When Office Perks Don’t Work


Some perks are so common they go unrecognized as “perks,” like free coffee.

Some often are found only at large firms, like on-site gyms.

Some aren’t flashy, but can be valuable to certain employees, like flex hours. 

Some are becoming trends in startups, like in office masseuses or a company keg. (Jealous?) 

In the fight to attract and retain employees, employers know some perks work and some do not. How do employers avoid making a costly mistake? Here are some situations to avoid…

1. Blurred Lines

A growing trend is the offering of “unlimited vacation,” but this is a perk that should be approached with caution, reports Bob Sullivan of CNBC.com. Without clear boundaries, people generally choose work over leisure to preserve their reputations and their employment. 

In fact, many perks are well-intended attempts at keeping a healthy work-life balance – perks like an office concierge – but the effect of some of these perks is that they make the employee feel chained to the desk.

2. Big Costs for a Small Group  

A Fast Company article mentions several popular, well-meaning perks that, depending on several factors, may not serve a significant percentage of the staff or may not justify their expense, including on-site childcare or an on-site gym. Furthermore, if team members perceive that a perk unfairly excludes some of them, or that they are somehow paying for a perk they don’t use, the net result may be a morale killer. At PEX, we offer a free weekly hot lunch that all staff can enjoy that also encourages camaraderie.  

3. To Play or Not to Play?

Office behavior will always default to what seems culturally acceptable. Multiple firms have gone to the trouble of building unique, comfortable workspaces, complete with “toys,” only to see them go unused. Employees felt they had to be seen logging time at their desks to be perceived as “working.”

A little research reveals hundreds of opinions on perks. Here are a few thoughts to jumpstart your process as you consider to perk or not to perk. 

A Little Money, Can Go a Long Way

While today’s workforce seems increasingly motivated by opportunities for self-fulfillment, like paid time off to volunteer, employers cannot lose sight of the main reason most people get jobs. Multiple reports, including this one from the Society for Human Resource Management, indicate that compensation is still a top contributor to overall employee satisfaction. Thus, it seems wise to never let it appear that employees are getting an expensive new perk in lieu of a raise.

Let Company Culture be your Guide.

Perks should “fit” your culture. Osprey Packs, a company with outdoor living and environmentalism at its core, gifts its employees a bicycle at their one-year anniversaries and incentivizes them to use it. Umpqua Bank, recognizing that finance is a conservative industry, provides employees a clothing advance so they can build more traditional business wardrobes.

And, Google – well, many of us are well aware of some of the envelope-pushing perks provided by the tech giant. It’s important to recognize how well those perks fit in that culture

In your culture, a perk may be tame by comparison… and much more effective.

Thinking of trying out something new for your employees? Check out what PEX can do for you in overseeing and controlling expenses, for “perks” or anything else! 

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