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During her first couple of weeks as CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer's first visible move comes in the form of employee perks, a tactic she learned from her Google days that worked for the company for awhile, but has since waned in importance. Mayer has given her workers free lunch at one of Yahoo's Silicon Valley cafes and she has plans to reorganize the office space to make it more "collaborative and cool," according to AllThingsD's Kara Swisher. That doesn't match the access to free stuff Googlers have, but the Yahoo bees sound thankful for the upgrade. "It might be just a small thing, but people are thrilled," one Yahoo employee told Swisher. That is the idea, of course: Workers with perks are happy workers and happy workers work better and, also, stick around. But, even for Google, the benefits only keep people around for so long. 

For a while, Google's  perks gave it a reputation as the "best" company culture out there. Forbes named it the number one company to work for in 2007 and 2008. The myriad cafeterias, free on-site haircuts, daycare, campus doctor, and speaker series -- to name a few of the company's perks -- have even led some to call Googlers spoiled. But the people with access to these things appreciate it. This former Googler named the perks among the top 10 best parts about working there. Employees in this Reddit thread expressed similar sentiments. "I work in ads operations, and for people who like sysadminning, it's as close to heaven as you can hope to get," wrote Redditer flamingcow mentioning "crazy perks" as the first heavenly thing about the job. 

The company provided these services not only to placate employees, but to give them reasons not to leave, as LockerGnome's Kelly Clay explains after talking with various Google workers. Mayer wants to bring some of that company loyalty and morale to Yahoo. But it only worked for Google for so long. Google no longer tops the Forbes list, falling to number 5 in 2011. The company invested money in lifestyle accommodations, but has lost employees to better paying jobs. In these emails posted by TechCrunch in 2009, former Googlers explain why they left, many of them citing pay issues. For example:

It took two months (lesser than others I guess) for my hiring process to complete, and I made it clear that I had an offer from IBM in hand, which was paying me good … but I was offered the same salary as my previous employer … which always kept me de-motivated throughout my tenure. I joined the job due to company’s name and reputation.

Considering how much money places like Google make, the paychecks aren't as great as the perks, notes Farhad Manjoo on Pando Daily. Facebook was able to capitalize off of Google's underpaid workers, poaching many ex-Googlers to work for the social network. Because of that, says Manjoo, Google has had to raise its pay rates by 10 percent. "Sure, the perks sound fun. But I’ve had those free lunches. They’re not as nice as a better paycheck," writes Manjoo.

Google's emphasis of free food over other things also contributed to a company culture that eschewed innovation for achieving more corporate-minded goals -- another reason employees, like James Whittaker, leave. As Google has become more like Yahoo, in fact, the company has moved away from perks to passion, if a recent Think Quarterly (the Google-made publication) article is any indication. In "Passion, not Perks" Google senior Vice President Laszlo Bock discusses "the three components of our culture that really make our company different." Here we see Google trying to deemphasize the perks and draw talent and attention to things that will make it a better place not just to work, but to create. 

Thus, if Mayer is learning from her experience at Google, she will stop at the free lunches and think about other ways to draw the best talent and keep them around. Of course, until she can make Yahoo into a technology powerhouse, to keep what she has around, the free lunches probably don't hurt. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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