When it comes to corporate perks, we all know a few that we can rattle off at the drop of a hat. You know: vacation time, discounts on the services your company offers, a gym membership, and various others that are, for the most part, standard fair.
We have some bad news.
There’s a reason we can all list these corporate perks off in a moment’s notice: they aren’t unique.
Yup, many companies haven’t reexamined what perks they offer for years, putting them behind some of the more innovative companies who are pushing what a corporate perks package can look like.
So, if you want to make a great corporate perks program - which are somtimes called associate perks - that will attract and retain talent, you have to think a bit outside the box. The good news is that that is exactly what we're going to cover here, providing you all of the tools and research you need to come up with your very own plan.
Want to see what perks you 100 percent need to have? Check out this guide to get started:
The Benefits of Corporate Perks
Before we jump into what you can do to make a great program, let’s check out why you should have a program in the first place. After all, aren’t corporate perks . . . perks? Why does it matter if you have them at all?
Well, perks are there to make your workforce more engaged with the workplace. The goal of perks is to make your business’s culture a fun and inviting place that encourages staff members to engage.
Engagement is incredibly important nowadays because people who are unhappy at work tend to leave. At the same time, unhappy workers are less productive, causing sales and profits to drop.
Don’t just take our word for it:
“A recent Gallup report confirms that claim. In businesses with highly engaged teams, profitability increased by 21 percent, sales productivity by 20 percent, and output quality by 40 percent,” reports MacKenzie Kassab with Harvard Business School.
“And with absenteeism down by 41 percent, it would seem that those employees actually liked going to work.”
Those are some serious increases. In the same report from Harvard, businesses tended to attribute turnover and low productivity to salary. At first glance, this makes a lot of sense. After all, who’s going to perform at their best when they aren’t paid for their best?
“But if they let us dig a little deeper, we almost always found that compensation wasn’t the issue. It was the red herring,” said Peter J. Martel, a senior talent development consultant at Harvard Business School.
“We’d have to tell them, ‘The real issue is that your people hate their jobs and they hate coming to work every day.’”
In other words, you need to have corporate perks that engage employees, making them want to come to work and perform at their highest level. If you do, your company can get a serious boost.
So, what are the benefits of having a great corporate perks program? Here are just a few:
- Increased employee retention
- Increased productivity
- Increased sales
- Less call offs
- Higher levels of engagement
- Higher quality of work
Corporate Perks: Be Unique to Your Brand
Like we mentioned above, there are some corporate perks that seem great but really aren’t adding anything to your business.
What do we mean?
Well, vacation time, for example, is no longer a “perk.” Vacation time is a mandatory reward that employees should have anyway because employees expect it. Claiming that vacation time is an interesting perk is like saying that sick days are perks, too. They are not.
A good perk - the best perks, actually - should be something that aligns with your corporate culture in a way that makes sense.
Let’s look at a few examples.
REI, the outdoor gear company, has something called ‘Yay Days.’ Instead of having a simple vacation structure, REI has set aside days off for their employees to specifically go outside and have fun.
“With Yay Days, they get paid time to go out and play. Every REI employee gets two Yay Days a year—each one a chance to try something new, challenge themselves in a favorite activity, or work on an outdoor stewardship project,” REI says.
“Yay Days help REI employees reconnect with the outdoors and prepare them to deliver great knowledge and service to customers. In the first Yay Day period, nearly 75% of all REI employees took advantage and got outside, doing everything from building trails to running marathons.”
You can learn more about them in this video:
As you can see, REI made a perk that is directly related to their brand. One that encourages their staff to go outside, use REI equipment, and live the lifestyle that their customers live.
Here’s another example:
Airbnb, which was voted the Best Place to Work in 2016, offers employees a quarterly travel stipend, allowing employees to see the world and also use the service they work so hard to create and maintain.
According to Business Insider, this stipend is for about $2,000, which the employee can use to travel anywhere in the world.
Airbnb has a plethora of corporate perks to back that one up, too. Sure, they offer ‘competitive salaries’ and ‘paid time off,’ but they also provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner alongside free Apple equipment and the ability to attend tech talks and conferences. All of these perks - the interesting ones, anyway - align with Airbnb’s brand.
What we can learn from both REI and Airbnb is that they offer perks that are a bit out of the box. However, they’re not that ridiculous. REI lets their employees enjoy the outdoor world. Meanwhile, Airbnb lets employees travel. What does your company do? What would an employee who is interested in that topic want to do? There is an intersection here and that is where you should mine ideas for corporate perks.
