An article in the Seattle PI that's making the rounds of the internal DLs this morning prompted me to write this. I hope this doesn't come across as belittling or admonishing anyone who's griping about any of the individual changes - we all need a place to whine and bloggers have an easy outlet ;-), and I would be really upset if free pop disappeared. But I do want to provide a look at the big picture.
First off, free pop isn't going away (pause for collective sigh of relief), but they are considering using dispensers rather than cans. For syrup-based drinks like coke, that makes a lot of sense to me and I can imagine that it is a heck of a lot cheaper in the initial purchase costs as well as distribution (I've seen the massive carts of cans that get delivered regularly, that's gotta cost something). It doesn't make a difference to my workflow whether I get my morning caffeine from a can or a cup, and I can't imagine it being a significant hit on others' either, so I support that move, if it ends up happening.
Second, I realized that I am a very understanding person when it comes time to discuss cuts like this, because I've been on the cutting side before. I totally understand where our executives are coming from, trying to trim costs. There was a campaign a year or two ago about conserving electricity by turning off lights and computers overnight - across all of the offices and hundreds of thousands of machines (if not millions) at Microsoft, I can imagine that that change would be a big savings. When I sent an email to the director of diversity a few years ago (before I had children or was thinking about it) giving my feedback about the lack of on-site daycare, I had something like this at the end of it: “We are software engineers. We understand that there are tradeoffs and risks, and tough choices must be made. If you explained why there is no on-site daycare or why it's not being investigated, then the employees are more likely to be accepting, or perhaps they will have innovative ideas on how to work around the why nots.“
Third, I had a baby a year ago, and it cost me nothing. Zip. Nada. I didn't pay a single red cent for any of my prenatal care, birth, prescriptions, pediatrician care, etc. I also got 12 weeks of paid maternity leave (plus the option to take another 8 unpaid no questions asked if I wanted to), and my husband got 4 weeks (yes, paid - which is virtually unheard of in the US).
Fourth, I am reprinting here the comments of two employees related to our fantastic health benefits, both with the authors' permission. This was a letter to the editor of Micronews, our internal newsletter, a few weeks ago:
I need to thank Microsoft for several things: our benefits, our technology, and the people with whom I work.
Three months ago, my oldest daughter, Jenna, age 9, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was a normal, healthy kid one day and being rushed in for emergency brain surgery the next. She’s now recovering from her second surgery, during which they were able to get 90 percent of the tumor out. Her treatment plan will take many more months, but she’s come a long way and continues to make progress daily.
When you and your family are healthy, you might tend to take our benefits for granted. I certainly will never do that again. We have the best benefits of any company. Everything has been covered—surgeries, hospital stays, chemotherapy, prescriptions, home nursing and equipment, physical and speech therapy, follow-up visits, and consultations. The medical bills are very large, but everything is covered. We were provided with a case manager who oversees the entire process and helps us deal with the paperwork, organization, and approval processes. In short, they’ve been phenomenal to deal with.
Our technology was also a godsend during this ordeal. A friend and coworker set up a Web site for Jenna the day after her first surgery (http://www.caringbridge.org/sc/jennawit). We have used this site to keep family and friends updated on Jenna’s condition and progress. There was no network or wireless access in the hospital, so I used my Smartphone and my laptop to dial in and keep the Web site up to date. I also was able to help other families get their Web sites set up for their children who were in the hospital. Jenna’s Web site has had more than 97,000 hits to date, and thousands of well wishes have been posted by friends, family, coworkers, and even complete strangers. If you ever doubted that our technology has had an impact on the world, just take a look at the guestbook on Jenna’s site, and you’ll see how technology has helped to bring people closer together.
Lastly, I must comment on the wonderful people with whom I work. The support has been incredible from day one of Jenna’s illness. I was able to take family leave with no questions asked. My team stepped in and took care of my job while my manager worked out a replacement for me, and I was able to just walk away and focus on my family for three months. Also, hundreds of Microsoft folks have offered to help me and my family in any way that they can. We can’t thank you all enough for everything that you’ve done.
Thank you, Microsoft, for our benefits, and thank you, employees of Microsoft. The work you do has truly made a difference in my family’s life.
And this is from an e-mail I just received, a response to a mail I sent on an internal DL:
Our 3rd arrived three months early, and spent those three months in the NICU. (He’s completely fine – he spent that time pretty much doing what he would have been doing in utero. It was as though we outsourced the last third of the pregnancy.)
Anyway, that cost a ton of money. I don’t even know how much, but I’m sure it was well into the six digits. Our cost: $0. Even the parking at the hospital garage was picked up by the Flexible Spending Account. I don’t want to think about what it would have been like without those benefits.
Overall, Microsoft treats me pretty darn good. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the set of benefits that I do have, because I know that many other companies do not provide them to their employees, especially in the important areas like health insurance. I don't like to be nickel-and-dimed either, but even if free pop was taken away, I'd still want to work here. I love what I do, and I'll keep working here until the day that they don't want me, or I stop loving it and don't see any other opportunities in the company that inspire me.
Aw geez, somebody get me a tissue... :-)