Valuing an employee's time is definitely something that should be considered.
But even taken a few steps further than "I need another monitor to increase productivity", and you're floating dangerously close to self-entitlement, and simple, pathetic whining.
At Yahoo, I distinctly remember a thread on devel-random where one employee, in a single post, complained about things like how ugly the color scheme of the walls were, the fact that buildings in Mercado had too many floors, so when he left work, he has to stop at all the floors, and that the parking lot had flies that would get stuck in his hair gel. He called Yahoo the "worst place in the world to work at" because of this. It was incredibly sickening how ridiculous the email was.
The employer-employee relationship is a balance. If it swings too far in one direction where the employees get their ass kissed every day, then you breed self-entitled spoiled brats that are intolerable to work with. If it swings too far towards the employer, you get a dictatorship. I've worked in both environments, and neither of them are any good.
But to quit because you think that monitors are a litmus test about the engineering culture is ridiculous and is more of a reflection on you than the engineering culture. If you have a problem, solve it like an adult. It sounds like the employee didn't even mention it to his boss until he left. (It also sounds like the boss didn't bother asking the employee at their 1:1's about what they thought needed changing, or maybe he was just unapproachable.) Maybe it was just an oversight, maybe they didn't have the money, who knows. Life in general is a lot easier if you're flexible and less of a prima donna and go with the flow. To keep quibbling over the minutiae and extrapolate that to mean something more than it is, to me, is more whining than anything else.
> It also sounds like the boss didn't bother asking the employee at their 1:1's about what they thought needed changing, or maybe he was just unapproachable.
I'm an owner / CTO of a consultancy, and this point always frustrates me. We are only 12 or so employees, and we're all very comfortable with one another (we'll have game nights at the office, watch the GSL, etc). Still, when me and my partner have a 1:1 or talk to the employees, about 80% of them will not tell us their concerns or things they need.
It's a huge problem for us - we are very interested in spending our money on benefits, etc. that people care about, rather than just guessing, but it's virtually impossible to do this. Story time:
We had a designer leave recently (I <3'd him, awesome guy) to go work somewhere else, and a huge part of his decision, in the exit interview, was about a difference in health insurance between the two places. We had met with him 2 months prior EXPLICITLY to ask him (and other employees) if they wanted us to pursue any changes to health insurance, and were universally told that our existing benefits in that regard were fine.
We have since modified our health insurance to be just fantastically good, because apparently this was a concern (and we've had to forego a few other things in order to be able to afford it). But the point is, this is a guy that I was friends with, and he just would not tell me what weight to give the health insurance benefit vector.
It's maddening because I'm a very data-driven guy, and for whatever reason I can't get good data on employee concerns to save my life. Does anyone have any pointers here?
Coming from the UK, I'm always amazed at how important health insurance is in the US, and what a broad range of quality of healthcare there is. Our company provide a free, private healthcare (BUPA), but I've never felt the need to use it.
Recently, I had surgery for an ACL tear. Unfortunately, for some reason, it later went septic. The day the consultant found it was septic he rushed me into surgery that afternoon and I spent the next 6 nights on IV antibiotics, followed by a course of oral antibiotics. At no point did I have to worry about how much all this cost - and I didn't ring BUPA just because I couldn't be bothered and it was all perfectly satisfactory care.
When I was a kid I had extremely bad asthma. A new respirator type device had just been invented and I was one of the first in the North West to have one. These things cost thousands of pounds at the time and there's no way my parents would have been able to afford it, but they got it loaned to them completely free. It quite possibly saved my life.
I used to think how lucky I was that I wasn't born in some third world country where I would probably not have survived, but recently I've started to be glad I wasn't born in the US.
All that would likely have happened in the US also. Most people have health insurance. The ones who don't still get medical care, it just costs them money. If they don't have the money, they can settle with the hospital on a payment plan they can afford. It's definitely not perfect, but it's not as bad as it seems at first glance. I'll see posts about people's 30,000 dollar hospital bill, but in reality they'll never end up paying that much.
