Yet another two cents on Microsoft’s benefits package

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 ( 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... :-)

Comments (16)

  1. MS Employee says:

    It would be nice if MS would let their employees choose the benefits that work for them. They probably would save even more.

    I have no interest in:

    – Free Pop

    – Subsidized 20/20

    Maybe these two are related

    – Health club membership. I can exercise on my own with better results.

    – Maternity and paternity leave. I’m not having children.

    What I do have is an interest in some of the benefits that were recently cut and I am not alone.

  2. KC Lemson says:

    I didn’t mean to say that no one has an interest in any of the benefits that were recently cut. I’m bummed about the drop to 10% ESPP and only using one of the dates rather than the lower of the two. But I would still work here even if we didn’t have ESPP.

    Personally, I lean towards liking putting money into a pot and having that pot be used for the greater good even if it doesn’t apply to me, I realize that that’s not universally the case.

    Plus, they do let us choose for certain parts of it. You don’t have to spend your benefits dollars on the pro club, you could spend it on AD&D or whatever…

  3. AndrewSeven says:

    Where I work, they won’t even buy the coffee.

  4. David Lemson says:

    Out of all of this, the only thing I have a strong opinion on is that we should not move to fountain dispensers for soda because they seem to be very prone to failure. Look at how often you see them broken in McDonalds or elsewhere. There are a whole lot of moving parts, components to wear out, and things like CO2 to run out. How much would it cost to have an entire dev team spending an hour trying to fix the coke machine?

  5. james says:

    Not just a dev team because you would need testers and a PM too. 🙂

  6. Omar Shahine says:

    Nice post. I feel the same way.

  7. Steve says:

    As a person who will soon be looking for work in the Seattle area I have a slightly different take on the situation. My concern focuses on a benefit that has already been cut, vacation time. I was quite upset to hear that new employees only get two weeks. In an environment where you are expected to work 70-90 hour weeks I was disappointed to hear that Microsoft was working to cut free time further. While I doubt that it would stop me from looking at Microsoft (my wife has already aligned our entire being around MSFT), it might cause an already-relocating college student to choose someplace like Google over Microsoft. It might also cause quicker burnout amongst the people who do choose Microsoft. Anyhoo….

    p.s. Of course if your households are anything like mine the response is probably, “I don’t have time to use my vacation time anyway….”

  8. KC Lemson says:

    The 70-90 hour thing is a bit of a legacy, I’m afraid… I haven’t worked that much in a week in a while. Granted, I haven’t shipped a product in a while either. Nowadays I go between 45 & 55, but when I do go to 55 is when I knowingly choose to work in my free time. I’m somewhat of a ‘work hard, not smart’ type person sometimes, so I allow extra time for me to brute force things from time to time.

    I’m very careful to take vacation. It helps, having family in another state that you miss dearly and love spending time with, so you’re pretty much forced to take vacation if you want to spend any time with them. When I was growing up, "Vacation" was going to florida or hawaii or some nice place for a week. Nowadays, vacation for me is going to the home in which I grew up.

  9. Matthew says:

    two weeks sounds pretty alien to Europeans. In the EU there is a legal right to 20 days (4 weeks) paid holiday per year. 10 days off per year seems pretty harsh. How can you take a beach holiday to Australia or the Far East with your family after working hard for 9 months, when you only have 10 days (and you would want some of those for Christmas, kids’ birthdays, etc.).


  10. Another MS Employee says:

    while I don’t have any issue with the current benefits cuts, I have the strong suspicion that they are ‘baby-stepping’ us to a more restrictive and costlier (to me) health care system.

    The company NEEDS to acknowledge that its workforce is aging (what is our average age now – 30 something?) and therefore of course our healthcare costs are going to rise (we’re all getting married and having kids like you).

    If the executives would just be honest and upfront about the need for us to share more in the costs, we could all make better decisions. Their current behavior just comes off as sneaky and slightly dishonest.

    As to steveb’s recent comments about the use of the $54 billion, gee, I wonder who our largest shareholders are and who would stand to benefit the most from a large dividend payout? see sneaky and dishonest above.

    finally, since I’m in the ‘field’, I don’t get free soda, so I don’t care much about fountain vs can. Fountain is certainly friendlier to the environment.

  11. KC Lemson says:

    Matthew: Yep, 2 weeks is definitely very minimal compared to many other countries, but in the US that’s not that unusual.

    Another MS Employee: I think we’re both agreeing on your first few points… nobody likes to be nickel-and-dimed, and the execs should be more upfront in the beginning about what’s being discussed and explain why from the very beginning, rather than just saying why after it gets reprinted in the PI.

  12. Steve says:

    Hmmm. My wife is an efficient worker and has only seen a 45-55-hour week once or twice in the last couple of years. It might be legacy but it’s still there in spades. As for the two weeks… there are two ways to look at it: a) many other companies do it or b) it is the absolute industry minimum. The fear is simply that Microsoft is slowly boiling its frogs. Start by cutting benefits that don’t affect its current staff and then slowly start taking things away.

    Please don’t read too much negativity into my comments. Microsoft is still a great place to work. It has some of the best people in the world and great co-workers can make 80-hour weeks seem shorter than 30 hour-weeks spent with idiot co-workers. There is lot to love. I just hope that someone is looking at the long-term effects on recruiting and burnout. That’s all.

    p.s. I lot of this comes from looking at how incredibly spent my wife is at the moment (with no relief in sight for months).

  13. KC Lemson says:

    Are you saying I’m a frog?!?!

    Like many things, it depends on the group, the job, and the manager.

    Unfortunately I have no visibility into whether or not someone is looking into the long-term effects, we certainly hear talk about it but I don’t know if there will actually be change as a result.

  14. David Lemson says:

    In the internal company meeting, Steve B implied that this was meant as a one-time thing. It’s been part of one big cycle: a year or so ago, they polled a lot of people, asking them which benefits they really cared about. Then they ruminated on that and picked a few benefits that not everyone took advantage of (towels and ESPP discont were the two stated examples), and decided to remove those at once. While I also have a bit of a fear of "the other shoe to drop", the execs are very steadfast in their line that this was one occurrence and that we shouldn’t expect another anytime soon.

  15. Alex Scoble says:

    I would take execs promise that no cuts are forthcoming with a grain of salt. Companies have to say that in order to keep employees. Not like they are going to say "sorry, but we see layoffs and cost cutting in the picture for the foreseeable future".

    I’m not saying that they will or will not make further cuts, just from personal experience what execs say doesn’t carry much weight vs what they do. Chances are if they do something once, they will do it again if it meets their goals.

    Within the last 3 or 4 years, I and countless others have been told many times "no, this is absolutely the last layoff. To layoff anyone else would be cutting into bone and we can’t afford to do that." We have also been laid off after having been told this.

    It’s not that execs lie, exactly, it’s just that they will tell you what they think will keep employees from leaving in droves. Sometimes what they say is true, but these people don’t have crystal balls either. How many execs were able to plan for 9/11?

    Yet when it comes down to the bottom line of them or you, their pockets or yours, survival of the company or paying your salary, the employee almost always loses.

  16. Mini-Microsoft says:

    1) We have the best damn benefits package I have ever seen, from small company to huge corporation. It’s wonderful and I’m amazed by it.

    2) Layoffs? We have to have them eventually. I really want Microsoft to be a smaller company because I believe it would be a far better company. So I spout about this at and hope other employees will come to embrace and support the idea.


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