Employee engagement should be easy to stomach with these benefits


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This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture:

The First Inch – Food & Beverage

Little things can make a big difference. Even silly little things like M&M’s. Food and beverage are part of the Basics, the first step towards improving employee engagement. For a shining example, we head to the world’s largest privately held software company.

sas green goldfish

Recognizing employees for their value to the company was part of the early SAS Institute’s heritage (#437). People who worked for the company during the days on Hillsborough Street (across from NC State) tell stories of piling into Dr. Jim Goodnight’s station wagon and going down the street for pizza. SAS would pick up the tab whenever the company added another 100 customer sites to the list. A flexible work environment and some of the “trademarks” or beacons of the employee-friendly SAS culture, including M&M’s and breakfast goodies, were born in the first months of the company’s existence. (Source: SAS)

Houston, we have a problem

The culture of SAS was formed out of direct experiences by founder Goodnight. According to a Work / Life Roundtable by The Wharton School,

Before founding SAS Institute, Goodnight worked briefly at NASA. What he found there was an environment in which people did not communicate. Any effort to build trust was absent: NASA used timecards to make sure that employees worked their full allotment of hours, and there were metal detectors to ensure that employees weren’t stealing.

That wasn’t all. At NASA, executives were supposed to be seen as “different” from the rest of the workers. There were special executive parking areas. Executives had their own break and dining area, with free, “good” coffee. Everyone else had to dump a quarter into a vending machine if they wanted coffee or a soft drink. Goodnight decided that when he started his own company, he would create a very different environment.

sas green goldfish

From the outset Goodnight worked towards creating a fun place to work (#48), with the work itself being the biggest reward. An environment that would harness creativity, providing all of the resources employees would need. Simply living by the golden rule and treating people the way he would like to be treated. The entire approach can be summed up from a quote by an employee in Fast Company,

You’re given the freedom, the flexibility, and the resources to do your job. Because you’re treated well, you treat the company well.

Good Business

At a time when annual turnover in some information technology shops is as high as 30% and filling empty positions can cost anywhere from two to five times’ an employee’s salary, IT firms are discovering what SAS Institute has known for decades. That it takes more than just a paycheck to keep their people happy. In the SAS Institute view, money should not be the key motivator. People that care primarily about the money will easily be bought. It’s simple according to Dr. Goodnight, “You have two choices. You can spend money on employees or headhunters and training, and it’s about the same amount of money. So why not spend it on the employees?”

Is it working? SAS Institute has never had a single layoff in its entire history. It has less than 3% mean turnover, year over year growth, and a focus on long-term growth rather than satisfying shareholders’ immediate requirements. The company averages 4,000 resumes for every job opening.

Free for All

All of the benefits and perks are available to all employees, and everyone on campus is a SAS Institute employee: software engineers, salespeople, childcare workers, groundskeepers,and so on. Founder Goodnight believes strongly that people are much more committed if they are part of the company. All employees have the same exact bonus plan potential.

Here are some of the Good Eats examples at SAS Institute:

  • Free fresh fruit every Monday, M&Ms on Wednesday, Breakfast goodies every Friday.
  • Break rooms stocked with complimentary soft drinks, juices, crackers, coffee, and tea.
  • Employee events and celebrations, including the annual Family Picnic, the elegant Winter Party, and end-of-the-month parties.
  • Coffee with Goodnight (#436). Once a month employees can sign up to sit down with SAS founder Dr. G for some coffee and biscuits (Goodnight has a supposed weakness for Biscuitville.) Eight to 10 employees get randomly selected for the hour long session. The first 15 minutes are an update on the state of the company by Goodnight with the remainder open for employee questions. No topics are off limits.
  • Elmer Gibson plays piano at lunch in one of the SAS campus cafeterias three days a week. Meals are relatively cheap and an emphasis is put on healthy food for employees. (Source: Inc)
  • Sushi chef, Namjoon Kim is one of three chefs who prepare made to order sushi rolls at lunch in the newest SAS employee cafeteria. (Source: Inc)

Let’s look at Baker’s Dozen of companies that provide signature Food & Beverage extras:


FBNA is an acronym for “Free Beer, No Assholes.” It is the pseudo tagline for marketing agency Ryan Partnership and an unofficial mantra for many others. Some like Australian software company Atlassian make it a hiring requirement. The company has a recipe for selecting potential hires called the “beer test” according to co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, “I ask myself would I find it interesting to have a beer with this job applicant?”

Let’s bring on a six pack of beer examples:

Beer O’Clock

cirrus logic green goldfish

At Cirrus Logic (#58) weekly happy hours encourage engineers to interact and share ideas. The company also sponsors guitar lessons, on-site yoga, and photography courses. Every month, the company hosts “Cirrus Logic Rocks!”—a live music event featuring local musicians—on its outdoor patio (Source: greatplacetowork.com)

