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Stock options don't make much sense, since the company's private. [It still does, if you are a facebook of sorts AND the regulatory system permits sites like secondmarket, but I digress.]

I could think of some:

  1. Health benefits to parents and parents-in-laws
  2. Sponsoring a fuel-saving bike to drive to office
  3. Gift cards for occasions like completion of 1, 3, 5 years of service

I really could do with more suggestions here.

EDIT: Thanks everyone for the response. To summarize, here are the additional things my HR could do:

  1. Matching contribution to employee retirement fund provided the employee contributes
  2. Funding continuing education, professional courses etc.
  3. Company subscription to ACM, IEEE, Safari Books etc.
  4. Meal vouchers
  5. Membership to gyms
  6. Hosting a recreation room at office
  7. Spot bonuses
  8. Time off for code spikes in recognition of individual contribution
  9. Sabbaticals
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There's a lot of non-financial answers below - did you want those too? Or just 'remuneration package' items that aren't monetary? –  JBRWilkinson Jan 14 '11 at 14:14
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41 Answers 41

up vote 58 down vote accepted

Paid lessons for anything they want - programming, human languages, music, arts etc.

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In other words, 100% tuition assistance that can also be used for non college courses? –  rjzii Jan 14 '11 at 14:11
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I think it is really personal, but my list.

  • flexible hours
  • work from home possibilities
  • enough possibilities to learn during working hours
  • possibilities to go to conferences
  • MSDN license
  • Software budget
    A fixed amount that the employees are allowed to buy software for, without the need for them to justify what they need it for. So they can buy Resharper or Coderush or tools like Ndepend for themselves.
  • Book budget
  • Time to try new technologies

And off course a swimming pool and a bar but that is obvious.

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Book budget and learning opportunities are an absolute must! –  What Jan 14 '11 at 9:59
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For books, my opinion would be that developers should be able to get any books they want, as long as they read them. –  Philippe Jan 14 '11 at 10:03
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This is a great list; getting an MSDN licsense through work is a GREAT benefit (assuming MS developers). The one thing I'd add is "real" time off. That is, when you are on vacation, no email, no phone calls; you get to really unwind. –  Jeff Siver Jan 14 '11 at 13:17
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+1: I'd add nice working environment, decent kit, appreciation and a sense that I'm doing something worthwhile. –  Kramii Jan 14 '11 at 13:34
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Flexible work hours and telecommuting FTW. These are big. –  Chris Holmes Jan 14 '11 at 16:06
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Your trust and support

Knowing that they have the freedom to go wrong and still not be fired is good.

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Support for code spikes

Developers want time to explore interesting ideas. If a developer comes up with an idea that has potential give them up to 2 weeks of research time to come up with a viable prototype.

The understanding is that this code spike is for the company and is given as a reward for a significant milestone or technical achievement.

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@Gary If I get it floating with approval from upper mgmt, I'll see what I can do about summarizing. It'll probably take a year or so, and we're crunching on shipping first versions of our main products now, so not many ideas are coming up. I've favourited the question so I'll find it at that time. –  Macke Jan 14 '11 at 15:21
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Online book subscription somewhere like safaribooksonline.com

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Masseur on-site one day a week for staff massages

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A little over the top maybe?? –  rmx Jan 14 '11 at 10:00
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I'm with Leah on this one. Long-time programmers (or any office worker really) suffer from back problems for sitting all day long without exercise and a good masseur can help reducing those problems significantly. –  Spoike Jan 14 '11 at 10:16
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LOL. Ever seen that movie, Swordfish? :) –  Carlos Jan 14 '11 at 13:13
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Can we clarify that this is of the 'sports' or 'therapeutic' type, rather than 'erotic' –  JBRWilkinson Jan 14 '11 at 14:01
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@JBRWilkinson: I don't know what workplaces you have, but this is not the sort of thing that normally needs clarification? Had he said 'Hookers on-site for staff massages', then it would need clarification… –  Paul Wagland Jan 14 '11 at 16:48
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Occasional trips to the pub / go out for lunch.

It never hurts to get the afternoon off.

