Apple gives in to employee perks; CEO Tim Cook pushes benefits long shunned by Steve Jobs

“When it comes to keeping employees happy, Apple Inc. appears to be taking some inspiration from Google Inc.,” Jessica E. Lessin reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“Earlier this year, Apple told some employees about a new initiative called ‘Blue Sky’ that allows a small group of staffers to spend a few weeks on a pet engineering project, according to three people told about the program,” Lessin reports. “It is a more limited version of similar initiatives for hatching new ideas that have long existed in Silicon Valley. The most well-known of those is Google’s ‘20% time,’ which allows employees to spend up to a fifth of their time on projects outside their normal responsibilities.”

Lessin reports, “The idea was previously anathema at Apple. The Cupertino, Calif., company is known for organizing teams around a few focused projects that come from the top. Employees have often griped about the lack of leeway… But under Chief Executive Tim Cook, who took over from co-founder Steve Jobs last year, Apple is becoming more employee-friendly. Mr. Cook has introduced small corporate benefits that Mr. Jobs resisted or never cared much about, such as new employee discounts on Apple products and a charitable matching program.”

Read more in the full article here.


        1. Baloney. It’s smart business to keep high quality people working for you and not for your competitors or other tech companies. The cost to bring in and train other people is far, far higher than it is to retain good employees with additional benefits.

          Case in point: That guy from Harold’s in the U.K. who was just canned (can’t recall his name), Mark Papermaster, etc.

        2. This is not a “liberal” thing or a “conservative” thing – it’s a “good management” thing. With all of Steve’s pluses, he was NOT a good manager of people – but he knew how to choose good ones. That which makes your employees more productive than the cost of the thing you do is good; if it costs more that the gain in productivity, it’s bad. There is no manager that has reached the level that Tim Cook has reached who would disagree, regardless of his political affiliation.

    1. The reason he said that was because he understood that following the chairman’s template results not in original thinking or forceful execution but in lifeless emulation and tentative follow-through.

      There is no spirit, and therefore little energy, in a follower’s attempt to encapsulate the greatness of a mentor. One must perforce take the lessons learned, and reshape the master’s clay into new forms.

  1. 3M has had their own “Blue Sky” program for decades, and it applies to all employees. Post-It Notes and Scotch Guard fabric protector are multi-million dollar products that originated as side projects in the program. Many other products, and countless internal improvements, originated in the program.

    Corning (makers of the Gorilla glass used in iPhones) also has a similar program.

    Having such a program is just good management, and shouldn’t limited to the tech field.

    1. I don’t know about 3M’s “Blue Sky” program, but I do know that Post-It notes were a complete accident when a chemist working on a strong adhesive accidentally created the pressure sensitive sticky stuff on the back of Post-It Notes. Someone else came up with the idea of using it to anchor a bookmark in a book of hymns and the rest is history.

      1. The adhesive was an accident. Finding a marketable use for it was a Blue Sky project. Scotch Guard was also an accident. The lab had made it, and someone spilled some on a new pair of sneakers. Months later, the spots which were spilled on were noticeably cleaner than the rest of the shoe.

  2. Only $142 more to a buy order- or not.

    It’s looking more and more like Apple jumped the shark with the wane of Steven Paul Jobs like it did after they ran him off back in the day- adrift and lacking the vision thing.

    For all the industrial design stuff, the real star has always been the software. Apple has been striving hard on hardware engineering but straggling and struggling with software. A super thin MacBook Air running Windows 7 is just another BSOD machine.

    Apple has been robbing Peter to pay Paul the last couple of years in software engineering and has neglected Mac OS X development. The iPhone and iPad may make the bulk of the money, but the software that it runs is written on Macs. The music it plays is composed, recorded and engineered on Macs. The films it shows are edited on Macs, the script written on Macs. The books it displays are written and go through layout on Macs.

    Apple shortchanges the Macintosh at it’s peril. Employees with enough time to goof off on company time have enough time to ship software ready for prime time and Apple’s recent track record of betaware is getting old.

    1. You nailed it! Apple needs to get back to the software, particularly OS X. They’ve got the money to make the software division the best in the business, as long as they’ve still got the talent that gives a sh*t. Without the Mac, there would have been no Apple. Of course, there would have been no Windows, either.

  3. NOOOOOO!!!!!!
    Typical corporate perks are EVIL as recruitment/retention tools. The goal is not just to attract and keep good employees, but also to REPEL the wrong kind of employees. The wrong kind of employees are those who value corporate “perks”! The right kind of employees care about the product and are committed to the work. Either Tim Cook is completely clueless or Apple is becoming desperate to keep employees who are no longer excited about working their a&&es off for the company. Unfortunately, “perks” attract and keep employees who value them, whereas employees who are just focused on doing great work are looked at as chumps or too one-dimensional. If there is a recruitment problem, this approach makes it WORSE. It is a very BAD sign of where Apple is heading.

    1. No, it’s not a BAD sign of anything. Take a deep breath. You were right at the outset when you said “typical corporate perks are EVIL”. But the perks discussed here aren’t “typical”. Giving select (that’s a key word) employees 20% time is a recognition that good ideas can come from all quarters. That’s not evil. Giving employees discounts on products, so that they can buy more of Apple’s products – that’s not evil. Matching charitable giving is not evil – it demonstrates that the company is willing to stand by its employees when they put their money where their mouths are. These benefits send the message that the employer believes in their staff and trusts them to do good things, think big thoughts, and make the world a better place.

    2. This seems much more about retaining the high achievers than recruiting B team players.

      As far as “attracting” people that like perks, that won’t be a problem as long as Apple hires people that are smart and motivated.

      “The right kind of employees care about the product and are committed to the work.”

      As someone that is self-motivated and works with a team of like minded people, I can say from experience that perks do not dilute or change such a mindset.

      “Either Tim Cook is completely clueless or Apple is becoming desperate to keep employees who are no longer excited about working…”

      I’m confused by your logic here. You believe Cook wants to keep people that are not working hard?!?! How do you come to that conclusion. From my reading of the article, this is about rewarding hard working employees. It seems the Cook is just incentivizing those employees that do good work. Do you have a problem with stock options, which are for the same purpose?

      It seems like you are being ideologically reactionary and did not read the article.

  4. Agree with the move, except the employee discount part. So often abused (employee buying things on behalf of every relative and friend) and often attracts people who are only motivated to stay because of the personal benefit, not for the good of the company. If it works anything like the “student discount” program they have/had, it will be abused.

    1. Yes, it would be truly awful if more people were introduced to Apple products by their relatives of friends that work at Apple.

      Also, you know that Apple can fire people that are not performing?

    2. I don’t know what the “new” employee discount program will be but in the past Apple has allowed employees a “loan to own” computer of their choice as long as the employee remained at Apple for a set length of time. Apple has also long had a “family & friends” discount of 15% on new (not refurb) items that are not in short supply (such as iPhones, iPads).

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