The perks that work


April 23, 2019

Today, Marathon runners are broke and professors moving to the corporate life ain’t no joke, but first…
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Are startup ‘perks’ just a PR play?

Over the years, startups have birthed some oddly specific perks, causing more established companies like Pinterest (which offers “craft and skill nights” to their employees) and Zynga (a rooftop dog park) to follow suit.

Now, Fast Company reports that Eat Club, a Silicon Valley-based “virtual cafeteria” that delivers meals to offices, is paying to offset its employees’ individual carbon footprints by incentivizing them to use public transit when commuting to work.

This sounds great, but are incentives like these actually perks designed to make employees better, or are they a thinly veiled attempt to mask 80-hour workweeks and insanely high turnover rates? 

HR Perk? Or PR powerplay? You decide

Let’s be honest, a majority of marshmallow perks are to make a company seem cool even though history shows a lot of times they probably aren’t. And while Eat Club’s perk seems chill, some are a little harder to read: 

  • Google changed its maternity leave plan from 12 weeks to 5 months a few years ago, after seeing new mothers leave the company at 2x the average departure rate.
  • Asana gives $10k to each employee for computers and desk furnishings to keep people from envying the opportunity of a corner office.
  • Patagonia employees are allowed to go surfing whenever the “waves are good” (Patagonia will always get a pass in our book).

PR or HR, the environment should be a given 

Data indicates that if one person (with a 20-mile round-trip commute) committed to public transportation, it could reduce their carbon emissions by almost 5k pounds a year.

Such incentives are great to hand out (they even create new jobs), but perks shouldn’t require you to be on-call 24/7. 

The world’s going to be unlivable in 12 years anyway, so, when it comes to the environment, companies may as well perk on, right? But seriously, stop installing f*cking slides at your office.

Kids don’t even like slides
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St(r)atus update: Your iCloud might actually be… iAmazon?

You probably already know that Apple provides online storage of data/files from your various igadgets in the cloud. *Gestures vaguely upward.*

Apple stashes some of these files on its own servers, but interestingly, it also stores some of your overflow data in Amazon’s cloud… thus making a frenemy out of a competitor.

CNBC reports that Apple, with its $30m monthly spend on Amazon Web Services and a recently inked $1.5B five-year service contract, is AWS’s biggest customer. 

Apple isn’t the only one floating on Cloud Prime

By the end of 2018, AWS (which now makes up 11% of Amazon’s total revenue) had signed $19.3B worth of multi-year contracts. 

Customers include the likes of Adobe, Capital One, and Intuit, as well as several recently IPOd companies like Lyft ($300m through 2021), Pinterest ($750m into 2023), and Snap Inc. ($1B+ through 2021).

Ceasefire in the skies when it comes to server space

It’s interesting to see these rivals put aside their otherwise fierce competition in the arenas of video and music streaming, smart home devices, and AI servants, and play nice — even if out of necessity.

Netflix and Spotify are also AWS customers, and Apple has server space with Google and possibly Microsoft. It seems that cloud computing is a truce-worthy force… unless you’re a provider. Then it’s (storage) war. 

» Whose cloud is it anyway?

Post-career, many elite Kenyan marathoners face poverty and financial hardship

When Duncan Kibet broke the tape at the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon, it came with a $280k payday, including a lucrative Nike contract.

For the Kenyan, it was life-changing money. But as the The New York Times writes, the post-running journey of professional marathoners is often fraught with financial insecurity.

A long road

A top finish at a major marathon can come with a big payout. Winning Dubai ($200k), Boston ($150k), London ($150k), or Chicago ($100k) can set up a Kenyan athlete for life.

But the money goes quickly: Many Kenyan runners use large portions of their winnings to support family members and pay for schooling. Others fall prey to faulty investments, land title scams, and exploitation schemes.

Benjamin Limo, of the International Association of Athletics Federations, estimates that as many as 75% of Kenya’s former top marathon runners live in unsustainable conditions — and half are “really struggling.”

This is a problem for most athletes

Kenyan runners’ plight is particularly rough since 53% of the country lives below the poverty line. But this post-career struggle is common for American athletes too: It has been estimated that as many as 60% of NBA players are broke within 5 years of leaving the league.

A mounting financial literacy movement looks to change this. Though runners like Kibet, now 40 years old and broke, would say the change is long overdue.

» Runnin’ on empty.

Corporations are swallowing up America’s professors

In 2008, Steve Jobs created Apple University, an institution designed to help solve business problems and offer employees training primarily available at prestigious universities.

Instead, it helped ignite the trend of academics jumping from open universities to closed-off corporate backdrops. They’re leaving in droves, and it could soon be a major hit to public knowledge.

Apple’s not the only corporation that’s hot for Ph.D.ers

Pacific Science reported that more than half of university-hired scientists left academia within 5 years in the 2010s (it took 35 years for the same percentage to leave in the 1960s).

Amazon is the largest employer of Ph.D. tech economists (150+). But Google, Facebook, Uber, and dozens of others are enticing professors to ditch brain-growth (and $113k/year salaries) to focus on in-house IP growth. 

O corporate! My corporate!

Obviously there are benefits to working at private companies (cough cough, more funding). But some argue this trend is causing a rift in the public/corporate-knowledge continuum by holding knowledge hostage in the spirit of corporate interests.

Of course, most academic papers are paywalled anyway…

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