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Oct 11, 2013

Dr. John Sullivan’s recent TLNT posts about Facebook that included a discussion of their fabulous perks were pretty impressive:

  • An extended six-week boot camp onboarding with the employee’s choice of a job at the end;
  • Internal job transfers chosen by the employee at end of one year;
  • Free food;
  • Happy Hour every Friday;
  • 21 PTO days and unlimited sick time;
  • A reward (allowance) for living close to work.

The problem with perks

Typically the companies that offer these creative perks are young and filled with young employees. Many are high tech and their profits are sky-rocketing. They grow rapidly, and there is nothing but blue skies and happy days ahead.

Friday beer bashes and free food have become commonplace, so many companies continue to try and differentiate themselves by offering more creative goodies. Being competitive is not enough — they really want to stand out in the market.

The problem lurking in the shadows, though, is how to keep perks exciting and motivating while competing with the company down the street that offers even more tantalizing ones.

When first offered, perks are met with great excitement, but over time they’re taken for granted. They’re no longer special. They aren’t perks anymore … they’re benefits that are owed. They’re:

  • Taken for granted;
  • Everyone gets them;
  • People get them just for showing up;
  • Have been in place for a long time;
  • Are just like those offered by every other company

How to keep things fresh

Here’s another problem with perks: When a company suffers a bad time financially, some of these perks may be cut. The bottom falls out. Revenues drop, profit dwindles, the stock plunges, shareholders get grouchy — and financial measures may have to be taken. The CFO gets his hatchet out and starts to chop.

Perks cost money. Although employees may not find them exciting anymore, they have come to expect them. If you drop them, what effect will that have on engagement and retention?

What’s a company to do?

Here is a process that might work:

  1. Keep perks “fresh” by replacing them, for example, every year or two. By the time employees get used to them, they change.
  2. Get employee input on what perks they value most. Have them provide a laundry list.
  3. Have management assess the viability and cost of each. For example, having an on-site swimming pool might be on the list, but it would be costly and zoning regulations might not allow it.
  4. Every year or two, the viability and cost list mentioned in No. 3 is revisited by employees and revised. New perks are selected and take the place of the old ones.
  5. In tough financial times, let employees decide which perks can be eliminated. Let them put the perks in rank order and, depending on the amount of money that needs to be cut, remove the last 3, 4, etc. that are listed.

Helping to keep employees engaged

This process hopefully would accomplish two things:

  • It would keep perks fresh and exciting in the employees’ eyes; and,
  • Employees would be involved in the process.

I think going through this would create a positive experience for employees. The more a company can get it’s employees’ input on what perks they value most, and the happier employees are, the less it will have to worry that employees will walk down the street to another employer.

Granted, perks are certainly not everything that keeps employees engaged and committed. Perks are not even in the top five.

But with all the items on HR’s “need to worry about” list, this is one you might possibly be able to check off.