IT Staff get perky with massages and scooters

Picture the scene: the CEO boxing with a junior member of staff, while around the pugilists their colleagues circle the office floor on scooters.

Picture the scene: the CEO boxing with a junior member of staff, while around the pugilists their colleagues circle the office floor on scooters.

But far from causing mayhem, an Auckland e-commerce company claims such apparent frivolity gives it an advantage.

North of the Harbour Bridge, the casually-dressed staff at the major telecommunications company are riding their mountain bikes and children play in the company cafeteria. And this too is good for business, that much is clear.

Far from being restricted to just a few beers with the boss on a Friday, or company cars for a select few, the amount of perks and incentives available is now multiplying. Those scarce IT workers have never had it so good as employers come up with ever more imaginative ways of rewarding them.

Memphis-based casino operators Harrah's recently sent out an ice cream van one lunchtime to treat its workers after they slaved over a project. And when one employee said she would spend her first free weekend cleaning the house, the company shouted a maid to do the chores.

US recruiters say they have seen it all - yoga classes, a massage therapist, trips to Disney World in Florida, an on-site concierge running errands such as picking up groceries or getting oil changes for employees, margarita parties on a Friday afternoon- even private health insurance for workers pets.

Of course, Y2K workers did best of all, with one California firm attracting new hires with brand new $75,000 BMW Z3s or the cash equivalent as the millennium deadline approached.

But New Zealand is trying to catch up.

Auckland Enterprise recruitment consultant Barry O'Brien says many clients offer cars, healthcare, profit and share options. Others provide newspaper subscriptions, gym fees, flu vaccinations, clothing and grooming allowances, private education, trips overseas, childcare, study leave and discounted goods.

"In IT especially, companies are gearing their whole organisation towards a fun productive environment. Such things as free coke machines, football tables, pool tables and scooter tracks are also offered," he says.

One offering scooters is Advantage Technology in Auckland. "Laughter is a great anti-dote to stress. We often have races through the office on new age metal scooters and have stress ball wars between us," says chief executive Greg Cross.

"For those really frustrating times we have huge blow up boxing gloves ... and to relax during work hours, we have a chill out room complete with TV, pool table and comfy seating. We're also currently looking at bringing in a yoga teacher and offering staff massages."

International research, says Cross, shows talented Web-savvy people look for three three things to capture their interest. They want to share in company growth, through stock options; they want a flexible and progressive environment with limited red tape; and they want to work on the best projects using the latest technologies.

"We realise people don't just stick around because of money. Once people have reached a certain level of material comfort, they care more about being interested in what they actually do during the day.

"Advantage's culture is: the better the culture, the more staff will be motivated and productive. Or, employee satisfaction = high retention = high performance," he says.

A few months ago Clear Communications brought in a raft of measures it hopes will also make it an employer of choice.

A children's play area was created in the cafeteria, mountain bikes were made available at lunchtime and casual dress codes were introduced for every day of the week - not just Friday.

Clear's HR director Peter Merry says the changes were not expensive, yet made the workplace environment more inviting. The company also offers 14 weeks' paid maternity leave, a return to work incentive grant for new mothers and staff can now take part in parent British Telecom's share scheme.

Merry says Clear's success depends on keeping the right staff. Such perks are commercially realistic, he says, and the company encourages departmental "gatherings" every six weeks. "Life is serious. People have great pressures. Time poverty is a reality. People are spending more time at work and work needs to lighten up - for very sound commercial reasons," he says.

Though still early to assess the success of the scheme, Merry says initial results on staff turnover are optimistic.

Like the others, e-tailer Flying Pig also offers share options and training. It also offers books and DVDs at 40 per crent discount and three million other goods at little more than cost price.

Chief executive Mark Battles says his company tries to be like a closely-knit family but he stresses the Pig's main perk is career development. "We take graduates and promote them three times within months. One man in his early 20s packing boxes also rose to become a key member of management in just three months," he says.

All three claim some success in their approach and Kiwi experience and beliefs seem to align with those of the US. Financial rewards and perks are important, but are not the sole pre-requisite for success. "Mobility in the marketplace has little to do with employer's perks. It has more to do with people looking for better opportunities," says Barb Gromolski research director of the US-based Gartner Group.

Email Darren Greenwood at darren_greenwood@idg.co.nz.

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