Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food as a perk - or a practicality

Fascinating scuttlebutt on Google today - Google says no more dinners. In the valley Google has long been known as a place to go and eat. In the main buildings, like Silicon Graphics before it, the halls are filled with toys, free food and drinks, everything a hardworking engineer could want to keep him/her at work. And the meals are undeniably good. [ -- although having spent a lot of time there visiting customers when it was SGI I always get a shiver of a ghost when I am in the main buildings.]

So I can imagine that if Google has said they are no longer providing dinner for anyone except the engineers that would cause a rumbling of complaint. Seems like an odd decision to me to only feed one group so maybe it's just rumor and not fact, but it begs the question does it make business sense to feed your employees at night?

I think it does if you have projects you need everyone to work on. Imagine you have an R&D project that needs to get done in less time than you have. As the employer you ask the team to work long hours to get it done, and that means working into the evening. If you don't provide dinner the employees have to go out to eat (you can't code on an empty stomach) and it's hard at night to make that take less than an hour. Plus you'll lose some percentage because they'll go home to eat and not come back.

It's better for everyone if you just provide a healthy meal so the team can stay focused. At Simplex we offered dinner every night M-Th, with sign up, and we routinely had 20+ people staying. We were developing very complex algorithms and a great deal of code, and the team liked to work into the evening to break the back of problems. Dinner was essential to keep momentum going.

But before you start any perk like that you have to think through how you are going to take it away if you need to. So it's important it is a benefit tied to goals, not an entitlement. The challenge Google has is the combination of an entitlement culture combined with a very young employee base who don't know the norms - that Google will eventually revert back to.

We sometimes provide dinner in our sales office in New York on evenings when we are calling customers - 5-7pm is a great window to get people on the phone. However, there is little risk it will become an entitlement there - the food is just too good a stone's throw from the office.

1 comment:

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