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What about people who don't drink, those that have a problem with drink, or those who aren't so comfortable with social events? –  JBRWilkinson Jan 14 '11 at 14:02
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@JBRWilkinson - Thus just having the group go out to lunch and letting people know that if they want to order a pint or a glass of wine it is acceptable. It used to be that ordering a drink with lunch wasn't that uncommon but it is getting to be more frowned upon these days. –  rjzii Jan 14 '11 at 14:14
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@JBRWilkinson - Those arguments can be applied to nearly everything. Gym membership: Some don't like to or can't exercise. Safari membership: Some devs are blind. Liability: Some people are going to be stupid drunk or sober, no matter where they are. Non-social people: Get different job, development is predominantly team work. All bad reasons not to have this as an option. –  Steve Evers Jan 14 '11 at 19:10
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Motivating people (and programmers) is hard. Non-expected non-monetary rewards for accomplishments in general seems to be what gives the best motivation

Some ideas: Conferences and hackathons are always popular as well as paid courses etc. General group events like tastings, paintball etc are also good rewards.

I've recommended this book before and I'll do it again :)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

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+1. His TED Talk: ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html –  Jonathan Hobbs Jan 14 '11 at 12:22
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Four-day work week

People don't leave our company for other work, they retire and it's likely because after just 6 months of four-day weeks, nobody can bear the thought of going back to five (or more) days.

(Interestingly, as an employer, you lose less productivity than you'd think. People schedule their doctor/dentist/teacher/DMV appointments on their days off and end up using their work time for work.)

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Make sure you have a place developers want to work. Do you pass Joel's test?

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Pension Contributions. More and more important to all of us as society ages. Also more and more important as your programmers age.

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+1 Completely agreed. We encourage 10-12% of contributions in retirement funds, with matching employer amounts. –  Fanatic23 Jan 14 '11 at 13:00
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Personal Kit Budget

You choose the machine, display, O/S, tools, etc, setup how you like.

Manager pays.

Caveat: must be able to still get your job done and no detrimental effects to the team (no Air Horns :-) and can't take it home (permanently)

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Should have some leeway like dual monitors, but OS and tools will depend on what the team uses. –  abel Jan 15 '11 at 17:20
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Can't beleive no-one said it yet:

Contribution toward the cost of membership at a local gym.

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Contribution toward..? Surely you mean 'paid-for membership of'? –  JBRWilkinson Jan 14 '11 at 14:30
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25% off - that sounds like a case of 'it sounds great, but no-one's going to take us up on it as it's still 75% to pay out so we're not losing anything on it'. If they were serious, they'd have a corporate membership automatically. –  Skizz Jan 14 '11 at 16:46
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If they were serious they'd have an on-site gym...just saying. –  dotjoe Jan 14 '11 at 21:34
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Free Chocolate

I assume you already have free coffee (that's sort of mandatory (what's a monkey without his peanuts)).

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I think free fruit would be much better than giving free chocolate. –  rmx Jan 14 '11 at 10:01
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+1 for nested brackets –  Mild Fuzz Jan 14 '11 at 10:23
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@ rmx: Do you mean better for them or a better incentive (mom is that you). –  Loki Astari Jan 14 '11 at 10:48
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Too much free chocolate makes my keyboard sticky. –  JBRWilkinson Jan 14 '11 at 14:28
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Before getting to motivators, it helps to understand de-motivators. For me these are:

  • Long commutes, it's a fact of life sometimes but a job will have to be outstanding to keep me there when I can cut my commute in half. (Long commute is at least an hour in rush hour traffic).
  • Stifling innovation or experimentation. Outdated and inadequate tools fall into this category. It's really frustrating to try to figure out how to tighten a screw with a hammer who's gold plating has long since worn off.
  • Burnout. It can be a real problem, but requiring long hours for extended periods of time will chase good people away. The same with last minute radical changes that always seem to come right when you think you're done with a release.

So for potential motivators to deal with these problems:

  • Telecommuting options for a certain percentage of the week, or during snow days can make a big difference. A long commute is bad enough, but one in the snow will make it take twice as long--enough to not be worth going to work at all if there is no other option.
  • Google had a really cool program where all developers were encouraged--even required--to spend 10% of their company time on personal projects. That helps with innovation, keeping skills sharp, and the ability to try out new tools and see if they will pay off for day to day work. 10% of a programmer's time might seem like a lot, but it ammounts to 3 days a month. Some of these projects might be able to become company projects if they seem promissing enough. Imagine the boost a developer gets when their personal project gets company funding and they get to be the lead.
  • The only way to deal with burnout is to maintain strict work/life balance. If your developers are consistently pulling over 40 hours a week because the project mandates it, it is a planning problem. If the developer is pulling over 40 hours a week because they are addicted to work, that's a personal problem--but still needs to be dealt with.
  • Something my company does that is really cool is two-fold: you get paid straight time for all hours worked, and if you work beyond 40 hours you can earn extra leave. I can't remember the proportions right now, but it's cumulative. I think it's something like for every 5 hours overtime worked I get an hour of extra leave. It provides an additional tangeable bonus for when I have to put in extra hours.

