High-tech's perks for building teamwork

By , Business correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Anyone who comes to work for Apple Computer gets an Apple II personal computer to take home after 60 days on the job. "If you are still with the company a year later, it's yours," says Apple spokesman Stan DeVaughn. "That's a $2,000 bonus just when you start up." Mr. DeVaughn says perquisites like this, which are available to all employees, foster team spirit.

The high-tech industry lives off the energy and ideas that come from intense teamwork, he adds. That's one reason that incentives and benefits in this industry are quite diferent from offerings in other industries.

This reasoning is backed up by a study recently done by the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based firm that specializes in salary, pension, and benefits consulting. After looking at 21 of the country's largest high-tech companies, Hay found that:

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* Stock purchase plans as a long-term incentive were used in 67 percent of the companies -- more than double the use in general industry. In some companies , the plans reach down to all employee levels.

* High-tech companies are more likely to use front-end bonuses to attract management and technical professionals. This is because of stiff competition for the best researchers and manager.

* Half the companies studied by Hay said they have a special award system for key contributors. Most of these firms said they offered cash awards, many down to the technical level.

* Profit sharing is more popular than pension plans. Profit sharing occurs in 39 percent of the high-tech companies -- double the percentage in general industry. Only 58 percent of the firms have pension plans, compared with more than 95 percent in other industries.

"Because of the stage of our growth cycle, we just haven't had to deal with pensions yet," says Gerald Jones, president of CMC International, a Bellevue, Wash., computer designer and manufacturer.

There is potential for extremely rapid growth in this industry. By giving employees a stake in the company stock, a company gives them the incentive to achieve that growth, says Wiliam White, director of strategic compensation services at Hay.

"The emphasis is on building a team and cooperative spirit in a high-risk situation," Mr. White says. By offering stock plans, "these firms have tried to tie everyone together in one common vehicle, and let them all become quite wealthy if the team is successful."

Mr. White adds that perks are not so important to high-tech executives, because "most of the staff is a professional group working in a collegial environment. These are no-frills people who feel rewarded when the idea and product flourish. They dress in blue jeans, go into think tanks, and don't come out unless with an idea."

Peter Connell, a spokesman for Digital Equipment Corporation, agrees. "We don't even have assigned parking spaces here. . .The excitement is seeing a product developed and sold -- that's the turn-on for these guys."

To preserve that team feeling, some high-tech firms don't like to single out their executives too much. "We don't have country clubs or [company-purchased] autos here," says Lon Bonczek, vice-president of human resources at Computervision in Bedford, Mass. "Your can't make a country club available to everybody. . .there has to be sharing."

Researchers, engineers, and managers in this business are on a tight schedule. They have come up with winning products in an industry where new products appear on the market all the time. This is one reason that high-tech companies place a lot of importance on rewards. For instance, pioneers of new products at Apple get a crack at the "Apple fellow." This is a year off "to do whatever you want," says Mr. DeVaughn. Steven Wozniak, one of Apple's founders, took his year to finish a computer science degree.

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