The care and feeding of a productive team

So you’ve gathered a kick ass team. Here are some tips on keeping them happy so they remain productive and don’t leave. Come to think of it, this helps in recruiting too. The A+ people won’t put up with an uncomfortable environment or weak benefits.


Have a good health insurance plan. Pay for 100% of it, including spouse and families. That includes gay partners. Your insurance provider won’t allow that? Then buy a separate plan for the partners.

Have a good retirement savings plan with matching contributions. I recommend one managed by Vanguard.

Give reasonable amounts of vacation.

My opinion on sick days is that you shouldn’t have a fixed allowance of them. I think that encourages people to think of them as vacation. That results in people using sick days when they aren’t sick and spreading germs to the rest of us when they have used them up. If you are sick then stay home. It is paid time off. That includes doctor visits for the employee and for immediate family members. If I ever caught someone abusing the policy then I would fire them, but I haven’t had to. We treat people like grown ups and they act like grown ups.

You can throw in other cute benefits, but those are the big ones. Maybe you can’t afford all of this when your little company is struggling at first, but you better pour money into this stuff as soon as you are profitable.


I’ve already written an article on private offices and a central meeting point that everyone has to travel through.

We let everyone choose their own office furniture. We are fuzzy about the budget, but I think most of us spent about $1000 to $3000. A big chunk of that is usually an Aeron chair (about $700) or something similar. Most people have a couch. I think that’s important because I’m a fan of naps (that’s another article).

Everyone gets whatever computer equipment they want. That usually includes 2 or 3 large high quality monitors. It would be insane to make people at a software company struggle with weak computers.

In the early days we kept the kitchen jam packed with Twinkies, ice cream, Cheetos, Funyons, Bugles, Coke, Mountain Dew, etc. Most people gained 10 to 20 pounds when they joined the company. Eventually we wised up. The company still provides free snacks, but now it is fruit, nuts, oatmeal, etc.

We have a high quality espresso machine and great locally roasted beans. I don’t know how we lived without that.

We keep lots of frozen meals on hand that anyone is free to eat. That is a very small investment. In return we get more people socializing at the office during lunch rather than going out and much less time spent out of the office.

On Fridays anyone who is interested leaves an hour early to go out for drinks and food that the company pays for.

We may not be quite as comfortable as companies like Google and Apple, but I think we are pretty close. If you don’t at least try to be at that level then you won’t be able to hire and keep the genius ass kickers.

About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. Naps | Alien Skin Software August 25, 2011 at 8:59 am

    […] like our liberal sick leave policy, naps are not abused. If you took a two hour nap every Monday morning to deal with a hangover then […]

  2. Marty August 25, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Welcome to Canada. I spent a few years working in IT in the US and I was appalled at the crap that was passed off as benefits. I was very happy to return home to about the same wages and “real” benefits like you offer. Of course, if I worked for you guys, I’d probably still be in the US. But, the retirement plan (also a benefit) that I have is quite comfortable, and is virtually inflation-proof.

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