Today’s CEOs, managers, and team leaders understand the importance of keeping employee morale high. The fact that you’re reading this on the Engage Blog — a thought leadership blog meant to define, inform, and help increase employee engagement — means you must have some inkling as to the positive impact engagement can have on an organization. Many organizations try to address employee engagement by providing extra incentives, or “perks.”
When it comes to providing company perks, global businesses like Google, Yahoo! and S.C. Johnson & Son set the gold standard. By providing everything from free on-site gyms to dry cleaning services, these multinational organizations have inspired managers all over the world to come up with their own ways to make their staff happier.
In their haste to keep up with the Larry Pages and Sergey Brins of the world, many employers mistakenly implement work perks that are incredibly generous on the surface, but don’t actually benefit their employees.
As well as costing the company money, these well-intentioned extras can have a negative impact on employee morale; in some cases, creating feelings of resentment among staff that perceive their employer’s choice of company perks as an indication that they are completely out of touch with the wants and needs of individual employees. In other words, there is no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employee engagement.
With this in mind, let’s examine a handful of common workplace perks that don’t always hit the mark, as well as consider some ways to fix them and make your employees a little bit perkier.
1. The Games Room
You transform a room or a corner of your office into a veritable shrine to leisure and entertainment; swapping desks, spreadsheets and whiteboards for foosball tables, video games and miniature basketball hoops. It’s the perfect place for your staff to cut loose for a few minutes each day.
Why it doesn’t work:
After the initial excitement wears off, a great many games rooms end up either covered in a layer of dust or as a hangout for a very small number of employees that love the inherent interactivity of games. Other staff, such as those with young or boisterous children, might consider the games room an annoyance, and would rather spend their breaks someplace more conducive to conversation.
Making it work:
There’s nothing wrong with establishing an area for staff to shoot some pool or play a little Xbox. There are a few questions to consider before doing so:
- Would a significant number of my team enjoy a games room?
- Would they have enough time to make use of it?
- Would it end up being dominated by certain staff?
If you’re confident that the room would still get plenty of use six to twelve months after being set up, then go nuts; your staff will get a buzz out of having so many fun things to do on their break. Just be sure to choose a location that isn’t so close to your work area that it will distract other staff members. Furthermore, opting for games that can be played in groups and enjoyed in shorter sessions can help foster teamwork without taking too much time out of the workday.
2. Company Getaways
You pay for the entire company or team to go away for a few days, hoping that unwinding in beautiful, inspiring surroundings will help your staff de-stress and get to know each other better. The plan is that they come back refreshed, closer than ever, and thinking their boss is the absolute greatest.
Why it doesn’t work:
There are myriad reasons why team getaways prove to be ineffective. The most common being that staff resent having to give up time they consider to be their own, even if the company is picking up the tab.
Company trips and team-building weekends tend to be dominated by the more outgoing members of your team, leaving the quieter members of your staff counting down the hours until they can go home.
For others, trips like these are a logistical nightmare. They’re forced to find someone to pet-sit or trust their partner is willing to take care of the kids alone. This is not only inconvenient, but it can negatively shape an employee’s perception of their company.
Making it work:
Your staff wouldn’t all choose to take the exact same type of vacation, nor do they necessarily enjoy the same kind of activities. Instead of whisking your entire team away on a single trip, consider running a few destination events throughout the year that a) don’t require an overnight stay and b) cater to different tastes.
Choose activities that allow different personality types to shine. Mix up physical, mental, and creative tasks while experimenting with different group sizes to encourage the more introverted members of your team to participate.
Most importantly, don’t eat into your employee’s personal time to reward them—it’s not a reward if they’d rather not be there.
3. Unlimited Time Off
Your staff are free to take as many or as few days off as they like. The hope is employees will feel empowered by having some control of when and where they work. Unlimited PTO is also meant to foster a sense of mutual trust between employer and employee; employees are trusted not to abuse the system, and in return, they trust their employer more as they have a greater sense of work/life balance.
