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I currently work at a startup and while most startups in my field tend to offer a lot of fringe benefits, I find that is not the case here. Some of the areas I find lacking are:

  • The health benefits seem to be below what most startups strive to provide, being worse than what's offered by even the last two corporate jobs I've held (high monthly premiums, no HSA matching offered).
  • There is no free drinks, snacks, or food offered, not even coffee (even that little retail shop in Arkansas could find room for free coffee in its budget).
  • There is no stipend for conferences, training, or education.
  • No offers of gym membership or alternative healthy lifestyle benefits.

These are all things I have come to expect out of a startup given my previous experience and what is offered by other companies in my field. Considering the type of culture the company is trying to engender (fun bordering on silly, laid-back, strong camaraderie) I am surprised at the rather spartan conditions at the office. While I enjoy the work I do, I find that this lack of benefits leads to a lot of stress among the employees, not just myself. This, coupled with the below average salaries paid to many of the employees, has lead to some level of turnover and reduced morale. This also makes my position difficult in being involved in recruitment as I know I cannot compete with what other companies in the area are offering.

I feel that, while it would be nice to have all of these available, making a few changes would go a long way towards improving retention and performance (hell even a new office chair would be a step in the right direction). My boss is a co-founder and CTO of the company so he is very capable of enacting change, I just don't know how to present this to him in a way that speaks to the benefits from a business perspective and not come across as selfish.

  • @JoeStrazzere I am a lead DevOps engineer, so part of my responsibility is to identify the DevOps needs of the company and build out a team accordingly. While I'm sure I can find talent, it certainly makes it easier when I can throw lots of "cool" things at younger candidates. – Foosh Jul 19 '15 at 4:34
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    Comments deleted. Two things: (1) Sniping bordering on personal attacks is not ok. (2) The question asks how the OP can effect a change, not what he should have done differently in getting to this point. Comments along the lines of "you should have asked" or "you should have read the contract" are not helpful. – Monica Cellio Jul 19 '15 at 4:56
  • My suggestion: write e-mail to your boss using the body text of this question as the draft. If you believe that's what they should do and why they should do it, just say so. – scaaahu Jul 19 '15 at 7:54
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    Benefits increase burn rate. Every dollar spent hastens the day the company closes up shop if it doesn't hit its funding milestones. Successful startups recruit employees who understand this and are willing to live with reduced compensation in exchange for equity that may be worth more later. – Blrfl Jul 19 '15 at 11:46
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    @Blrfl The OP's startup looks like one of those startups where employees are expected to live with reduced compensation in exchange for equity that will be more to none other than top management later. Talented employees who are smart enough to do the job but also dumb enough to be suckers are usually hard to find. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 19 '15 at 14:03
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In this case, it might be beneficial to go about it very straight-forward, but with a pleasant tone. You don't want to sound like you're demanding it, but rather proposing it.

Another thing that would go a long way, is to volunteer to help set in motion some of these benefits. For instance, in the case of education, you could offer to research some good nearby conferences and talks, and see if your colleagues would be interested.

You could offer to go to your nearby gym and see if they would be willing to extend a deal. At my company, our HR also purchases in bulk tickets to the local swimming pools, which we can help ourselves from.

As for the other points, there are likely things you can offer to do to help set it in motion.


As far as opening the conversation (which I believe might be the tricky part), I would, as mentioned, be pretty direct about it. But I would offer to volunteer early in the conversation, and keep it going as "I can do this and that", because one reason why this hasn't been done before might be that no one has taken initiative.

If the problem is lack of funds, then you have a different issue entirely. If a company cannot afford to offer snacks or beverages, then I suspect there are some pretty heavy budget cuts on the horizon, and you might want to be applying for another job anyway.

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    Totally agree with the last paragraph. It's like you can afford to spend $200.000 on a luxury car (in this case good employee), but you can't afford $100 for the fuel (in this case the coffee). – Radu Murzea Jul 20 '15 at 15:45
  • So I decided to approach the HR manager instead of my boss to discuss these ideas. Some of them were already talked about, others were new, and largely was a successful meeting. The ultimate outcome was that the company does want to go in the direction of having more of these perks available and as they become more established they should come. I offered to help with research and heading some of the initiatives and that was gratefully accepted. – Foosh Jul 20 '15 at 22:33
  • @Foosh - That's really great to hear! I suspect that your initiatives might put you in a good light in general as well. – Alec Jul 20 '15 at 23:56
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First, I'd say that no company I've worked for, start-up or big established company, offers all the things you list. You don't say where this company is -- your profile says you're in Dallas, Texas, so maybe that's where. I've spent most of my career in Ohio and Michigan. Maybe the common expectation of working places is different between Ohio and Texas.