One more motivator I just thought of:

Paying for a fitness/health club membership of the developer's choice, or paying for a diet plan. Due to my own fault, I gained a lot of weight over the years. Partly due to the type of job I have, partly due to stress, and partly due to the food I ate. I hit my "do or die" threshold in October of last year, joined a weight loss program and lost 60 lbs so far (another 40 to go before I'm done). The cost of improving my health is high, but it's worth it. In the process I have become much more alert at work, miss fewer days due to sickness, my overal motivation is higher, etc. Currently my company doesn't contribute towards the weight loss even though they benefit from it. The monthly cost for me is very close to my monthly car payment. While 100% coverage may not be feasible, at least some reasonable percentage would really help.

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To paraphrase slightly: Ask not what you can do for your workers. Ask what you can not do to them. –  Orbling Jan 14 '11 at 20:16
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Weekly mini parties

and a friendly office atmosphere.

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My office does Unreal/Movie nights once a week during the summer when the interns have spare time. –  Malfist Jan 14 '11 at 16:08
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What do programmers/hackers want more than money? Recognition - that's what screwed Geohot up :)

If you can incorporate the right kind of recognition (and achievement awards) into your business model, then that would be a big step up.

Otherwise, consider the following.

Monetary payments:

  • Black AMEX Card :)
  • 401(k) benefits
  • Stock/Bond payments
  • Luxurious vacation packages
  • Commuting payments
  • Meal payments/subsidies
  • Profit Sharing / Bonuses (considered cash)
  • Higher Education payment
    (including collegiate programs, training seminars, certifications, etc)

    This one is good because you can contractually bind them to promise not to leave for a certain number of years, based on how much re-education they get

Other Benefits:

  • Parking spaces (if they work on-site)
  • Discounts on (software, hotels, flowers, rental cars, etc)
  • I'd especially like if my employer allowed me to purchase hardware through the company account (to get discounts)
  • Hardware auctions for when older hardware is replaced

    if you buy top of the line and do the new every 2, like many places, then the old hardware is still usable and many times is better than employees at-home setups

  • Office furniture (perhaps allowing them to select a nice upgrade every 2 years)

    first time a nice chair, the next time a nice desk, the next time a lamp or rug or plant, etc; giving them the option

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+1 for parking. For me, opportunities to earn a month (or more) of "manager style" parking would be great! –  Liggy Jan 14 '11 at 17:42
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Recreation Room

(or paid-for membership of some facility that offers this)

Something with air-hockey, pool table, coin-ops, a cross-trainer/treadmill, punch-bag, dart board, etc, with a shower room nearby. This would help with those times when you need a distraction, to let out some frustration or just to clear your head.

Of course, still got to get your work done, so up to employees to manage their own time.

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No Blackberry

So that when you're out of the office, you're left alone - no call outs, no supporting people that didn't read your report/documentation, no having to read 'last nights' email before an 8am meeting, etc.

If you're in a role that has on-call responsibilities, then a shared on-call phone is fine - when it's your turn to be on-call.

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I always find it amusing that getting a company blackberry is considered a "perk" by many. How being on call 24/7 becomes a "perk" I'll never know. –  Orbling Jan 14 '11 at 20:24
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So, one of the "perks" at a job I just started is the company makes a run to Costco every week and stocks the fridge with $350 worth of soda and food for breakfast/lunch. This is huge for me personally. I can easily spend $10 a day on lunch and breakfast, so in effect, this is a $200 a month raise for me. Plus the added benefit that I stay in the office, so perhaps I might eat at my desk and be productive during my lunch break.

