Every good manager knows that employee motivation is driven by more than money. While a larger than expected pay rise might tempt an employee to delay their plans to look for a job elsewhere, it's unlikely to instil long term loyalty.
We're motivated at work by different things: for some it's recognition or responsibility, for others it's personal development or sheer enjoyment that keeps them on task.
If you want to improve retention rates and turn staff into loyal brand advocates who want to work for you for years to come, you must understand their motivations and create a work environment that offers more than your competitors do.
Increasingly, businesses offer a wide range of employee perks, ranging from extra paid leave to free breakfasts at work. The best employee perks don't just benefit staff but also provide a sound return on investment for employers, in the form of improved staff retention and engagement and more effective recruitment.
Employee perks are associated with Silicon Valley and trendy startups where money is no object. Today, perks in those companies go far beyond that standard startup pool table; often extending to benefits as lavish as company gyms and on-site hairdressers.
In fact, office perks and facilities are so comprehensive at companies such as Google that some of their employees spend months living in their vehicles in the company car park, taking advantage of company showers, meals and laundry facilities.
Of course, we can't all afford to offer staff so many perks that they live 'on campus' - but that doesn't mean we should dismiss perks as gimmicks that only work for tech giants and generously funded startups.
The right perks are those which offer significant benefits at a relatively low cost; no company would implement employee perks if they didn't expect a return on their investment. However, given that many of the benefits of perks are indirect and almost impossible to measure, it can be difficult to justify the spend.
If you want to offer staff additional perks but are on a limited budget, there are plenty of options for you to choose from.
Take your pick from our list of the best employee perks for every budget:
£ - No direct cost, limited indirect cost
This tier of perks should cost you next to nothing to implement, but may take some time to organise and administer. If cash flow is a significant problem at your business, these perks are still available to you.
- Flexible working hours. Flexible working often tops lists of the most wanted employee benefits. Employees would love to be trusted to move their working hours around in a way that suits their lifestyles and approach to work. Offering flexible working arrangements costs most businesses very little and can bring huge benefits.
- Work from home days. Most office workers can complete all of their day-to-day duties from their own homes. Allowing staff to work from home when they're waiting for the plumber or a parcel doesn't cost you a penny, and may even reduce your office energy costs. Of course, you need to check that staff are just as productive when working from home as they are in the office.
- Employee events. Not all staff events have to paid for by the business. Talk to staff about their interests and create semi-official company events and outings based around these interests. These could include board game evenings in the office after work, fortnightly trips to the local pub, or weekly lunch picnics in the park during the summer.
- Bring your dog to work days. If you have plenty of dog owners on your payroll, consider making this a monthly event. Non-dog owners may not appreciate the extra disruption, however, and you should double-check employee allergies before giving this event the go ahead.
- Lunch lectures. Every week or fortnight, host talks by guest speakers (or senior members of staff) during the lunch hour. These talks should be relaxed, yet informative. Maybe an executive could explain the biggest mistakes they've made during the career, and what they learnt from them. Invite guest speakers in to talk, too - many will be happy for the networking opportunity and won't charge fees.
- Casual dress code. If the majority of your staff don't carry out client-facing work, is there any need for them to suit up? The office wardrobe is becoming increasingly relaxed, with 'Casual Fridays' seeming old-school. Consider relaxing your dress code on every working day.
££ - Small direct cost
If your business is willing and able to absorb additional costs, but doesn't want to commit to expensive perks, this selection of employee benefits may work for your business.
- Free fruit, tea and coffee. Caffeine is good for productivity - and sometimes essential! Most companies already offer free refreshments, so you'll seem stingy if you don't offer this benefit. Throw free fruit into the mix to encourage your staff to choose healthy snacks. Many companies deliver fruit boxes to offices, so search online for providers near you.
- Extra birthday leave (or cake!). Giving staff an extra day of paid leave on their birthday is a popular perk. If you're looking for a lower cost way of celebrating staff birthdays, buy cake for everyone if they come into the office.