It’s the tasty perk everyone wants, but few provide: Free Beer. And in the office, yet. Cold brew is always on tap at HubSpot (#135) headquarters in Cambridge, MA where the kitchen has a designated beer fridge stocked with at least 50 different brands. “We have Stella, Beck’s, Guinness, Bud Light,” said Kara Sassone, the company’s media relations specialist, as she rattles off the more popular labels. A cold one helps to encourage employees to hang out at the office and build better working relationships, the company says. Free or not, beer — as with all good things — is best in moderation, especially at the office. Even so, it’s a popular perk. “I’m sure if we were to get rid of the beer fridge here at HubSpot, the whole company would be up in arms,” blogged one employee. (Source: boston.com)

dpr construction green goldfish #75

DPR Construction (#75) and its Wine Bars. You can drink Merlot in all 17 of the Redwood City, Calif.-based company’s offices, except for its Austin location, which has a saloon. (Source: The Fiscal Times)

f5 networks green goldfish 119

You just can’t mess with Beer Fridays. For the third year in a row, F5 Networks (#119), once a scrappy Seattle startup and now a major provider of IT infrastructures, has once again left its competition in the dust with a refreshing, hoppy end-of-the-week tradition that has lasted since its early days. “Beer Friday,” one employee tells us, “is core to the culture of F5.” Even those who don’t drink are fans of Beer Friday, which they refer to as “Free peanuts, chips and veggies Friday.” Refreshments aside, in an office of more than 750 people (and 2,000 around the globe), they also just appreciate the chance for a weekly get-together with co-workers from other departments. (Source: NWJobs.com)

zaaz agency green goldfish 121

Grabbing a shot from the Jägermeister machine in the Z Bar, showing off their karaoke chops, getting uber-comfy in the Nightlight room–no, people aren’t visiting Belltown’s newest hot spot. It’s Seattle agency Zaaz (#121), a 150-person Web design, analytics and optimization firm. (Source: NWJobs.com)

grasshopper beer cooler cart green goldfish

Grasshopper.com (#797) has a unique set of wheels. According to Ambassador of Buzz Taylor Aldredge,

“Our beer cart is a motorized cooler that can be driven around the office. Also, it comes with a caboose for more storage. We’ve used it for things like Beer Fridays, or to transport supplies to cookouts outside. Also, we’ve used it to introduce new employees around the office by having them sit on the caboose as someone drove them around. It’s a great multi-purpose vehicle.”

blue bottle coffeeThe Other Brew

While there’s a lot of good coffee in San Francisco, Blue Bottle is among the best. It’s also kind of expensive. But luckily for Zynga employees, you can get free coffee from Blue Bottle at Zynga’s “dog house” headquarters (#148) in San Francisco. (Source: BusinessInsider.com)

A tab at the local coffee shop, so teammates don’t have to eat the cost of networking while working at Jetsetter (#174).

The headquarters for Sophos (#648) is located in an old bank branch office, the renovated head office features a 24/7 lounge complete with video games, foosball, billiards and as self-serve lunch room with free hot beverages.

aeron chairIt’s Just Lunch

“We try to stay frugal — our office furniture is secondhand, but we cater lunch in at ZocDoc (#138) everyday,” says Allison Braley of ZocDoc. “We’ve tried to be really thoughtful about the perks we offer — lunch helps people get to know ZocDoc-ers from other departments. Aeron chairs don’t.” (Source: Mashable)

Submitted by Taylor Aldredge, “I’m the Ambassador of Buzz at Grasshopper (#774), a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs. We have a Wii and/or Playstation 3 room, free healthy food and drinks all day, a pool table, and a green lunch program that gives people $5 aday towards their lunch.” The $5 towards lunch stood out, so I asked Taylor how that worked. “The $5 Green Lunch is pretty straight-forward. Grasshopper provides $5/day through a house account at DiningIn. So, you can order food from one of the restaurants at a discount, and it all gets delivered to the office. This way nobody’s driving for lunch, and you’re saving money by getting lunch at $5 off.”

Providing Healthier Food and Snacks

U.S. workers eat tons of sugary and fatty junk food, often because that’s all they have time to scarf down between meetings. Though you can’t be expected to single-handedly halt the U.S. culture’s mad rush into obesity, you can make it easier for workers to make better choices, by making healthy foods more readily available and having a long enough lunch break so that fast food is only an option rather than a necessity.

From bins filled with free healthy snacks to tapping a keg at 4 p.m. every afternoon, Digitas (#162) offers employees a wide variety of perks and benefits to keep them energized. (Source: ChicagoBusiness.com )

At Morningstar (#577), they believe that even “the little things count,” which is why the company provides employees with an egalitarian environment, free beverages, free bagels on Wednesday, and casual dress every day. (Source: BusinessInsider.com)

Team members at Realeflow (#423) make daily smoothies, which has turned into a fun competition where taste and nutrition are the criteria used to judge the winner. (Source: Outside Magazine)

NYC PR Agency Lippe Taylor (#727) tries to offer employees the best of both worlds: financial benefits typically found only in big companies, and the hands-on touch of hominess and caring that comes with a smaller company. It feeds its employees early and often: from morning perk Mondays (breakfast spread of bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, orange juice), to its signature Sweet Treat on Wednesdays. Creativity abounds with account executives pairing seasonal tie-ins with tasty treats—think mini milkshakes on National Milkshake Day and chips and salsa for Cinco de Mayo. (Source: PR News Online)

Dinner is Served

Genentech (#438) offers take-home dinners. (Source: NY Times)

Facebook (#440) employees can take home a free dinner or, if working late, their families can come in to eat with them, leading to a regular sight of children in the campus cafeteria.

Pavlov’s Payday Goodness

Blue Buddha (#781), a maker of custom jewelry, provides employees with premium chocolate on paydays. The General Operations Manager purchases the chocolate ahead of time and then distributes two pieces to each person. Sometimes they’ll pick up chocolate when they walk in and go past the manager’s desk. Everyone has a physical “inbox” so for people who aren’t there, the manager will put the chocolate in their inbox so it is there for them on their next working day.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a cool video from Inc.com on their visit to the SAS Institute. And here’s a corporate timeline video for the company:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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