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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

41 Answers 41

A Personal Engraved Nameplate

alt text
(not actually mine)

This is a small thing, but at my first job they would engrave a nameplate for everyone to put on their cube. It felt like a little commitment to you, they actually had a machine on site that would do it which was cool, but even if you pay someone to make the plates for you its much nicer than just a name printout inserted in a holder like some places do. The fact that they're willing to pierce wood (or plastic..) for you shows a smidgen of commitment.

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  • Buy them really, really good hardware for them to develop on. I don't know if you have any idea how great it is for us geeks to have decent hardware to work on. Eight or 16 threads, 24GB of RAM, 120GB SSD, multiple monitors, Firepro graphics cards, keyboards and mouses of their choice, USB steak griller, you know.
  • Buy them the office furniture of their choosing (within reason - a million buck calf-skin matching monogrammed chair-and-desk-and-pen-holder set would be a bit extravagant.) Having a comfortable office chair that is ergonomically healthy is more important than most people think.
  • Subsidise, even partially, some private hardware purchases for your staff. Being able to afford that radio-controlled helicopter, HTPC or 2nd (or 3rd!) graphics cards might work wonders for your staff's e-egos.
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Increase the quality of working environment.

There is theory I heard before that goes like this. Instead of increasing the salary by say 50$ it's better to invite the employ to dinner/cinema tickets etc.. 50$ is perceived much less than concrete stuff. Unfortunately it's human psychology.

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Can't upvote or comment the answer from KeesDijk, but it sums up pretty well what I think too. I'll just add some sponsoring for tech related event (trip, hosting and event fee for ex.). I'll also mention that what abel suggests (trust and support). A nice workplace (well lit, decent furniture, clean walls & windows) is a good plus too.

In a previous life, I went to see ensemble studios (who made the age of empire games) in Dallas. They had this awesome place, a geek paradise : small offices, chef coming to bake food, cinema room with projection once a week (family welcome), free food, free drinks, arcade room with a ping pong table, etc, etc. When I mentionned how awesome the place was, the guy who was touring us there explained me that it was a win-win for everybody : the staff felt really good coming working there and could focus only on their work. Of course, as he continued, smiling, the more they stay at work, the better it was for him.

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Does everyone have their own office with a window? I can't say how much it means to have my own working space that I can personalize (within reason). A smalldecorating budget for each new employee to give him ot hrt money to buy plants or frames to hang photos is nice - law firms usually do this for their associates.

Yes, I know there are programmers who like common areas to discuss code and ideas. That's where a kitchen with seating comes in. Your developers can brown bag it or bring back take-out for discussion times.

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Anything you offer that costs the company money should instead be used as a cash incentive to the developers. Unless there are very clear and desired tax benefits for the employees, getting cash is always better than something an HR person thinks everyone wants.

Example: Gift cards? No. Gimme the cash. Time off? Yes. Work from home? Yes.

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#1 Good Medical Benefits - of course for younger guys this will be less important

  • Subsidized gym or other physical activity for health (sports, dance, martial arts)
  • Free coffee/water/tea
  • Flexible hours as long as your getting your work done
  • Budget for books, classes, conventions
  • Usage of company facilities for User Groups
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I had a great manager years ago that divided recognition into 3 main categories:

  • Titles/spotlight - some folks like the spiffy title and the chance to shine out in public. They thrill at being able to add "architect", "principal", or "lead" to their existing title. I also group in public recognition - the same architype likes to be able to give public presentations, be the go-to person, and lead meetings or be the speaker for the group at management things.
  • Visible signs of status - the big company car, the big corner office. Have to be careful here -I'd say the super-sexy development machine, but sometimes there's non-achievement related reasons to allocate computing resources differently - for example, you really want your GUI guys to have the bigger/better/more flexible monitors, and you want your network guys to have machines with the best NICs or multiple NICs. At least around my company, though, having a tiny, light laptop is a sure sign you are in upper management, cause we realize that carrying it around easily is as (if not more) important than being able to use it. And forget about having enough CPU to build anything!
  • Money/low profile appreciation - some people just want the money, or other asset that will help their private life but is more or less invisible in the office. I think you've already got plenty of good answers here.

My manager was very smart in that she pointed out that the key to retaining people is not necessarily to give them all three at once (although with a big company, that can frequently be the case). If you are a small company, figure out what will thrill the individual, and do that - so that you are not always trying to financially support all three things.

Speaking for a total organization, though, I think you want to think strongly about group culture. If you have a culture of team work, where people support one another, and can grow from one another, then it's likely that you have a good, motivational environment. More important than what you can do in terms of time, money, or other tangible benefits, is to make sure you have a positive culture with a strong bond between people and a general personality as a company that makes people feel connected to the company as well as each other. In that bucket, I'd put the suggestions about chances for personal and professional growth, opportunities to influence the growth and success of the company, opportunity to take on new challenges and try personal projects, and elimination of time-wasting busy work that has no value as perceived by the engineer. I've seen more people leave for these reasons than I ever did for anything HR could give them.

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Free lunch and soft drinks. Beer could help too.

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What's wrong with stock, even if the company's private? Base the valuation on the current revenue of the company, or the revenue of the previous year. For example, $1M of revenue in 2009, the company is worth $1M through 2010. 100,000 shares at $10 a piece. Figure out the market rate for a programmer, and allow him or her to take compensation as cash or cash + stock (or whatever works for your co -- 80% of market, etc...).

Then, create a vesting schedule based on number of years with the company. Say, for example, that a programmer needs 5 years to be fully vested. Let's say I leave on good terms after 3 years. You could buy me out at a 30% discount. Or, I could hold the stock for another 2 years and take a buyout then. There are lots of ways you can do it.

I think business owners can be too uptight about sharing equity in their companies. There's no reason why you have to give up any control. All you're doing is transferring risk, and on the flip side, transferring loss/reward. I think you'll find that a programmer with a $10,000 stake in your company is going to perform a lot differently than one without, especially if that $10,000 stake could be worth $50,000 if your company's revenue goes to $5M in five years.

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Sounds really simple, but the two best things that kept me at a company for 6 years where:

1) Offsite staff meetings at places like the local coffee shop. There's nothing like a change of scenery to make you feel like you're not at work and still be productive.

2) On a nice sunny day, we'd all take our laptops out and work in the sun.

While offices can keep you from being distracted, they can equally make you feel down, and that's not good for your work. Work should be fun!

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