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Freebies For Workers Give Companies A Way To Promote Products Handouts Also Help To Build Esprit De Corps Among Employees

L.M. Sixel Houston Chronicle

When Blue Bell Creameries advertises, “We eat all we can, and we sell the rest,” it’s not kidding. Employees of Brenham, Texas-based Blue Bell are encouraged to eat as much free ice cream, frozen novelties and yogurt as they can stomach while working.

Freezers are scattered around the company’s offices and plant.

“It’s available just outside my door, so I have to watch it,” said Larry Gibbs, who oversees sales and distribution for the tasty treats in the Houston area. He claims he has never eaten a pint at a single sitting, although he has come close. “I have my standards,” he says.

The free ice cream is all about taking pride in the product, said Tracey Bryan, public relations director for Blue Bell.

“You see how good it tastes, and it has to make you very proud of what you do,” Bryan said.

Like Blue Bell, many companies offer free or discounted products to their employees. They do it to show off what they produce, to help employees become more familiar with the products or to simply give workers a nice perk. The practice builds esprit de corps, said James L. Phillips, chairman of MCG/Dulworth, which designs compensation and benefit plans for companies. It also allows employees to offer testimonials on which products and services are good, Phillips said.

At cable company TCI, for example, employees get free cable television - including premium channels, such as HBO and Cinemax. The vast majority of employees at the Houston cable provider have contact with customers on the phone or in the field, said spokeswoman Jill Mack. Since they get free cable, employees know the product well, and their knowledge benefits the company, she said.

While free cable and all-you-can-eat ice cream are deliciously attractive perks, the ultimate employee benefit is probably the nearly free plane tickets that airline employees receive. Continental Airlines charges a nominal fee for employees, their parents and spouses to fly stand-by on its domestic and international routes. Employees also get a few “buddy passes” each year to take their friends along on trips, said Sarah Oates, a spokeswoman for Continental.

Across the industry, the nearly free tickets are known as “golden handcuffs,” because they make it so hard for airline employees to quit, said one former airline employee.

The hardest thing about quitting is the realization that last-minute flights across the country for lunch will become out of the question, said the former employee, who asked not to be identified.

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