It would be lovely to go to the office and not have to work. Even better to swim, play volleyball and drink beer while there. This isn’t the stuff of fantasy; rather, it’s a new breed of wealthy tech engineers who are playing hard instead of working hard, and they’re doing it on the company’s dime.
They are the Rest and Vest bunch, as seen most recently on the hit HBO comedy Silicon Valley. On that show, characters working for fictional tech firm Hooli (a Google analogue), hang out on the office rooftop and guzzle brews while waiting out their contracts or waiting on a big merger or takeover.
In real life, these tech workers are indeed paid insane amounts of money, sometimes millions, to essentially use the office as their own personal play area. The online slang dictionary describes the phenomenon as, “at a place of employment, to do little work while waiting for one’s stock options to vest.”
As Business Insider reports, Microsoft has enabled or encouraged this kind of activity. They’ve sought out niche experts in burgeoning industries, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and offer a generously increasing bonus, called “discretionary equity”, to ensure these employees don’t migrate to another company. In the interim, they can still be university professors or do other lucrative work, all while continuing to collect these “discretionary” bonuses concurrently.
One tech expert who has worked with Microsoft, Intel, and Sony, says there’s a perfectly good explanation for this sort of arrangement.
“Competition for great resources is fierce in Silicon Valley, and with the [US] ‘travel ban’ legislation in play, companies’ abilities to recruit and retain the best talent are going to become even more difficult,” notes Lori Schwartz, principal of Story Tech, a Los Angeles-based agency that uses evolving technology to help businesses find strategic solutions. “So it becomes a strategic imperative to get and keep ‘talent’, however necessary, close by.”
Tenured employees at tech companies, meanwhile, are doing their own version of playing at the office. They’re coasting through their work – when they bother to do it – knowing that they’re so valued, the company wouldn’t dare let them go. These are the “coasters”, a subset of the Rest and Vest crowd.
But what about the swimming, volleyball, and other fun at the office playground? That’s also abundant and real. All the largest tech firms – Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, Oracle – offer some variety of carnival-like amenities for employees.
Oracle has beach volleyball and a swimming pool; Microsoft boasts Xboxes for its staff, an on-site spa, and fields for cricket or soccer among its “benefits”; Google offers free massages, yoga and a rock climbing wall; and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t let his Facebook hires go a day without opening up the video arcade, the foosball or ping-pong tables. (Employees at the social media giant also get three weeks of paid vacation and unlimited sick days.)
And why even go home, when Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all offer unlimited free food throughout the day?
No surprise, then, that Rest and Vest techies are hardly in short supply at these Fortune 500s, indulging in Silicon Valley’s version of an indoor Coney Island fairway.
Few companies, however, will admit outwardly to grooming the Rest and Vest practice. Band reputation is everything, and no company will risk its brand by allowing employees to talk to the press about this part of tech culture.
Though companies are loath to admit they have these kinds of employees on payroll, they do exist. And some aren’t happy about the practice.
“I do understand some of the motivations behind ‘Rest and Vest’, particularly the interest of some companies in keeping ‘top talent’ out of the general job marketplace,” notes Jerrold Landau, a 27-year employee of a global tech company’s Toronto office. “But it goes against everything that my company stands for, and likely, that many other companies stand for.”
But these engineers can’t all just be playing Xbox, or there would be no innovations or development. In the looser definition of Rest and Vest are employees who know they can indulge in playtime, so long as they complete what’s expected of them.
Though not exactly sitting on a rooftop drinking beer, Doron Nadivi could, in theory, do that while working. He’s the VP of business, development and growth hacker of Pruvo Net Ltd. – and he’s 10,000 kilometres away from his boss. Nadivi is in Costa Rica, while his company is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“I can tell you that as long as I provide results, he could care less how many hours I work, rest, vacation, etc.,” he explains. “Results are the name of the game, at least in the eyes of CEOs that understand efficiency over effort-action.”
But there is a hidden downside to this lax approach to work that some Rest and Vest tech workers are learning the hard way, primarily when the time comes to move to another job.
Their position and title may have some impressive clout, but when an interviewer or headhunter asks what kinds of things they did while at Google, “played ping-pong and drank beer on the rooftop” is not the best answer.
Dave Gordon | DBPC Blog