Some jobs I've had gave free coffee. Others had vending machines where employees could buy coffee. In others employees brought in a coffee maker and supplies. In one employees routinely set up "coffee clubs" where one employee ran the coffee maker and others kicked in a few dollars per month to pay for the supplies. Etc.

Only one company that I've ever worked for gave free gym memberships.

Most had no provisions for sending employees to conferences or training.

None ever had free food.

Medical plans vary. My present employer offers no medical insurance at all, and employees have to get their own. (But as the boss said during the interview, they pay higher salaries to make up for the non-existent benefits.)

More important: How much does any of this matter? Is anyone about to quit solely or primarily because they don't get free snacks? How many employees ask about the availability of free snacks during job interviews?

There are lots of things that if you asked me, "Would you like it if your employer did X?" I'd say yes, of course. But how much do I care?

Of course little things can combine to create a positive environment. (Or bad little things can combine to create a negative environment.) It may be that if the company spends $50 per month per employee on snacks and coffee and nicer office furniture and pretty artwork in the lobby and the like that this does more to improve morale and retention than giving each employee a $100 per month raise. Maybe somebody has done a study on that.

If you really think these things are important, than as to how to get it done: You could send an email to your boss saying that you think these things would be very good for morale, and that other companies in the area that you've worked for offer these benefits. I don't know the personality of your boss so I can't say how he'd respond to such a suggestion. If he's the type who would seriously consider it, then do it. If he'd get mad and scream at you that you should be happy with everything the company is doing for you and the chance that anything positive would come of it is just about zero, then I wouldn't do it. If you do it, I'd try to word it more in terms of overall morale than of what you personally want.

You might also ask a few other co-workers if they think these things are important, but I'd be careful not to go around asking everyone before talking to the boss, as that could create the impression that you're trying to start a mutiny.

  • I think you, as well as many others, are taking the coffee/snack thing out of context when replying. It's not specifically the reason anyone is quitting, it is however a cheap/easy way to improve the attitude within the office and is something that is lacking when compared to other opportunities. As to the gym memberships, my previous job had on-site gym and chiropractic facilities, and my job in Cleveland (another startup, now a part of big blue) had $1k/yr reimbursement for health/education so it's not that unheard of. Even that little retail shop in Arkansas had some gym subsidy. – Foosh Jul 20 '15 at 18:15
  • @Foosh Sure, free gym memberships aren't unheard of. As I said, one company I worked for offered them, and I've heard of other companies doing so. My point was just that, at least from my own personal anecdotal experience, they're not all that common. I couldn't find any statistics on how many offer such a benefit. – Jay Jul 20 '15 at 20:34
  • @Foosh I understand that free snacks is not the only benefit you are discussing, but an example. And I discussed it in that same spirit. I take it that your point is that while no one is likely to quit specifically over the lack of this one benefit, that some people might quit over the lack of many benefits like this. Not, "I'm quitting because you don't give free snacks", but "I'm quitting because you don't give free snacks and you don't subsidize gym memberships and you don't do X and Y and Z." Which is what I tried to address in my "little things can combine" paragraph. ... – Jay Jul 20 '15 at 20:40
  • ... In my experience, most people I've worked with look at the "big" benefits: vacation and sick time, retirement plan, medical insurance. Other things are nice but really only come into play in very close cases. Like if the pay is mediocre but okay and the big benefits are mediocre but okay, small benefits might push them one way or the other. If someone generally loves the work and the pay is great and it's a good medical plan, he's not going to quit because they don't have gym memberships. And if the job sucks and pay sucks, etc, he's not going to stay because of a gym membership. – Jay Jul 20 '15 at 20:43
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I know I cannot compete with what other companies in the area are offering.

I think this is potentially your biggest lever - if you can show your boss that the company is missing out on good candidates because of a lack of fringe benefits, then things will change pretty quick.

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Start with the problem, not the solution.

Your problems are

stress among the employees, not just myself

some level of turnover and reduced morale

in recruitment [...] I cannot compete with what other companies in the area are offering

Has anyone in their exit interview actually mentioned free coffees at a competitor? Are you sure that more coffee is the right answer to workplace stress? Would people generally value a better benefits package, or do they really just want more money or better work/life balance? Are people leaving because they think the product is not going to sell? Because they are not listened to in meetings, or because they are given no indication of what they're working towards? Are people stressed because they're never told when they've done a good job or blamed for things beyond their control? Find out.

Are people turning down offers or not applying? What do they ask about? What do they find out about before you apply? Put similar ads from your company and a competitor side-by-side and see what stands out. How can you make a better impression?