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Entirely sensible, used to be common place in companies to provide food, not so much these days and there is resultant loss in productivity and increase in cost to employees. –  Orbling Jan 14 '11 at 20:25
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Contracted for a few months at a company that offered this (yes, they extended it even to contractors). I gained 20 pounds and they went out of business. :-) So perhaps a bit of a cautionary tale... –  kindall Jan 14 '11 at 20:51
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..and the company gets up to an extra hour of work per day out of you as you work through your lunch break. It's important to take a break after 4 hours of work - the free food is one thing, but eating it at your desk is probably not the best thing for your long-term health. –  JBRWilkinson Jan 15 '11 at 11:58
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A lot of things have already been mentioned, so here's my addition:

  • Free coffee and drinks
  • Some snack options
  • A nice kitchen space to meet up and chat

We had that at my old job and I didn't realize how much the free drinks and coffee mattered until I didn't have it anymore. It is a financial benefit, although a smart one, but it mostly shows that you care. We also had a fruit basket delivered twice a week.

As for the kitchen space, this is where your developers meet up for coffee and drinks and this is where they will either just chat or end up having productive discussions. We actually moved a whiteboard to the kitchen because we realized we had some really helpful technical discussions there.

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Take your team to the bar once a week first round on you.

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Awkward for anyone that doesn't drink. –  John Straka Jan 14 '11 at 11:42
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@Fanatic23, The Revestoral in wine will reduce LDL and increase HDL so... –  Malfist Jan 14 '11 at 16:09
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@John Straka, I find bars almost always have the best tasting Ginger Ale you can get. –  Malfist Jan 14 '11 at 16:09
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Take the team to the local pub on the first Friday of every month, first round's on the company.

Offer a set menu breakfast every Friday morning, allow people to choose between healthy and not-so-healthy-but-lets-not-shower-in-chocolate-,-ok?.

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Here's what my company does:

  • Monthly "outings" where the company pays up to $30 to do whatever people decide on as long as the group is > 5. (Usually it's going out to eat, bowling, we've even done a beerfest).
  • Every two weeks we have a lunch and learn in which the company provides us pizza and a guest comes in teaches us something new.
  • Free snacks healthy and otherwise always available
  • Fairly flexible hours (as long as you clear it with the manager)
  • Mixers with the entire tech department every quarter (everything from drinks to food is covered)
  • Open office environment, no cubes, no offices. (I'm counting this as a benefit because I've very much enjoyed this!)
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More base vacation time. U.S. employers tend to give 2 weeks, which is ridiculous; at that amount, you're probably losing money on burnout. Bump it up to 4 weeks or more. (5+ weeks is standard in most of Europe, I think.)

Maybe you don't consider this a "financial" thing, but most employers would consider it financial due to the mystical man-moth or whatever it is.

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Respect, the best programmers I know take pride in their work, you may be able to retain them simply by making sure they are well positioned to tackle the challenges that get them up in the morning and keep them up at night.

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This is a very important topic, but the answer is highly subjective. There are a lot of very good suggestions here, but that might not be what you're looking for.

I believe the best thing is to have a culture which is open enough so one can ask people for an honest answer what motivates them. This is so individual that making a general "one fits all" might not work well.

My answer is that you aim to give a "personalized motivating environment". Hence, leave the innovation to your employees. :)

UPDATE: With "personalized motivating environment" I mean that each person will have the set of conditions they would want. Maybe conditions would be more suitable than environment.

UPDATE2: Bottom line is that whatever suggestion come up here they will not fit for all, which I think is sad. Asking every employee instead is better.

A comprimise between what I'm suggesting and a concrete ide could be to ask yourself how much money you're ready to invest in these innovative ideas and then ask people how they want to get it: cash, course, chocolate or something else.

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Although these are not "non-cash financial benefits" you could (unless you already do):

  • Abolish dress code for positions that don't require face-to-face contact with customers.

  • Give employees opportunity to choose their own tools at the expense of having uniform working enviroment or best priced deals. Set a budget if necessary.

  • Create conductive and pleasant physical work enviroment: rest, utility, social and work areas with ample space per employee.

  • Give employees an opportunity to set and work on own meaningful goals and select the ways of achieving them within the work context. "Giving an opportunity" means providing required time, resources and support within the company. "Own" means no interference from management.

  • Employ a personal assistant who would take care of your staff personal errands: booking tickets, holidays, restaurants, hotels and doctor appointments, dispatching post, taking cars to service, laundry to and from dry cleaners, arranging car valeting on site, buying flowers for spouses etc.

The others have mentioned and I strongly support:

  • flexible working hours

  • subsidised meals

  • subsidised commute

  • training budget paid for any even non-work related courses and conferences

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Here is a great video about the effects of programmer compensation:

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

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Is this video specific to programmers? Do programmers compete for a single prize in the same way sales people compete for sales commission? –  JBRWilkinson Jan 15 '11 at 12:00
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