While this is one of the biggest pieces of advice we can give when figuring out your corporate perks package, some companies foster engagement by having seemingly random perks. But are they really random?
Let’s take a look.
Corporate Perks: Thinking Outside the Box
At the heart of every great perk, is an activity that fosters engagement. These activities can be, like mentioned above, aligned with the business’ activities. Sometimes, though, it really does pay to think outside the box.
Let’s look at a few more examples.
Right now, according to Glassdoor, Bain & Company is the best place to work in America, outscoring Facebook, Airbnb, and more. Bain & Company has a TON of perks, but one of them is a soccer tournament.
Yeah, you heard that right. Bain & Company has an annual tournament, aptly dubbed the Bain World Cup, which pits employees from all over the world against each other on the field.
“Football (soccer) is a global sport and, since Bain is a global company, each year since 1987 a different city has hosted a Bain World Cup tournament. More than 1,200 employees from around the world volunteer to bring out their inner "Messi" and "Neymar" during a three-day competition,” the company writes.
“Competitors from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas create jerseys, practice and prepare, all in the hope of bringing home the prestigious Bain World Cup. While the primary focus is the tournament itself, Bain World Cup is also about reconnecting with friends and colleagues from around the world, plus having a lot of fun too!”
Here’s what their employee’s have to say about it:
This seems super random, right? What’s soccer have to do with management counseling? In short, nothing. What it does, and what the company states in their description of the event, is tie all of their employees together even if they work on opposite sides of the planet.
That’s pretty huge. How do you take a global company and make it feel connected? For Bain & Company, it was soccer. For your business, maybe it’s a softball team or some other competition that creates engagement while also having a team building element built in.
Here’s another example:
At Twitter, employees also enjoy a large list of corporate perks, but there’s an outlier: improv classes.
Employees have the opportunity to work on their comedy skills on the company’s dime. What could that possibly have to do with anything that goes on at Twitter besides the fact that many tweets are funny?
Well, it’s hard to find when Twitter started to offer improv classes, though if you know a little Twitter history you can probably pinpoint the era it took root. Back in 2010, Dick Costolo took over as CEO of the company. He remained CEO until 2015 when he was replaced by Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s co-founders and board members.
During Costolo’s reign, he was voted one of the best tech CEOs by a variety of different publications and was also known for his witty jokes and banter when giving presentations. Why was he so funny? Because Costolo was a trained improv actor and professional comedian.
He took these skills and applied them to business, using them to break boundaries and - you probably guessed it - engage with staff members.
While there isn’t any publicly available record of when employee’s started to enjoy improv classes, it was highly likely something pushed by Costolo.
When asked about improv during an interview with Farhad Manjoo at The New York Times, Costolo said:
“One of the things that you’re always trying to make sure you really pay attention to in improv is being in the moment and listening. When I was first learning the trade, one of the things that folks at Second City used to always say was “Be in this moment.” That’s one of the things I tell my new managers. The notion of “Yes, and” in improvisation is, I think, important in any sort of discussion.”
What we can learn here is that Costolo used a skill that he developed personally to help build teams, make them comfortable with one another, and also foster relationships that are positive. In other words, it forces engagement in a fun (and funny) way.
What seemed like a random, light-hearted corporate perk, is actually a really good way to better your staff. Do you have any skills like this that your business could implement? You probably do if you think about it.
Corporate Perks: Things You Need
We’ve talked a lot about how to make a corporate perks program that is enticing and - most importantly - engaging. These techniques have been largely to think outside the box in various ways while also connecting the perk to your company.
These are all great tips that will definitely set you apart from other organizations. However, there are a few perks that are quickly becoming standard that weren’t a decade ago.
Just like how vacation days are no longer considered all that thrilling, other perks have become just as mandatory, especially if you want the public to view your organization in a positive light.
One of the biggest and most talked about ‘perks’ is maternity leave. As you can probably tell by our sarcastic hash marks, maternity leave is a benefit that many, many, many people view as a mandatory offering from a business.
Again, studies have backed this up:
The Pew Research Center examined how Americans felt about paid time off by interviewing 6,000 people, uncovering some interesting takeaways.
“About eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say mothers should have paid maternity leave, while fewer (69%) support paid paternity leave,” the center reports.
This shows that the majority of people want paid time off to be with their newborn child, which makes a lot of sense. The study also found that people really support other forms of medical leave, too.
“The need for family and medical leave – whether paid or unpaid – is broadly felt across the United States,” the center states.
“Roughly six-in-ten Americans (62%) say they have taken or are very likely to take time off from work for family or medical reasons at some point.”
