Employee Perks Need a Little More Thought—Here’s Why

Author: Caron Beesley | April 8, 2016

What are the best employee perks of all? Free food and catered lunches? According to grocery-delivery service Peapod, companies that provide free food have happier employees than those that don’t.

Too good to be true? Many believe that company perks, such as free onsite lunches, aren’t always a good thing. Having worked for a company that invested heavily in feeding its staff, I witnessed these downsides first hand. First, it set the expectation that working lunches or eating from your desk was par for the course. Another problem with this model is that you’re stuck with it. Take it away during a budget crunch and employee morale will suffer as a consequence.

That’s not to say employee perks don’t have their place: They’re great at boosting morale and making employees feel like their contributions matter. However, you need to strike a balance between realistic and unrealistic perks. Unlimited vacation and free Crossfit sessions may work in Silicon Valley, but small businesses don’t have the resources for such luxuries.

So how do you go about instituting a perk plan that strikes a balance between boosting morale and running the kind of business that you want to run? Here are four tips for a perks program that works:

Focus on Employee Perks That Reflect Your Business Values

All businesses have core values. Perhaps you’re committed to a family-friendly culture or make self-development and learning opportunities a priority. How can you extend those values into your employee perks program?

Providing free lunches may not be the best way to send home the message that you encourage family time, but offering four weeks’ paternity leave or “bring your child to work days” could. If self-development is your thing, consider offering low-cost perks likes a mentor-mentee program or monthly “lunch and learns” where you bring in an expert for a quick training session and group collaboration.

Cater to Demographics

Every workplace is different, but there are some trends and needs that are unique to certain generational demographics. Take millennials, for example. This group is expected to make up 75% of the workplace in the next 10 years. How can you cater to their needs? Well, a free lunch certainly isn’t it.

According to a survey from Qualtrics Millennials, when it comes to recruiting, engaging, and retaining millennials in the workplace, free food is at the bottom of every millennials list. Instead, they overwhelmingly cited opportunities for professional growth as their top priority. Millennials are also big on healthy eating and wellness employee perks (think yoga class subsidies, gym memberships, etc.).

Then there are Gen X’ers. Entrepreneur.com suggests that this group (born between 1965 and 1978) is independently-minded and self-managing, very much a product of working parents. This experience leads them to strive for work-life balance. Flexible schedules, telecommuting, and strong, collaborative relationships with management may be attractive to this group.

Do a little research and find out what matters to your employee demographic.

Healthcare Isn’t the Only Big Perk

We tend to think of healthcare insurance as one of the biggest employee perks, but it’s not the only form of insurance that matters to small business employees. In fact, there’s a big gap between what employers think their employees value and what they actually want. For example, in a survey conducted by Colonial Life, employees were found to place greater value on non-medical insurance benefits such as life, disability, and critical insurance than their employers believed they would.

These benefits, also known as “voluntary benefits” are a great way to fill the gaps in your existing benefits packages and give employees access to insurance products at a lower rate than they could get on their own—at no cost to you. Read more about the how voluntary benefits work and the perks they bring you and your employees.

Don’t Just Offer Employee Perks for Perks’ Sake

Employee perks are great, but don’t put too much emphasis on them. There are many benefits to being a part of a small business team that are important to emphasize: opportunities to cross-train, faster growth paths, more opportunities to get closer to the customer, less hierarchy and, sometimes, a more inclusive work environment. Perks have their place, but if your business is to be successful as well as attract and retain employees, it’s important to also build a workplace where everyone feels a shared commitment to its success.

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