Remember when nap time was one of the hottest company perks on the market? Less than three years ago, companies around the world were touting their commitment to the land of nod.
Space-age-looking nap pods were one of the hottest perks around at the time.
Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone extolling the benefits of a company nap pod. You certainly wouldn’t take a job because it offered you a chair in the office for sleeping in. Nor would you see it as an incentive to work harder or stay longer in your current role.
A testament to the fluidity of workplace perks, it’s fallen out of favour.
This is just one example of how perks in the workplace are not ‘set and forget’. They need to be regularly reviewed and changed based on the needs of your staff and workplace — both of which have been irreversibly shifted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While most of the urgent heavy lifting has been done, many companies are still yet to map out their long-term adaptation to employee perks and benefits.
Logically, some of the most popular perks, such as a free company lunch or pets in the office, may not mean as much as they used to in a world where employees aren’t in the office every day. That’s not to say these perks should go the way of the nap room. It just means they won’t have the intended effect of impacting employees in a sustained, meaningful way.
The types of perks – and how companies are missing the mark
Perks have always been based around two key criteria. Firstly, it needs to bring benefit to the organisation through some form of improved retention, performance, talent attraction, or engagement. Secondly, providing a service or feature that delivers a tangible benefit to the team member and makes them feel valued.
Many companies miss the mark on both points. Often, they don’t tie their perks and benefits program back to a goal of the organisation, such as becoming an employer of choice, and they also don’t introduce perks or benefits that their team actually wants. A study Perkbox conducted earlier this year contrasted what employers thought their team wanted vs what team members actually asked for — only 4% of employees said they currently have the right perks for them.
For instance: An office offers all of their staff a free gym membership. Fantastic, that’s a great perk. But what if not everyone on your team uses the gym to work out? What if they get their fitness from a team sport? Suddenly your perk only benefits part of the office and is actually excluding some of your employees.
Music solution business BMG Australia had a similar situation. They offered free 7 AM yoga sessions to their entire team, which sounds amazing in theory. However, many of their staff would stay out late for work at events during the week, supporting BMG artists at their performances. The two perks conflicted with one another.
So, BMG Australia ended up fleshing out their perk program and added in more incentives in addition to the morning yoga, to ensure all of the team were being rewarded inside and outside the office, at times and places convenient to them.
This thinking around perks can go too far in the other direction too. Basecamp — a US enterprise technology company — recently rescinded all of its workplace perks and will now pay its staff a workplace benefit bonus on top of their salary.
Its argument is that it couldn’t cater for all of its staff with their perks, so everyone is better off just paying everyone more so they can afford their own benefits. But this defeats the very reason you offer perks in the first place. Everybody loves a bonus, but it doesn’t do anything to foster culture or make staff feel valued more than they already do. It may be appreciated initially, but eventually, it will just become an expectation.
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Make those perks relevant
The way forward is to think deeply about your team and what you can offer. Are the majority of your team working parents? Then childcare makes sense.
Is their work stressful and do they often work long hours? Then perhaps a monthly wellness day could be the ticket. Are they scattered across the country? Then a bi-monthly company retreat could help foster culture.
Perhaps the key point that COVID-19 will instill in companies with regards to perks is that you shouldn’t be blindly following trends. Your perks need to be considered, relevant to your team and also take into account a remote workforce. They need to be as bespoke as possible, without becoming so generic — like a pay bump — that they ultimately mean nothing.
It’s a balance and a question for every workplace. Perhaps it starts with talking to your staff and seeing what’s possible, and crucially, what do they want.
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