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Is Beer In the Workplace an Employee Benefit?


images-25Providing beer to employees is one of the more atypical employee benefits, but it does say something about the company’s culture and the employees who will thrive there. Some HR leaders discuss their benefits philosophies.

Struggling with a project during a late-February afternoon last year, I stopped to assess the situation and realized I was dispirited.

I had recently returned home after three weeks of business travel that was hampered by four nor’easters and wasn’t able to get outside to work off my stress due to head-high snow banks.

Since I enjoy the sometime luxury of a home office, I decided sprints up and down the stairs that run from my basement to the second floor would help me let off some steam. On one of my passes through the dining room, I spied a decanter of wine remaining from the prior night’s dinner.

On each pass, I increasingly rationalized how one small glass could jump start my spirits.

Eventually I succumbed, but not before placing a Facebook status update questioning the wisdom of sipping wine while plowing through work. When I received the go-ahead from my FB friends, I gleefully spent the next few hours finishing the project.

It turned out a taste of what I previously saw as forbidden during work hours was exactly what I needed.

I recalled this experience when talking with Mark Torres, senior vice president of people and culture at The Rubicon Project. Torres was one of three human resource leaders on a panel I moderated in Santa Monica, Calif., last month about building a culture of wellness.

Torres joined the company about a year ago after his employer transitioned from a PEO to an in-house human resources team. One of his first acts was to survey employees about benefits — which resulted in a strong staff request to retain the 24/7 beer refrigerator on the premises under the category of “the one thing we shouldn’t change.”

When Torres repeated his story for our audience, a hush came over the room. Beer in the workplace? Is that an employee benefit — nevermind a wellness strategy?

I’ve pondered this question for the last two weeks. For me, the answer lies in what I see as an expanding definition of benefits from its World War II origins.

Employee perks are rapidly becoming as important to workers as employee benefits. Start-up companies such as The Rubicon Project are leading the way by defining the company’s culture with the perks they offer.

And, yes, the company’s benefits include more than just beer. They offer a solid benefits package along with a $50 per month wellness reward, which allows employees to define wellness for themselves.

In fact, start-ups are coupling traditional and non-traditional benefits on a regular basis.

Also on the panel, Nate Randall, the benefits manager at Tesla Motors, captured the new world of benefits best by describing the “Tesla Lifestyle” as a reflection of the environment the company creates, which attracts the kind of people they want to employ.

Randall is “consciously creating a benefits structure that is different from what other companies are doing.” And that’s consistent with the electric-vehicle manufacturer’s goal to produce increasingly affordable electric cars.

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