I work for one of the top 10 hospitals in the United States. Our health insurance, ironically, isn't all that great. Co-pays are relatively high, certain things not covered, etc.
So it got me thinking about health insurance and how it affects us (US residents), in comparison to our European counterparts.
One may argue that Europe went too far with their "social" expenses (hence, the current financial meltdown). Possibly. However, their view of healthcare (education, and other items) as a BASIC human right is one I strongly believe in. Healthcare should NOT be a luxury item. Yet, it is treated as such in the US. Almost exactly a year ago, I had a bike accident right off the Golden Gate Bridge. For 10 minutes I was limping my way to Sausalito until I happened to run into a police officer who thought I should be picked up by an ambulance to taken to the hospital (although they suspected that I had a concussion, broke my arm and shoulder, I came out with just scratches). I HAVE insurance, but for weeks after this injury, I was opening my mailbox at home, expecting a $20K bill (just the 15 minute ambulance ride was $2000). I was absolutely terrified. Imagine... and I HAVE insurance. Luckily, I ended up paying just a few co-pays, and the issue was resolved.
One of the benefits of a great employer in the US (like you have -- Microsoft, for example) is "Health insurance, Dental covered" etc. That's how they post it in job boards. Shouldn't health insurance be a given??
To your argument that things are settled through loans, etc: I am utterly against it. Obviously, statistics show that these things don't work. The hospital I work for serves an under-served population. People suffering from chronic diseases and who should be seeing a doctor on a regular basis do not. Why? Cost. They end up showing up in the ER with a MAJOR issue months later. Their condition is much more complicated to treat, and significantly costlier. So, we "saved" on a silly, cheap follow-up, but ended up spending a huge amount later. And guess what? These patients can't pay their bill anyhow, so we have to write the expense off.
I am familiar with quite a few people who would have loved to change their jobs, or even start their own business, but are too worried about losing their health insurance benefits. Is that the right way to go for the US? Probably not.
[edited: put it initially under the wrong parent. text left as is]
>One may argue that Europe went too far with their "social" expenses (hence, the current financial meltdown).
I'm not sure Greece in particular went too far, as such; isn't the problem that they've got a massive epidemic of tax evasion, and no political will to tackle it? If they were enforcing the tax laws on the books, maybe they'd have the money to pay for the services they're providing.
>So, we "saved" on a silly, cheap follow-up, but ended up spending a huge amount later. And guess what? These patients can't pay their bill anyhow, so we have to write the expense off.
> One may argue that Europe went too far with their "social" expenses (hence, the current financial meltdown)
One may argue that if she has no understanding of the European financial meltdown, and just wants to find evidence for the failure of the welfare state where there is none. The crisis happened primarily because of the Spanish real estate crisis, and it became exacerbated because of (1) structural flaws in the monetary union and (2) imposition of rapid austerity.
> One may argue that if she has no understanding of the European financial meltdown, and just wants to find evidence for the failure of the welfare state where there is none
There there. Relax.
I was not arguing that the social measures were the only cause of the financial meltdown. They are, probably, a contributing factor. You brought up Spain, which in particular, I am quite familiar with due to personal relations with a Spanish. Real estate was the major factor (as it was in the US), that is true. However, when Spanish citizens tell me they show up at the ER for a sore throat because the ER is closer to work/fit their schedule/whatever instead of setting an appointment with a doctor, I think that's a big "social" expense that could and should be avoided. Why do they do that? Because it's free! So who cares, right? There's nothing wrong with providing free health insurance (and I'm a big advocate for it), but showing up to the ER without a reason should be penalized.
Also, when I hear that people who have no desire to work (because they're homemakers, for example) show up at the unemployment office simply to collect unemployment or just to be eligible to "fun" courses (to fill up their days), that's a social expense (in Spain, if you're unemployed, even for an extended period of time, the government will pay for all kinds of courses, be it knitting, accounting, or something else). Those are expenses that affect a country's well-being.
