The Future of Workplace Perks


Workplace perks aren’t just about a hot coffee pot or casual Fridays anymore. The increasingly aggressive wars to hire and retain employees in hot markets like Silicon Valley, Austin, Boulder, and Portland have launched hundreds of new workplace perks ranging from parental leave to a literal “candy wall.” But slowly, these perks are also starting to make their way into the mainstream. So let’s look at some of the more extreme workplace perks and see what new ones might be making their way into the mainstream.



Promoting Health and Wellness

By far the biggest push in the world of workplace perks has been a migration toward augmenting employees’ health and wellness. These include perks like subsidized gym memberships and free on-site wellness services like flu shots, massages, and acupuncture treatments.

On the side of promoting families, many Silicon Valley companies have taken parental benefits to the extreme. It is now the law in San Francisco that companies must offer six weeks fully paid for parental leave, and some companies have taken this benefit much further. Pinterest offers its employees a unique take on parental leave by providing team members three paid months off, plus an additional month of part-time hours, all on top of two counseling sessions to create a plan to re-enter the workplace. Even that perk is dwarfed by Netflix, which offers a whole year of maternity and paternity leave to new parents. Meanwhile, a few miles south near Menlo Park, Facebook provides a no-strings-attached $4,000 payment of “baby cash” to employees with a newborn.

In another controversial benefit related to health and wellness, Facebook and Apple are hoping to attract more female employees by offering to pay more than $20,000 to store eggs, if covered by their insurance plans.

Then, of course, there is the food. A recent survey by grocery delivery service  Peapod found that 67% of workers are “extremely” or “very” happy with their current job—but only for those employers that provide access to free food. This has turned offices across California into edible playgrounds, with a never-ending supply of juice, yogurt, cereal, and even catered meals. Twitter even provides three catered meals a day to each one of its more than 3,000 employees.

Food perks are even part of some employees’ jobs. At San Francisco’s ZeroCater, which creates custom menus for their corporate clients, employees are given $500 annually to take cooking classes, on top of field trips to Napa and daily catered lunches.

These and other perks send a strong message that employees are encouraged to live a healthy and well-rounded life. However, critics warn that free food can counter-intuitively keep employees in the office more, boosting their productivity but cutting down on leisure and recreation time.



The Perks of Convenience

It’s hard to put a price on convenience but leading technology companies and start-ups are doing their best to “disrupt” the everyday annoyances that interrupt a worker’s schedule.

First, some companies are altering the very concept of what it means to “go to work.” Among the most valued employee perks in a variety of studies is the concept of letting employees manage their own schedules. Many Silicon Valley shops have simply discontinued the tradition of an eight-hourworkday, instead letting employees work and collaborate in the style that best suits them.

This flexibility is even starting to merge with traditional benefits. Netflix famously allows employees to choose how many days they take off each year, whether it’s two days or two months. Weirdly, some companies that have adopted the model find that their employees are working more than before, because they have no sense of when it’s appropriate to take a vacation, or for how long.

Other companies have adopted far-reaching strategies to help their employees be more efficient. On-site oil changes? Check. Free rides home for employees that stay past 8 p.m.? Sure, why not? At Facebook, interns have the chance to apply for free housing, plus shuttles to and from work to avoid paying for gas. It sounds pretty good, especially compared to the growing legend of the Google employee who lives in a truck in the company parking lot.

Meanwhile, a growing number of companies are offering errand-running services as a workplace perk. Company-sponsored errand runners are a growing trend, offering everything from grocery shopping and pet sitting to trips to the post office. Proponents say that these perks of convenience offer a direct return-on-investment in helping employees and their families regain time and comfort.



The Perks of Technology

If your company is running on outdated technology, it might be time to consider an upgrade, especially if you have Millennial workers in your workforce. A recent study by Adobe found that access to cutting-edge technology is the top contributor to employees’ job satisfaction. In fact, respondents said that technology, more than any other flashier perks, is the most important factor in keeping them happy at work.

The study reveals a not-too-far-off future where the global workforce becomes more productive, more capable, and most importantly more mobile. Technologies like video messaging and screen mirroring augment share-project applications like Basecamp and Trello to help enable employees to be productive from anywhere, whether it’s their local coffee shop or a beach in Thailand.

Another recent study found that Millennials are so committed to their tech that they’re the most likely to quit a job over technology issues. And over 50 percent of respondents believe that better communication technologies and the capacity to work remotely could bring about the end of face-to-face communication.

“Communication is no longer tied to the traditional face-to-face meeting; instead, with the appropriate solutions, communications have turned to many forms that can be equally as productive, if not more,” said Kelli Hodges of Dell, which sponsored the survey.



The Perks of Feeling Good

Then there are those perks that just make employees feel good.

First, there are companies who are actively investing in their employees’ personal development. In some, young-ish workers are encouraged to take financial literacy classes and continued education; some are even offering student loan debt reimbursement. Epic Systems Corporation offers employees a paid four-week sabbatical to pursue their creative talents (after five years with the company).

Meanwhile, there are a few companies, among them Trupanion in Seattle and Google worldwide, that allows their employees to bring pets to work, every day.

Everybody needs a day off every now and then, and a lot more companies are recognizing this impulse as a workplace perk. REI encourages its employees to get outside by offering two paid days a year (Yay Days!) to enjoy their favorite outdoor activity. Meanwhile, World Wildlife Fund employees take Friday off every other week, a holiday known as “Panda Fridays” at the nonprofit.

Finally, there are these companies who know that their employees feel good from giving back. In Denver, several very well-known corporations work with a local volunteer center to identify projects where the company can donate funds and supplies, and employees can donate some good old-fashioned elbow grease to help their community. These efforts have resulted in massive city-wide events like Xcel Energy’s Day of Service, which spreads employees over nearly thirty projects at senior centers, day care centers, schools, and other community assets, and Kaiser Permanente’s city-wide effort on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which spreads more than a thousand employees across projects all over the front range.

Back in Silicon Valley, Salesforce gives its employees six paid days off each year to do volunteer work, plus the company gives each of its employees $1,000 each year to donate to the cause of their choice. These perks are all part of a corporate strategy known as corporate social responsibility, in which a company gives back in meaningful ways to the communities they are located in.

In the end, hopefully you and your company leadership will understand that attraction and retention are about more than perks or benefits. The future of workplace perks is just a corollary effect to a more important goal: improving the overall employee experience and enhancing authentic engagement. Without working hard, sharing together, and investing in the future success of employees, you might be left with just that lonely candy wall.

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