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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

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? –  rob 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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  • 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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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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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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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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Free lunch and soft drinks. Beer could help too.

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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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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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#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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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