I AM all for these things. But that's what I meant that they may have gone too far.
Health insurance in the US is highly variable. Many plans expect consumers to pay a substantial portion of their medical bills. The term "underinsured" tries to capture this segment of the population that is nominally insured but in reality would incur huge bills if they took advantage of their insurance.
And while some people manage to get out of paying their bills by exploiting HIPAA, most just take the massive hit to their credit and walk away from it. So no they don't end up paying that much, but the stress and economic fallout they endure is nothing to wave away either.
I think the data you're looking for has to come from having good relationships with your employees. For example, did you know the following about your ex-designer:
1) Is he married or looking to get married?
2) Does he have kids or plan to have them soon?
3) Has he had any serious health issues in his family (e.g. history of heart disease)?
Obviously, those type of questions can get you in trouble if they are asked on an employer->employee basis. But in the course of really getting to know someone, those types of things will come up. It's then on you to think about what you'd want in that situation and do it for them.
So if ex-designer was planning on having kids, you might consider the cost of the family plan and be willing to splurge on that at the expense of the beer and snacks budget (or something focused on single people).
My main problems with employers have been their ignorance and/or lack of concern about what is important to me. I had one company that bragged about fully paying for our health insurance. Well, the owners of the company all had several kids. I didn't even have a girlfriend at the time. Health insurance as a young, healthy, single guy was barely even on my radar. That was easily accessible data (which they had), and yet they didn't act on it at all.
Simply, put yourself in their shoes and ask, "What would I want in this situation?" Considering you were friends with the ex-designer, my thought would be that you could have probably spent more time thinking about what he wanted instead of just asking. For some reason, many people won't speak up about what they want. Many times they themselves don't know until someone shows it to them.
Getting people to open up is a skill. It's also much easier to do with peers.
Honestly, it's enough of a skill that I can't give you "quick pointers"-but check out the book The Charisma Myth, and pay special attention to Focus Charisma. That's the skill that you need to get people to open up about all their problems & concerns.
Cultivate a less intimidating environment. I jabber all week and clam up in a 1, even with a nice manager.
ask people to write down their thoughts during he week, email them to you or jot down notes, then discuss the notes in the 1:1. And if you ever show a hint of condescension or retaliation for feedback, it will never appear again.
Not sure why this sounds so incredulous. I have left (or even better, been laid off and happy to collect severance) more than once. It's not strictly "random" of course, it usually comes down to boredom and need for change but the bottom line is that indeed nothing could have been done.
N.B. I use the term employer throughout where it really can also mean manager or generally anyone responsible for figuring out what employees would value as compensation/perks.
One thing I've noticed being an employee is that when employers try to get feedback in how to compensate their employees or what kind of perks they can additionally offer the question asked is usually, "Is there anything I can do to make you happy?" That question is vague and oftentimes sounds like it should be answered in the negative. The employee doesn't want to look needy of course. Instead, the employer should ask, "Hey, are you happy with your hardware? You've been messing a lot with databases lately. Do you have enough RAM? Do you want some extra disks to mess with different RAIDs or filesystems?" or maybe, "Do you think we should get developers a second monitor? I really don't mind spending the money, it just never occured to me until now that it might be useful." Once an employer actually opens up a dialogue with an explicit offer or idea, the feedback the employer wants to hear will much more likely flow naturally.
More specifically with a topic such as health insurance, I as an employee need to be given some idea of what options are on the table when it comes to "improving" my health insurance plan. Are we talking about the employer paying more of the insurance or perhaps am I concerned about the lack of a plan that offers an unlimited lifetime benefits clause.