While the study also highlighted that there is much debate over who should pay for this type of leave - companies or the government - it’s safe to say that if you’re business took the hit in support of their workers, they would be seen more favorable than companies who don’t.
The takeaway here is that workers typically do not feel like maternity leave (or leave used to treat a serious ailment) is a benefit. Instead, it’s viewed as the right thing for companies to do.
This isn’t the only perk like this, either. The other big one is development opportunities.
This may seem surprising, but most Millennials want their place of work to also be a place for them to learn and grow.
“What about ping-pong tables and free beer? Contrary to popular perception, Millennials place little importance on a company encouraging creativity or being a fun, informal place to work. In fact, Baby Boomers are slightly more likely than Millennials and Gen Xers to say that creativity and fun are “extremely important” to them when applying for a job,” reports The Harvard Business Review.
“But Millennials do need to be convinced why and how an organization will help them learn, grow, and develop, and further their careers.”
Right now, Millennials are quickly becoming the largest generation in the workforce, meaning that the companies that retain and develop them are more likely to be a step ahead of the competition, especially in the upcoming years as more and more Baby Boomers retire.
Want to learn more about properly planning your workforce? Check out this free template to help keep your talent aligned with your goals.
Millennials are not scared to leave jobs that are not aligning with what they want out of their lives or careers, causing high turnover rates for organizations that are not keeping up with developmental needs. Millennials are also the least engaged at work.
“71% are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, making them the least engaged generation in the U.S. Moreover, engagement is essential to retaining employees,” The Harvard Business Review continues.
“Our analysis reveals that 47% of actively disengaged Millennials strongly agree that they will switch jobs if the job market improves in the next 12 months, compared with 17% of engaged Millennials.”
The team points out that this is actually an opportunity despite what it sounds like. As Millennials move around in the job market, they eventually settle with organizations that meet their needs. Their top need and want is development and room for growth.
What this also means is that ‘development opportunities’ are no longer adequate corporate perks. Instead, these opportunities to grow are quickly becoming a mandatory addition if companies want to maintain a strong relationship with one of the biggest working generations to ever exist.
Corporate Perks: Remember That It's All About Engagement
Remember, the real goal is to nurture employee engagement because it is key if you want to retain the talent you recruited. Not only will this retention allow you to cut back on turnover costs, it will help you boost productivity, increase sales, and create a fun, happy place to work.
According to The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), this is what it takes to effectively retain staff:
- A proper recruitment process, making sure you hire a good fit for the role and the corporate culture.
- Socialization to make a new team member part of the company, which may include team-building exercises and events.
- Proper training and development. Not just through onboarding but throughout the employee’s time at the company.
- Competitive compensation and rewards.
- Solid supervision, meaning that the supervisor needs to treat the employees they supervise in a kind manner that makes them a leader and not a villain.
- Engagement, which makes people happier and more likely to do a good job.
As you can see, having well thought out corporate perks can really aid many of these steps, making them way more important than many business owners believe.
In today’s world, where we see countless companies offering booze and lunch, it’s easy to get mixed up as to what makes a good corporate perk and what makes a place sound cool. Places can sound cool all they want, but at the end of the day, engagement is key.
Corporate Perks: Summary
We've look at a lot of examples and talked about a lot of things that pertain to coporate perks. As you know by now, perks are there to foster engagement and what perk you use largely depends on what your corporate culture is like, what you want out of the perk, and who you have working for you.
The best corporate perks, the ones used by businesses who have been voted the best places to work, combine an engaging experience with their cultures. REI allows its staff to take off days specifically to enjoy the great outdoors. Airbnb hands out stipends to travel the world.
On the other hand, some companies decide to tackle problems by creating different types of engaging perks, such as how Bain & Company manages to pull together a global team by hosting a soccer tournament in various countries every year.
Or, how Twitter manages to use a fun activity like improv to boost engagement while also teaching some rather valuable business lessons.
We’ve also explored perks that aren’t really perks anymore. Maternity leave, sick time, vacation time, and development opportunities are no longer ‘rewards’ in a true sense because they have come to be expected. Companies that handle all of these areas have lower turnover rates and are generally viewed in a more positive light, meaning that it’s good for their brands and their employees. A win-win for everyone.
So, if you want to offer new and exciting perks, we suggest you skip reading countless lists about how startups offer booze and bagels and start looking for innovative ways to reach your staff. This can - and probably will - be different for every business.
However, the reward in productivity, higher morale, and employee retention will be felt throughout the entire organization.
Want to see more about how to make a great corporate perks program? Check out our guide here: