SAN FRANCISCO - High salaries and free food aren't enough any more in Silicon Valley, where maturing companies are competing for talent with creative health care and"wellness" programs that use gadgets to promote good behaviour.
Standard benefits at the largest technology companies, including Google Inc and Apple Inc, range from fertility treatments to deluxe on-site medical clinics, to new technology treats like health-tracking bracelets.
The health largesse separates Silicon Valley's raging economy from many other sectors in the United States, but tech companies' experiments with perks show signs of spreading, benefits managers say.
Keeping employees healthy pays off in ways from increased productivity to lower health costs. Cutting obesity decreases risks of diabetes and other costly chronic diseases, for instance.
Silicon Valley employers see themselves fighting for good engineers. "It's absolutely a key way to recruit talent," said Joe Gracy, global benefits head at Yahoo, which offers the Valley standard slew of fertility and other benefits as well as 16 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and 8 weeks for new fathers.
Computer science students like James Mishra, who will graduate from the University of Minnesota in 2015, are among the most in demand by tech employers. Mishra will be booted off his parents' insurance at 26, he said, so he considers health benefits to be a "deciding factor." Though young entrepreneurs still start businesses in garages, the tech sector's average age is in line with industry as a whole, according to benefits companies.
John Adams, the thirteenth employee at Twitter, said healthcare had become a prime concern. When he was younger, he looked for jobs that offered stock, the chance of an initial public offering, and a big salary. "That works when you're in your 20s and 30s," he said. "doesn't work as you age." Benefits consultant Towers Watson found technology and telecoms firms will pay an average US$10,450 (S$13,291.51) per employee in 2014, close to the top of the range, based on a survey of expected expenses. Healthcare and energy both offer slightly more, while wholesale and retail employees will get US$8,162.
Dan Bernstein, a principal at benefits consultant Mercer in San Francisco, describes a "perks arms race" that includes health. "Infertility is huge," he said, adding that Silicon Valley appeared to offer even better benefits that tech overall. "Tech companies are an outlier," said Jennifer Benz, chief executive of Benz Consulting, which works on benefits with employers like Salesforce, Intuit Inc and Adobe . "We see a lot of experimenting going on." Silicon Valley is spending "big on babies," including premature infants, said Lauren Vela, executive director of the Silicon Valley Employers Forum.
Some 103 tech firms surveyed by Mercer in 2013 covered health benefits for same-sex partners more frequently than the national average, and were more likely to offer coverage for part-time employees, acupuncture, and health management programs, such as nurse advice lines and behaviour modification programs.
"Second opinion" services like Grand Rounds Health are also popular.
Apple said its full health benefits, including fertility treatment up to US$15,000, are offered to all Apple employees, up to and including part-time employees at the Apple retail stores.
Many marquis benefits have spread. Google says it was among the first to first to cover "transitioning and necessary gender reassignment surgical procedures". Now 17 per cent of surveyed high-tech companies now cover gender reassignment surgery, compared with 5 per cent among large companies overall, Mercer said.