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Strategic Benefits Are Meaningful, Too

February 27, 2000
Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Featured Article
The benefits at SAS Institute stack up in such a way that they go from being good (three subsidized cafeterias, casual dress every day); to being impressive (profit-sharing, which has been 15 percent of salary every year for 23 years, domestic-partner benefits, no limit to sick days); to being hard to believe (free health insurance, with an onsite medical clinic staffed by doctors and nurse practitioners; free laundering of sweaty gym clothes overnight, with return the next morning to your locker).

Soccer fields, baseball diamonds, co-ed workout areas and single-sex workout areas, pool tables--it almost seems like virtually every amenity the company HR department could think of, it decided to offer.

However, what accounts for the value of SAS’ benefits is that they are anything but random. They resonate with SAS employees because they are benefits SAS employees want, and because these people know the company wants its employees to have a life beyond work. There isn’t a hypocritical disconnection between having a gym, but expecting employees to work 60 hours a week.

That’s why the gym is almost never empty, that’s why there are baby seats in the company cafeterias, that’s why the company gate swings closed at 6 p.m. each evening--and why the benefits evolve.

This year, the company expects to add financial planning services to its line-up--there’s strong demand for such advice from hundreds of SAS employees who can suddenly see college costs and retirement needs on the horizon.

As befits a company that specializes in statistical analysis software, there’s a process for adding benefits, including a three-prong test for whether a newly suggested benefit should be approved.

Does the benefit fit the culture at SAS? Would it have a positive effect on a significant number of employees and their families? Is it cost accountable--would the benefit be valued by those using it at the same level as the expense of providing it?

Said David Russo, who was director of human resources at SAS for 18 years until last November: "This is not the good ship Lollipop. The benefits we offer are just the tangible stuff that represent [founder] Jim Goodnight’s philosophy. A lot of companies think they have created a culture of caring, but the employees don’t feel it. People put things together, but they are counter to the culture, and they are not being used.

"Jim’s idea is, if you hire adults, and treat them like adults, they’ll behave like adults."

Workforce, March 2000, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 42.

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