- Microsoft has introduced a new wellness benefit program, giving employees $1,200 to spend each year.
- Employees can spend it on almost anything, even supplies for hobbies — just not nunchucks.
- Tech companies have had to rethink perks amid the pandemic as remote work increases burnout.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Microsoft just rolled out a new employee-wellness benefit program that lets employees expense as much as $1,200 per year on practically anything to support “physical, mental and emotional, and financial wellbeing” — from student-loan payments to seeds and plants for gardening and cooking classes, Insider has learned.
The new benefit program, called Perks Plus, expands and replaces Microsoft‘s previous Stay Fit wellness program, which let employees expense $800 for health and fitness-related purchases.
Perks Plus, which will roll out to many employees in its 166,000-person workforce across the globe throughout 2021 and early 2022, offers “broad categories of reimbursable items and services that are intended to be relevant, inclusive, and cover a larger range of life/career stages,” according to internal documents reviewed by Insider.
The program appears to significantly expand the kinds of purchases employees can expense, with notable exceptions including gaming consoles, sailboat berthing, and nonstanding desks. The program even allows employees to expense up to one rocking chair “per year.”
The documents make it clear that Microsoft is focusing on helping to promote positive mental and physical fitness: Bicycles are included, but electric scooters, planes, and other vehicles without a “fitness component” are not, and the rules specifically prohibit expensing guns, bows and arrows, swords, nunchucks, and weaponry in general.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
The shift to remote work has changed how technology companies offer perks as tech-industry workers report feeling more burned out than before the pandemic, and not having everyone together in offices makes it more difficult to offer traditional workplace benefits. The rules also allow employees to expense a table-tennis setup but not other “table games” like foosball or air hockey.
Google, for example, is known for lavish perks including free food, massages, and on-site gyms at its offices. Early on in the pandemic, the company told employees they could not expense food or other perks such as home-office furniture and fitness subscriptions while working from home. Google has since offered $1,000 toward office furniture and explored new ways to attract employees, including by helping pay off student loans.
In addition to rethinking perks, Microsoft has introduced a more flexible work policy that will be place even after its offices reopen. Microsoft will offer greater flexibility in where and how often employees work, making part-time remote work standard for most employees, according to internal documents viewed by Insider.