Long known for excessive employee perks, Google is cutting back on staplers, tape, and fitness classes – yet amidst a climate of tech giant austerity, other companies are finding that offering candidates the right benefits can be a powerful recruitment tool.

Changes to Google’s procurement policies were outlined in a recent email from CFO Ruth Porat, who aims to help the company deliver “durable savings” – a companywide operational objective and key result (OKR) – through a range of cost-optimisation measures.

These include technical improvements to cost-effectively scale AI and machine learning architectures; being “responsible” around travel and entertainment spending; redeploying teams to “higher priority work” while slowing down its hiring pace; and improving external procurement with initiatives such as a new centralised buying hub.

The impact of Google’s 3-day work week directive had forced it to tweak employee services such as cafes, fitness classes, and MicroKitchens – with reports of cafes baking too many muffins on a Monday, GBus shuttles running with just one person on them, and empty yoga classes scheduled for Friday afternoons when many employees are working from home.

Waste in such services will be adjusted through data-driven decision making, Porat explained, with one Google office reporting a new directive for employees to get a stapler from their receptionist if they need one.

“Where a café is seeing a significantly lower volume of use on certain days, we’ll close it on those days and put more focus instead on popular options that are close by,” she wrote.

“Similarly, we’ll consolidate MicroKitchens in buildings where we’re seeing more waste than value.”

Because today’s laptops “have a much longer lifespan and greater performance and reliability,” she added, Google would change the frequency and type of replacements offered to employees – switching many workers to less expensive Chromebooks – as well as scrutinising spend on staplers, tape, and other supplies.

“Because equipment is a significant expense for a company of our size, we’ll be able to save meaningfully here,” she wrote.

“We have clear OKRs and substantial resources at our disposal to pursue the, but these resources are finite. Focusing on using them effectively makes a huge difference.”

Meeting changing employee expectations

For a company that once lured employees with in-office pool tables and Dance Dance Revolution games, quibbling over office supplies may seem like a new level of pettiness.

But times have changed, and benefits packages have changed too – with the newly released 2023 Robert Half Salary Guide finding that employers are using a range of non-trivial perks to win and retain the talent they need.

Even where the salary on offer didn’t meet applicants’ expectations, fully 63 per cent of employers have had a candidate accept a job offer because of their company’s benefits package, the recruitment firm found.

Yet the benefits on offer are not office supplies or video games, but meaningful lifestyle enablers like flexible work schedules – offered by 60 per cent of employers – as well as mental health programs (55 per cent), remote work options (52 per cent), extra paid parental leave (50 per cent), and wellness programs (48 per cent).

Fully 3 in 10 employers this year plan to offer early finishes on a Friday afternoon this year and 29 per cent will offer candidates a compressed working week, Robert Half found, with 70 per cent of companies expecting to differentiate themselves with such perks this year.

“With many companies focused on cost management, businesses might not be in a position to award pay rises or higher starting salaries amid economic uncertainty,” said Robert Half director Nicole Gorton.

“While salary is a prime motivator and the main incentive of a remuneration package, offering a competitive salary is just one piece of the puzzle. Australian companies benefit from diversifying their offerings beyond the purely financial aspect as professionals seek the complete package and place added emphasis on quality of life.”