I feel my job as an employee is to do work that adds value to the company. If the company wants to genuinely add value to my well-being, but wants it to be more thoughtful or mutually beneficial than a raise, the ball's in their court to be creative and come up with a list of starter ideas. Now I'm not averse to thinking of what would be useful, but a vague email, or even a 1 on 1 asking me what can be improved is unfortunately not going to get any feedback because my mind really won't turn its attention to thinking about that for the time necessary. A personal anecdote offered in lesson form:
A CEO of a startup may hold a discussion on company offered stock options, to fill in people on how it works on a compensation level. When questions come up that the CEO does not feel comfortable answering (considering he's not a certified accountant), a normal CEO will advise you to ask an accountant (accountant? I'm 22 years old, I don't have an accountant, should I take off work hours to find an accountant, go to an accountant and ask him/her?). A creative CEO will get an accountant in the office for a day and schedule those with questions to have a 1 on 1 meeting.
I'm sure I'm just telling you things you already know, but I think it's worth reminding. When you want to try to understand the thought process behind someone's actions, put yourself in their shoes.
Okay. So now you're an employee who has been asked by his employer what he needs. Maybe you'd like higher pay/greater compensation. Do you have the bargaining power for greater pay? Would asking for greater pay indicate dissatisfaction to your employer? Maybe you don't want to communicate dissatisfaction. So maybe it's best to just say that everything is fine and keep working until you find a better position.
So maybe now you've found another position with more compensation. Do you hold a proverbial gun to your employer's head and say "greater compensation or I leave"? Is there any acceptable way of asking for more with no real way of promising anything in return?
I appreciate your efforts in trying to keep the lines of communication open, but maybe if you want information, you should give some in return. Something like "we still have $100k left to spend in employee benefits. How would you like this allocated? Pay? Insurance plan? Company party?" Or maybe you can offer choices. "Would you rather we increase 401k matching by 3%? Increase pay by 1%? etc" And obviously give them time to respond (so that they can consider things, discuss things, etc) It might be a pain, but if that's still not acceptable, and you still want more data, I doubt you'll get data asking directly from your employees what amounts to "do you want more stuff?" and "what more stuff do you want?".
If you find success with something though, whether it was something I suggested or not, please let us know!
I am not so sure that the situation is as simple as that. My perception is that these tiny issues are usually symptoms of an underlying reason why there is no longer (if there ever was) a fit between the company and a person. I think what happens is that once a person consciously or not realizes that this underlying reason has come up, all these tiny things start becoming more and more irritating, until the person explodes.
I can't imagine how a second monitor could improve productivity for anyone. What would you display on it other than a distracting irc room or twitter feed? Technological hubris at it's most despicable I say :)
I have three monitors and it saves me a tonne of headache. Left to right:
1. (Ubuntu) Project Firebug Browser, Reference Browser, FTP
2. (Ubuntu) Source Editor, Email, Console
3. (Win 7) Photoshop, IE Tester, MS Office junk
I can easily live with two, but there was a spare old monitor kicking about, so I absconded with it. With only one monitor, I spend a lot of clicking through the task bar trying to figure out what window I need next. With lots of monitors, I'm able to remain focused by just glancing back and forth between monitors.
There seems to be a clear dividing line. On one hand you have things that benefit productivity-- like monitors and good chairs and a decent work environment. On the other hand you have convenience petty complaints like the flies in the parking lot or too many floors in the buildings.
Good management should be able to tell the difference between the two and at least score well on the productivity relevant ones. In my career I've been regularly surprised just how penny wise and pound foolish management can be in this regard.
To tell the difference between the two is the problem. An understanding of decent work environment varies from person to person. Is it better to have small or large offices? I'd say the larger the better, having working people around helps me concentrate. Does coffee benefit productivity? I'd say it certainly does not (contrast to a good nap at the right moment), and probably isn't very good for health. Now, if I'm a manager, do I put all employees in large spaces without a coffee machine around? Probably a bad idea.
IMO it's more important for the management to recognize and fulfill employee's real needs. Give people what they need before they ask for it. Because some would ask for wrong things (e.g., not knowing that the company can provide a better solution to their problem), and others will never ask for anything, continuing to suffer in silence.
Well it suggests? That study had minimal controls for correlating factors, only alcohol and red meat, nothing about careers and lifestyles that correlate to coffee consumption. Less likely to die from "accidents" is an especially suspicious measurement.