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Is Beer at Work Beneficial?

Can beer at work be a benefit?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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Consider the experience of Mark Torres, senior vice president of people and culture at The Rubicon Project, based in Los Angeles.

Torres joined the company about a year ago. One of his first acts was to survey employees about benefits -- which resulted in a strong staff request to retain the 24/7 beer refrigerator on the premises under the category of "the one thing we shouldn't change."

When Torres told his story on a panel I recently moderated, a hush came over the room. Beer in the workplace? Is that an employee benefit?

For me, the answer lies in what I see as an expanding definition of benefits from its World War II origins.

Employee perks are rapidly becoming as important to workers as employee benefits. Start-up companies such as Rubicon are leading the way by defining the company's culture through the perks they offer. And, yes, the company's benefits include more than just beer. Rubicon offers a solid benefits package along with a $50-per-month wellness reward, which allows employees to define wellness for themselves.

Nate Randall, the benefits manager at Tesla Motors, captures the new world of benefits best by describing the Tesla life as a reflection of the environment the company creates, which attracts the kind of people it wants to employ.

Tesla employees receive free high-deductible health-insurance plans, preventive care, preventive prescriptions and birth control. The wellness programs don't force specific behavior changes but, instead, "capture what employees are already doing and prop that up," says Randall. When the company found that many of the engineers cycled to work, Tesla made showers available to them. And an employee garden at work will soon produce enough vegetables to feed employees at home.

John Foster, head of talent and organization at Los Angeles-based Hulu, says he made a basic assumption when creating the online-video service's benefits philosophy.

"Our employees are a group of entrepreneurs working together at a place where builders build," Foster says. His short-term focus is helping employees deal with stress, time management, sleep and balance. He believes in giving employees individual choices about how they address these challenges -- and in supporting them with resources to maintain healthy habits. One resource Hulu created is "Be Well" -- a $700-per-year stipend that employees can spend any way they want to improve their job performance.

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Foster finds hiring people with a strong intrinsic commitment to well-being results in more revenue and services, along with an employee-turnover rate of 7 percent to 8 percent -- half of the tech industry's experience.

So, what about beer in the workplace? I believe it's less an employee benefit and more a reflection of a company's DNA.

As human resource executives, taking a new look at how you feature the specifics of your employee-benefits package may give you a way to attract and retain the type of employees who will succeed at your company.

Carol Harnett is a consultant, speaker and writer in the fields of employee benefits. She can be emailed at caharnett@aol.com.

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