staff to plug shortages of skills.
One thing is particularly striking about all the employee perks that start-ups and big corporations offer here. They are all aimed at getting employees to spend as much time as possible at work. The mostly young staff, who often come from abroad or have not yet built a personal network, see that as an advantage rather than a constraint.