As to the conversation, what's the CTO's take on the level of turnover and stress? Do they think it's a problem? Do they even know about the stress? Do they have a view on what the causes might be? What's their strategy at the moment? Tread carefully, they may not appreciate being forced to acknowledge their current strategy is "don't care"/"ignore the problem".

It might be that the ideas you have are worth having on their own merits but they might not solve the problem. That's fine too, and it's better to be honest about that.

In the following three cases, I would be looking at questions like 'does it work out cheaper to buy this for everyone or for everyone to buy this themselves', and 'if we buy this for everyone, will everyone want it'.

  • The health benefits seem to be below what most startups strive to provide, being worse than what's offered by even the last two corporate jobs I've held (high monthly premiums, no HSA matching offered).
  • There is no free drinks, snacks, or food offered, not even coffee (even that little retail shop in Arkansas could find room for free coffee in its budget).
  • No offers of gym membership or alternative healthy lifestyle benefits.

All of these are potentially cheaper if you get them for the whole workplace require not only an amount of money, but also someone's time, both to set up and negotiate deals and then to manage day-to-day. Whether it's worth it right now may come down to (for instance) how long the queues are in the nearest coffee shop. You'd rather people wanting coffee don't have to go far and queue up, right?

Even then, remember that a small startup will not be able to compete on benefits anything like as much as a big company. If you want to attract good people from stable jobs into a startup ultimately you need to offer either good cash in hand or serious equity (combined with good realistic business plans, prospects and management) to offset the risks.

Also remember, once you start providing food you need to be willing to cater to different dietary requirements (and ask about these things in advance). It's not hard, but you could worsen morale if you act surprised or unwilling to change if not everyone can eat (or be in the same room as) the peanut snacks you brought everyone. Don't assume buying in bulk is going to work. For coffee, you'll also need space to refrigerate milk, more bins, possibly a better sink, etc., as well as the actual coffee-making devices and paraphernalia.

Insurance-type benefits are probably the best bet because if everyone needs insurance it's cheaper for businesses to pay for good insurance than individuals because there's less of an asymmetric information problem. You're doing that anyway, why not do that thing well?

This fourth one is a little different.

  • There is no stipend for conferences, training, or education.

Do you mean there's no budget? Because that's not just a recruitment and retention issue, that's a really big business problem and as a team leader you need to bring this up at the next financial meeting or sooner if you have training needs. You need to be mapping out a prioitised list of skills you need and skills you don't have and start costing it out. If it comes down to something like "we have weak JS skills, we either need to pay for training or hire a JS expert" you'll have a strong case. Especially as it's hard to make good hiring decisions when you're assessing people on skills you don't have. Retention and morale effects of training are a useful bonus but less likely to be convincing.

In general I would avoid arguments that rely entirely on a need to improve morale or reduce stress. They may be objectively very strong arguments but those in a more senior position tend to be unsympathetic to abstract or 'third person' descriptions of stress and morale. They tend to perceive their jobs as innately higher-stress jobs (especially managers who like to 'delegate' stress), while at the same time tend to have a high tolerance for stress. If you need deal with stress, identify one or two specific causes of stress and have a detailed discussion just about those stressors.

Find the things that are preoccupying the minds of senior management, and if the problems you've identified aren't among them, explore that. Come with solutions to offer but don't push solutions for their own sake.

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Identify the boss's perspective on where the company is at financially and what he perceives as benefits. Also, what is his take on the turn-over.

Usually when funds are not available, the founders will try and sell everyone on the interesting work and potential for the future. There's some form of "I wish I could pay/offer more, but..."

Does he really value the employees that left? The turn-over could be a way to weed-out the non-hackers.

If my boss were to ask me if I want benefits or a higher salary/bonus, I would opt for the cash with the exception of health care (In the US, a corporation can almost always get a better group rate than what you can buy as an individual, so a company can leverage this by paying less for something that would cost you a lot more.). Personally, I don't care for fancy offices. Getting paid for interesting work and having money in the bank is much better. It would be different if the office was needed to attract clients because no clients, no money.

When it comes to drinks and snacks, it's not always about the money. Who is going to take the time to order, pickup or receive all this stuff and put it away? There are costs for commercial coffee machines and refrigerators. Offer to find and bring in a used refrigerator if the boss would pay for the cost. Take turns buying a bag of coffee for everyone. I've been at places where the company recognized these grass-roots initiatives (We all chipped in for birthday celebrations.) and ended up funding them.

To benefit a startup, it's important to have people with more of a "can do" attitude instead of holding your hand out. Hopefully, the rewards will be worth it, but that's the risk you took.

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