Comment: ‘Re-evaluating office perks’

Paul Armstrong, the founder of Here/Forth, a future technology advisory, explains why companies must revamp their benefits for modern times.

Office perks have always meant different things to different people. Perks used to mean days off and flexible working, but thanks to lockdowns and social distancing, a lot of perks are no longer, well, quite so perky.

According to employee review site Glassdoor, though, around 60% of people report perks as a major factor in considering whether to accept a job offer – astonishingly, that’s around double what company culture (35%) and a company’s financial performance (26%) receive. And yet perk schemes are rarely given much attention. Why is that?

Flexible working options are now standard and this particular genie isn’t going back into the lamp, so take that off your perks list stat. Getting a free coffee isn’t as great when all the shops have shut down, and having a sauna with colleagues could be a health hazard and doesn’t get close to making up for the endless Zooms and crappy chair you now have to sit on, most likely as you work from home.

But a new kind of focus is emerging, a ‘less to mean more’ approach. Companies like Carvana are now offering chunkier options like help with student debt, reduced prescription drugs, and specific development plans along with context-driven rewards. Indeed, the perk industry is increasingly focusing on wellness and other, less food-based elements. Airbnb offers $2,000 of travel vouchers for every new employee.

From insurance to gift cards to allow the employee to decorate their space, the focus is swinging back to the person but these services often come with a huge image problem. Perks can be too focused on benefitting the workplace and some aren’t perks at all, aiming rather to stretch existing money than pay out more. Sites like Perkbox offer an all-you-can-eat option but are often broad and put the onus on the individual to read fine print in order for perks to be fully understood and redeemed from often clanky sites.

Services like Huggg.me, an instant rewards and incentives platform, are different. Hugg recently integrated with Slack and, instead focuses on milestone events and discretionary efforts that are ‘instantly available or delivered, so they mean more’, according to CEO Paul Wickers. This enables companies to inject more contextual elements into the decision to reward.

Nor is Covid done affecting the workplace. The impact will be felt for decades to come, but the data shows that perks are increasingly important for the employees you have now as much as future ones you hope to attract. A daVinci Payments survey found that around three-quarters of respondents would stay at their job for at least another 12 months if given rewards amounting to only $150 over one year. 

Any company that treats every employee the same is destined to annoy more than excite. Customisable, personal and individual plans and packages are going to get your business – and your employees – better results in the short and long term. As headhunters lurk and options are weighed, now is the time for every business to evaluate whether they have the correct perk focus and balance. Perk packages shouldn’t be a box-ticking exercise and, thanks to the pandemic, a light has been shone on just how rubbish some perk companies really are.

This article was first published in Courier issue 38, December/January 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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