Workplaces less perky

A couple of years ago companies conjured up all kinds of tricks to keep their IT staff happy and loyal as high demand exacerbated short supply. Does your CEO still box with his staff? Do your staff still race around the office on scooters and mountain bikes?

Does your CEO still box with his staff? Do your staff still race around the office on scooters and mountain bikes?

A couple of years ago companies conjured up all kinds of tricks to keep their IT staff happy and loyal as high demand exacerbated short supply.

In the US firms sent round ice cream vans, supplied maids to perform chores for busy workers, staged margarita parties and even provided private health care to IT staffers' pets.

But now that the business climate is less certain and the employment market tighter, the boot is to some degree on the other foot. Firms no longer need to offer such incentives and wages are even falling in some areas -- have all the toys been put back into the box?

Clear Communications, now TelstraClear, still has its mountain bikes at head office but head of HR Ken Goodwin says the bikes were "a gimmick" and what matters more is staff having a fair balance between work and home life.

Staff have been under much pressure since the former British Telecom-owned company merged with Telstra, he says, so managers are being encouraged to be more flexible with staff over working hours. Staff can take time off to deal with family issues or see their children in afternoon school plays, for example.

"We trust our employees to put in the effort to do their job, but they do not have to be here from eight to five."

Despite stressing greater flexibility to gain that work-life balance, however, the BT share scheme has been replaced with another incentive plan, while a return-to-work incentive grant for new mothers has gone.

Goodwin says little money was saved in axing the grants but it did not fit in with the family values of TelstraClear because it encouraged young mothers to return after a few months when they might be better at home a little longer.

Greg Cross no longer trades friendly blows with his staff at Advantage Group, having moved to Xsol to work with John Blackham. In 2000 Advantage offered all manner of distractions for staff. "Laughter is a great antidote to stress," Cross said at the time.

"We often have races through the office on new age metal scooters and have stress ball wars between us. 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."

Last week no one was prepared to comment at Advantage. As to the whereabouts of its scooters, chill-out room and stress balls, one new staffer said, "I've never heard of those."

Perks now appear to come in the form of performance bonuses and making the working environment as pleasant as possible.

Xtra CIO Shane Ohlin says IT staff receive the same staff-discounted Telecom products but nothing extra, apart from technical courses. There are no company cars, or free health care, just a discounted "modest" health care scheme with Southern Cross. The introduction of high fringe benefit taxes saw off a lot of perks a decade ago, Ohlin says.

"Our focus is on reviewing performance. We review people's awards through bonus mechanisms as our primary perk," he says.

However, Telecom has set aside a floor of its main building for socialising for Friday drinks, pool tables and online gaming, facilities Ohlin believes are common to the IT industry.

Fisher and Paykel Group IS manager Don Cooper says his firm offers no perks but lunches and dinners are put on for jobs well done. This applied to all workers, not just those in IT. "They are done for achieving targets, not remuneration," Cooper says.

Pip Scrivenor, IT manager at Genesis Power, says Genesis has never offered perks.

There are "no cars, no health plans, just cash", he says, and IT salaries are "in balance" with the rest of the organisation rather than the IT industry. Scrivenor wouldn't say whether this means pay is higher or lower than might be expected, but claims his firm has a low staff turnover.

Greg Covey, business systems manager at Lumley Insurance, says his company puts effort in creating "a lovely workplace atmosphere" and ensuring people fit in to teams.

Team building is encouraged through team lunches and morning teas, and similar to recent years there are subsidised gym memberships for staff. "It's about making people feel included," Covey says.

Itanz head Jim O'Neill confirms that firms now commonly offer IT staff an inclusive salary with few perks. Worldwide multinationals that tend to be most generous are now also looking at their superannuation/pension schemes, as such benefits are not compulsory here.

Says Barry O'Brien of Enterprise Recruitment: "All the froth and excess has certainly being removed from the system."

Computerworld Canada reported a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers that showed one thing rated higher than remuneration, health benefits, stock options and other perks -- respect.

Said report co-author Sharon Clark: "That's what makes or breaks your job, that's what makes you want to quit, it makes you want to stay -- 'I like my boss,' 'I like the way I'm treated,' and 'I feel like I'm treated with respect'."

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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Tags careersperks

More about Advantage GroupBT AustralasiaBT AustralasiaClear CommunicationsLumley InsurancePricewaterhouseCoopersTelstraClearTelstra CorporationXtra

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