How to lure tech talent with employee benefits, perks

Flexibility is key as employers try to beef up their benefits packages and attract in-demand workers.

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Companies are vying for IT talent, and they’re using benefits and perks to help attract the best and brightest. So what are IT pros looking for?

“At the top of the list is a flexible work schedule,” says Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing and recruiting firm Modis. IT work doesn’t always align with the structure of a traditional 9-5 week, and flexible scheduling lets IT pros adjust the hours and location of their work.

Many Modis clients are keeping a tight rein on expenses, and offering perks such as flexible scheduling helps boost their appeal to employees while protecting the bottom line. “We’re just not seeing the rush to pay more for talent,” Cullen says, “but companies are going to continue to look for ways to be creative, ways to provide an environment with the perks that people want.”

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On the compensation front, companies are experimenting with financial incentives. Some are granting project bonuses to employees when they complete a critical deployment, Cullen says. Similar to sign-on bonuses, these project bonuses allow companies to dole out extra compensation without committing to permanent salary increases.

In general, companies are being more generous and more creative with benefits and perks these days, affirms Shravan Goli, president at tech career site Dice.

“Benefits such as performance bonuses are becoming more common for technology professionals, in addition to more widely provided benefits like healthcare and retirement planning. Bonuses are a way to ‘manage’ and maintain compensation flexibility, as compared to salary increases that are much harder to roll back should a company need to,” Goli says.

Retention bonuses are also becoming more common, Goli notes. A tactic for retaining critical personnel who might be considering leaving, retention bonuses are typically awarded to employees for staying for a specific time period, such as through the completion of a project or merger. Likewise, some equity grants are designed to vest when project milestones are achieved. “Equity is being used more widely as a way of retaining employees over the long term,” Goli says.

Careers site Glassdoor recently surveyed workers about which benefits are most important, aside from salary and compensation. Medical coverage was rated the most important benefit (cited by 76% of employees), followed by holidays/vacation/sick time (72%), retirement benefits (62%), dental coverage (60%), and employee development/training (27%).

Glassdoor’s survey polled employees from all industries, not just IT pros. From a tech perspective, Modis sees a lot of emphasis on medical benefits among its clients. Family-oriented benefits, such as childcare assistance, are also important among working parents.

One benefit that’s less emphasized in the IT field? Paid vacation time. In an industry known for its long hours and unrelenting pace, it’s not surprising that vacation time isn't often a bargaining-table benefit. “I think there’s still this expectation that, depending on the role you play in the IT lifecycle, whether you’re on PTO or you’re planning a vacation, there are still times you’re going to need to be accessible and available,” Cullen says.

Perks: The icing on the (free) cake

Fringe benefits, meanwhile, are alive and well. Free food, on-site massage or chiropractic services, arcade games, laundry services, transportation, dog-friendly offices – the list goes on and on, reminiscent of the dot-com era, when startup companies reimagined the workplace environment.

“On the perks side, companies are competing and can sometimes fall into a ‘perks race,’” Goli says. Perks can help companies define their culture. Extras such as free lunches and social events can encourage communication and openness, while fitness reimbursement can support a company’s wellness initiatives, he says.

But perks alone won’t win over IT pros.

“Perks can sway a technology professional to work for you, as long as you've met all the other basic criteria – compensation, interesting, challenging work,” Goli says.

Flexibility is a bigger lure than fun and games, agrees Modis’ Cullen. “In terms of perks, I don’t think you’re going to win over anyone with video games, foosball tables and free beer,” Cullen says. “I don’t think it’s a deal maker or breaker.”

IT pros are a motivated group, in general, and the opportunity to keep skills fresh and stay challenged is paramount. “Is this an environment where I can improve my skills, improve my value, do things I like to do, learn new technologies?” Cullen says. “That’s the kind of place that’s going to attract and win the talent.”

Compared to years past, the corporate approach to perks today is different in its variability; it’s not a one-size-fits-all style.

“The biggest change I see is perks that are customizable – I think companies recognize that what is meaningful to one isn't to another,” Goli says. Companies are coming up with benefits strategies that support their culture and let employees decide what’s right for them, he says.

“The other noticeable change is that benefits don’t have a waiting period as often anymore,” Goli says. “We see a lot of companies advertising that their programs start on day one.”

Ranking perks

When Dice.com analyzed the workplace perks and benefits offered most frequently by employers who use its job board, it focused its analysis on four hot fields: software engineering, cloud computing, big data, and mobile development. A free lunch was popular among all four fields and ranked first among companies looking to hire big data and mobile development talent.

Tuition reimbursement was the most popular perk offered by employers looking to hire talent in the software engineering field; gym membership topped the list of perks offered by those searching for cloud computing gurus. Other perks that are common among the surveyed companies include: gym reimbursement, referral bonus, working with the latest technologies, and a casual work environment.

Goli’s advice to companies is to offer perks that are compatible with the corporate culture. “I think companies do a good job of matching perks to their culture, so that’s the main piece of advice,” he says.

Well written job postings that show a company’s point of view perform better on Dice, Goli notes. One example from a Dice client’s job posting highlights the company’s flexible scheduling benefit: “Flexible hours (we won’t make you leave your warm bed too early).” A job description like that says a lot more about this company than just saying “flexible hours,” Goli says.

This summer, Glassdoor unveiled a new feature called Benefits Reviews that’s designed to make it easier for employees and job seekers to compare and research companies’ benefits packages and perks. Employees can visit Glassdoor and rate how satisfied they are with their employers’ benefits packages across a number of categories, including: health and wellness; financial and retirement; family and parenting; vacation and time off; perks and discounts; and professional support (such as diversity programs, tuition assistance).

Glassdoor mines the data so job seekers can compare benefits and perks across multiple companies. Employers, meanwhile, can verify and share details about the benefits and perks they offer to make sure the data supplied by employees is accurate.

“Employees want to know more about benefits and perks in their companies, especially in the tech community,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. “It’s an important piece of the total compensation package.”

In just the first few weeks of the Benefits Reviews launch, Glassdoor has accumulated benefits information on more than 8,500 employers, Dobroski says. “We know that a benefits package is such an integral piece of the employment equation, and this information, until now, was really hard to find. It was hard to compare benefits, which carry personal and monetary value.”

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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