(Bloomberg) -- Any best-in-class employer worth its salt gives its employees a generous chunk of paid time off when they have kids. One really trying to brand itself family-friendly gives them the Snoo.
The Snoo is a $1,160 “smart” crib with a cult following that promises new parents more of their most precious resource: sleep. And half a dozen employers—including Hulu LLC and the Canadian book seller Indigo Books and Music Inc.—are offering one to expectant workers for free or at a discount.
As millennials start having children, employers competing for the best talent from the labor market’s most-coveted cohort have upped their family-friendly benefits to attract, retain and appease them, triggering a niche-benefits arms race. By now, these sought-after workers have come to expect months of paid parental leave. Employers that really want to distinguish themselves have to offer more.
That’s what the video-game company Activision Blizzard Inc. has done. The California-based maker of “Call of Duty” not only offers its 6,000 employees eight weeks of fully paid parental leave, a breast-milk delivery service and fertility- and pregnancy-tracking apps, it also now fully subsidizes a Snoo rental for up to six months. (By that age, most babies have outgrown it.)
So far, the Snoo is a hit among employees. The company started offering the crib three weeks ago and already has 30 out to parents. “With each new perk, our employees are beginning to say, ‘This is becoming real enough that I have to think twice about leaving,’” said Milt Ezzard, the company’s senior director of benefits.
The Snoo is the brainchild of pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the best-selling parenting book “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” who says babies want to feel like they’re back in the womb and argues that any fussing baby can be calmed by swaddling, shushing, swinging, sucking and lying on his or her stomach or side.
The Snoo does most of that, using sensors to respond to a baby’s sounds and movements. When one cries, it rocks and plays white noise, adjusting the levels based on how upset it is, and parents can control it with an app that alerts them if the infant is inconsolable. The device has gotten plenty of rave reviews—Fast Company called it the “best crib most parents can only dream about”—but its extremely high price puts it out of most parents’ reach. (“Does any parent need to spend roughly a thousand dollars on a product that is engineered to be of no use once their kid reaches 6 months of age?” Wirecutter asked in a review.)
For employers, the Snoo offers many appealing promises, including potential productivity benefits. The crib promises additional sleep for exhausted parents, who no longer have to get up in the middle of the night to tend to a screaming child. If the crib delivers, parents will return to work more rested, perhaps more productive.
Then there’s the fact that the Snoo’s hefty price tag doesn’t seem quite so hefty in the scheme of the employee-benefits arms race. At the discounted corporate rental rate of $3.50 per day, it’s a relatively inexpensive perk to offer new parents—certainly cheaper than, say, an additional month of paid leave.
Such luxurious benefits are still rare in a nation where only 14 percent of workers get any paid parental leave. But as the labor market tightens, some employers have dangled such shiny perks as egg-freezing services, on-site CrossFit classes and now the Snoo as cheaper ways to keep people around than providing an actual pay raise. Offerings like those give employees access to something exclusive—and expensive—that they might not get elsewhere.
“I honestly feel very emotionally attached to the Snoo,” said Marianna Martinelli, a community manager at the women’s networking club the Wing. She said she was given the crib, which she’d heard other moms call the “magical sleep machine,” by its publicist, who is a friend of hers and a member of the Wing. Now, she says her 4-month-old usually sleeps through the night, and her organization’s nearly 50 employees and 2,000 members get about $400 off the Snoo’s full retail price.
The Snoo is still a niche product; Karp says his company, Happiest Baby Inc., has sold more than 10,000 since it hit the market in October 2016. (There are about 4 million babies born each year in the U.S.) Partnering with employers could get it into many more homes, and indeed Karp believes the corporate market will eventually be the bulk of his business, with word of mouth getting employers to bite. “You just need two or three employees who become evangelists—people who say, ‘This thing is the bomb.’”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.