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The number of employee perks is growing, and so are the problems they create.

Amy Spurling
Jul 17, 2018 · 6 min read

Scan any reviews of a top-rated company on Glassdoor, and you’ll quickly get a birds-eye view of what matters most to employees. Employee perks.

Perks have been around for a while. However, their purpose in organizations has transformed quite a bit over the past 10 years.

Employee perks have gone from offering coffee pots to coffee baristas. They’ve gone from offering a free six-pack of Bud Lite in the shared fridge, to having a selection of local beer on tap, and they’ve gone from a rigid 9–5 to remote work with more flexibility for all.

The growth of employee perks isn’t just good for employees, perks have a measurable positive impact on a company’s bottom line.

Company perks make employees happy.

A Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey reported, four in five employees, 80%, want benefits or perks more than a pay raise.

Who doesn’t want free lunches, nap rooms, summer Fridays, education allowances, discounts on sporting events, or an on-site gym? Company perks make employees lives easier, increase productivity, and lead to greater happiness.

Employee happiness is great for an organization’s bottom line. Studies have shown that when employees are happy, they’re 20% more productive, and for public companies, it can lead to an increased stock price.

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” — Richard Branson

Perks also help foster company culture.

Earlier this year, Qualtrics announced it’s giving employees a $1,500 annual allowance to spend on experiences.

Starbucks provides full tuition reimbursement for its employees.

Reebok provides summer Fridays and an on-site gym featuring Crossfit classes, and Bain & Company holds an annual two-day global “Bain World Cup” soccer tournament open to all employees.

What do these perks tell you about the culture at these organizations? Do you have an idea of what the company values? By reading about just one of the company’s perks programs, it’s easy to get a sense of the values that matter most to the company and the culture they’re trying to build.

Perk programs develop and reinforce a company’s culture, simply by being provided.

Perks help attract, engage, and retain employees.

Similar to the word-of-mouth marketing received when customers rave about their positive experience with a company — the same thing applies to employees.

Happy employees are like indirect marketers for a brand. By rating an organization highly on Glassdoor or voting for them to win a “best place to work” award, they’re raising the value of the company as a top place to work, which attracts more talented people.

This almost goes without saying, but attracting the right talent is more critical than ever as the unemployment rate reaches an all-time low, and the talent shortage increases. Top performers have said to be up to 800% more productive, making company perks a worthy investment in employee success.

Company perks are a staple of today’s strategic approach to attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent.

However, as the number of perks offered has grown, so have the problems.

Based on my experience as a CFO and COO, I’ve noticed many destructive employee perk problems prop up which aren’t yet being acknowledged within the market. I’ve surfaced these issues below:

1. Managing company perks is a manual process & doesn’t scale.

Whether your company offers 2 or 20 perks, someone on the team still has to pick, purchase, pilot, and maintain them for the rest of the company.

Because HR is often the last department to receive software to streamline and automate their work, email filtering and spreadsheets are still the most common methods to track perks programs today. This process is not only time consuming, it’s inefficient.

I’ve scaled company perks from 25 to 250 people using email and spreadsheets, and it isn’t pretty.

2. The current process misdirects company culture.

While it’s certainly a positive that company perks can reinforce company culture, but they can also misdirect it.

As an employee, have you ever looked at a company’s perks and thought that the company looked like the best environment for you? What about the opposite? Have you ever found a company’s perks program online and decided against applying because they’re off-putting or a bad match for you?

By providing onsite yoga, there’s something else that you aren’t providing. The same concept applies to every perk being offered — i.e., money being invested in pet insurance means less money for a free books program.

Not only is there the monetary opportunity-cost of perks, there’s also the invisible cost of the employee and market perception of your perks.

3. The current perks approach doesn’t solve for diverse teams with diverse needs.

This is my biggest gripe with the current perks approach; let me address the problem by sharing an example of it in practice.

Over five years ago the company where I was CFO decided to dedicate some money toward supporting employees and enhancing company culture — as many companies were doing — and offering beer was one of the easier, more fun ways we settled on.

I had just announced that we were installing beer taps in our new office.

Everything was sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

Fast forward to a few months later, and people began approaching me to make personal requests because they either didn’t like the beer or couldn’t drink it.

One person asked for cider because they were gluten-free. Another requested wine because they didn’t like beer or cider. One soon-to-be mom asked if we could invest in something that wasn’t beer because she couldn’t drink but didn’t want to feel left out of team activities.

After a while though, the slippery slope of requests hit a tipping point and became something we couldn’t officially support anymore.

Having to say no to some people’s requests was deflating. I didn’t want to support just some of our people, I wanted to support all of our people.

It turns out; this problem is so prolific that at a recent People First dinner we hosted, one Head of HR said he knew he was doing his job well when everyone was “equally unhappy.” Ouch, that runs counter to the whole purpose of perks. It’s not his fault though; today’s current one-size-fits-all approach to perks is impossible to serve the needs of everyone.

Companies are earmarking money for each employee for perks, and unfortunately, if an employee doesn’t like them or can’t enjoy them, they miss out on money the business has allocated to them. And to be clear, there are employees who can’t use perks for a multitude of valid reasons such as they have dietary restrictions, they’re remote (which is especially prevalent today), they have a unique situation, or their goals and needs are different.

The problem of solving for some employees, not all, is heightened because companies are offering more perks than ever before and there’s no software to track perks and gather data insights. Without any data on employee adoption and usage, it’s impossible to see which perks are being used and by who. In the beer example, a situation could surface where only 5% of a team is drinking 100% of the beer, while those who can’t, miss out.

Apply this situation to every perk that you offer and it’s easy to see how quickly perks become lopsided offerings which don’t solve for diverse teams with diverse needs.

The challenge for HR and people operations folks is to figure out how to appropriately address each individual’s preferences and priorities while supporting with a more diverse set of workers and workforce segments than before.

Lastly, while there is one way which many companies are addressing this challenge — by offering more and more perks — it’s less than ideal. This method means more money, more perks to manage, and it’s still a “one-size-fits-none” approach to perks.

Today’s perks process is broken. It’s inefficient, doesn’t scale, misdirects a company’s culture and doesn’t genuinely solve for employees resulting in wasted money, effort, and unhappy employees.

Now that I’ve shared the hidden dark side of perks, I cannot help but ask, what will happen if we continue down this path of managing and offering employee perks in the future? Is this what employers and employees actually want?

I don’t think so.

— — — —

I believe there’s a better way for companies to put their money where their culture is which is why I started Compt. Compt is the new way to offer employee perks.

If you want to be more purposeful about your perks program, sign up for personalized perks with the Compt software here or learn more about perk stipends here.

Compt

Reimaginging company perks.

Amy Spurling

Written by

Compt

Compt

Reimaginging company perks.

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