Why it doesn’t work:
Though allowing staff to make their own decisions about leave can make them feel incredibly empowered, there is evidence suggesting that some employees feel that there must be some kind of catch. They might also fear they’re being tricked out of time off that they are legally owed.
Another adverse effect is that employees might become overly anxious about the amount of leave they are taking, worrying that taking more days off than their peers will result in them being passed over for promotions. These staff members end up rarely taking days, often to the detriment of their health and performance at work, all to inform an external perception that may or may not exist.
Making it work:
Unlimited vacation time is a great way of showing your employees that you trust them. But it can also put a lot of undue pressure on them to self-regulate. To combat this, consider doing the following:
- Make time off mandatory. Let staff take as many additional days off as they need, but set a minimum number that they must use up before the end of the working year.
- Have a clearly defined UPTO policy in place. Set rules for taking time off, and make the procedure for requesting leave a part of your employee handbook. This might seem counterintuitive on the surface, but staff will take comfort from the fact that taking leave isn’t a free-for-all, and that their coworkers won’t suddenly hop on a plane to Italy, leaving them with extra work.
4. Culture-Specific Perks
In an attempt to get your team to socialize, you allow your staff to finish early on Fridays and head over to the local bar where their first drink is on you!
Why they don’t work:
The problem with perks is that unless they can be enjoyed by the entire team, some might not consider them to be perks. In fact, some people may even resent the implication that they should be grateful for something that they neither benefit nor derive any pleasure from.
Things like after-work drinking can be great fun, and many workplace friendships have been born over a cold beer. But they’re not fun for everyone. Due to any number of circumstances precluding them from taking part, staff could feel discriminated against if the company mandates participation.
Making them work:
Just like with the games rooms and company trips mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to please your entire team with a single reward.
Few employees will begrudge a new parent their extended leave or subsidized childcare, but when perks favor only particular individuals, it can create tension.
The simple solution is to ensure that you have enough unique perks to ensure your employees are rewarded in a way that personally resonates with them. You should also ensure that none of the perks you offer inadvertently isolate or exclude certain individuals.
Events such as after-work drinks should never be actively discouraged, but management should try and encourage rewards and events that benefit everyone.
5. ‘Life-on-Site’ Perks
You’ve gone full “Google,” providing employees everything from free meals to a mobile hair salon. With their annoying little chores taken care of, your staff are happier and more productive than ever before.
Why it doesn’t work:
You’d think that without having to worry about picking the kids up from daycare, making lunches in the morning, or running around the house to find a clean pair of pants, your team would be as happy as clams.
While true for some employees, others may interpret these perks as the company attempting to remove any need for employees to leave work.
Still have work to do, but need to get home to cook dinner? No problem; you can eat right here! Have laundry to do? Use our free laundromat! Now you have no excuse not to work!
Like unlimited leave, life-on-site perks like these can cause some staff to worry that by heading home to take care of their various chores instead of doing them at work, their boss or coworkers might not see them as team players.
How to make it work:
The key to successfully implementing perks of this kind is establishing reasonable limits as to the amount they are used. For example, if you have a laundromat, then issue staff with only enough tokens to make use of it when they need to, but aren’t forced to rely on it week in, week out. Similarly, if you’re providing staff with free meals, put barriers in place to stop people eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at work every day of the week.
Finally, make it clear to your staff that these on-site facilities have been put in place to make their lives easier. They are not expected to make constant use of them or stay in the office any longer than necessary.
It can be easy to misjudge how employees perceive workplace perks; when you’re trying to go the extra mile and do something nice for your team, you don’t expect them to resent you for it.
But choosing the right company perks for your business requires careful planning, and it’s important to consider any potential negatives, as well as the joy, your perks might bring.
Try to keep your own team’s wants and needs in mind when you’re looking for ways to reward them. That way, even if the perk you come up with isn’t the game changer you’d hoped for, your staff will still appreciate the fact that you’re trying to make their lives easier.
For more information regarding how to incentivize your employees, check out the blog post How to Incentivize the Modern Workforce.