Who Gets Free Lunch And Other Tech Perks

The Wall Street Journal

If you can't write code, should you get free lunch?

The competition for tech talent is reshaping employer policies from coast to coast, with free snacks, booze and dry-cleaning becoming standard at many offices for both technology workers and many others. Companies now typically offer these perks to sales associates, marketing managers and developers alike.

Some bosses are reluctant to hand out such benefits across the board. Doing otherwise, though, could risk causing tension among the employee ranks.

"You want to offer that benefit to people who are used to getting it, not to everyone," said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin Corp., a real-estate-and-technology company in Seattle.

Redfin has about 1,000 employees, some of whom are engineers building the code that powers the company's real-estate search website and mobile apps, and some of whom are real-estate agents.

It pays its agents an annual salary and benefits—unusual in a profession whose workers traditionally get paid by commission.

Redfin also hands out benefits, such as company-paid health care, sushi lunches, big computer monitors and fancy chairs, which many engineers have come to expect but real-estate agents typically don't receive.

"It's really a privilege to be able to work at a company where we try to treat each other well," Mr. Kelman said. "Sometimes you can forget that and just say, 'Well, when's the next perk coming?' " he adds.

For Mr. Kelman, who is more outspoken than most company chiefs about such matters, the trend sometimes can go too far. He said an employee recently asked him whether Redfin would subsidize gym membership fees or reward staff for exercising.

"My reaction was, 'Oh brother,' " Mr. Kelman said. "I just think there can be a culture of entitlement."

Mr. Kelman said he doesn't regret extending perks to all employees, adding that the company benefits, too. For example, catered lunches three times a week at Redfin's headquarters force the real-estate agents and technology workers to mingle, helping to ensure the tech folks are designing the right products for their colleagues out in the field.

"My heart is in this. I'm glad we offer the benefits to everyone," Mr. Kelman said. But "sometimes I wince a little when we write the check."

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