- Paid volunteering leave. In the UK, the government are considering making three days of paid volunteering leave compulsory for larger companies - but companies of all sizes should consider offering this perk. This will encourage staff to take productive time off, gaining new skills and allowing them to pursue their charitable interests.
- Paid conference attendance days. Giving staff the chance to attend conferences using company money isn't just useful for networking, it also gives staff the chance to travel.
- Free lunch Fridays. Every week, fortnight or month, treat staff to lunch. Order in lunch from a catering company, go out to the local restaurant, or order pizza for everyone. This can also help with team-building and could be combined with a presentation, meeting or lecture.
- Unpaid leave. Add a section to your contract giving employees the chance to take unpaid leave after a specified period of service, provided they've requested leave in plenty of time. This perk is effective at keeping travel-hungry employees at your business. Your main cost will be finding staff to cover leave periods.
- Staff discounts. Again, this perk is almost standard in many sectors. Offer discounts of your own products (if applicable), and arrange discounts with local companies.
- Employee referral incentives. Offer bonuses to employees who make successful referrals. These referrals significantly cut hiring costs, so incentivizing them makes good business sense.
- Free company branded goods. Branded clothing, stationery and other items make great gifts for employees as they reach certain milestones at your business. These items build an employee's attachment to the brand and help them feel like part of the team. If they use or wear these items out and about, you receive free exposure, too.
£££ - Moderate cost
These perks cost significant cash, usually on a per employee basis rather than as fixed costs. Implementing these perks should be a big decision that's only made after carefully calculating the costs and benefits. However, these perks are generous and will catch the interest of potential job seekers.
- Free gym membership. Healthy employees are happier, more productive, and take less time off sick.
- Regular teambuilding activities, outings and retreats. If you plan these activities properly, staff should actually look forward to them! Opt for unusual and varied corporate events instead of your standard 'trust building' affairs.
- Free broadband. In the tech sector, some companies offer staff free, high speed broadband at home - this is particularly useful if you expect staff to work remotely occasionally.
- Free eye tests, private medical insurance, dental care etc. Thanks to the NHS, healthcare perks aren't particularly common in the UK - but we still have to pay for dental treatment and trips to the opticians, so these perks will be welcomed.
- Regular free art/exercise classes. Hiring an instructor isn't cheap, but offering staff the chance to keep fit and learn new skills on their lunch hour or after work, all for free, is a great selling point for your business.
- Games rooms and libraries. A pool table is just the starting point. Some companies now have designated games rooms filled with arcade games, consoles and a selection of board games. Additionally, a 'library' packed with textbooks and resources relevant to your company's work will be appreciated by staff who want to learn new skills.
- Company bikes. Cycling to work has many benefits for employees, but some staff won't want to buy their own bike just for that purpose. Lending bikes to staff is an effective way of encouraging staff to bike to work. You should also join a cycle to work scheme.
- Staff canteen (and free or subsidised food). A staff canteen doesn't come cheap, but it can pay dividends. Offering free meals to staff is a highly generous perk, and one that'll certainly make you popular with staff.
- Paid sabbaticals. Reward your longest-serving staff with the opportunity to take a paid sabbatical. Allowing staff several months to pursue personal interests will reinvigorate them - providing a change that they might otherwise only find from switching jobs.
- Four day working week. This is a step beyond compressed hours - instead, staff work their normal daily hours, but only for four days each week. This perk is costly if not accompanied by significantly lower salaries, but highly effective at increasing productivity and improving retention.
££££ - High cost
The top tier perks are rarely seen in businesses outside Silicon Valley and comparable areas elsewhere in the world. To those of us outside the bubble, they seem lavish and ridiculous - or a distant dream!
- On-site daycare/nursery/crèche. On-site childcare will encourage employees on parental leave to return to work sooner, and help employees with childcare costs. However, running an on-site crèche can be an administrative nightmare and certainly isn't cheap.
- On-site concierge. On-site concierge teams are employed by the likes of Google to meet their employees' every needs, helping them with errands that employees might otherwise need to do after work or at the weekend.
- On-site barbers, gyms, hairdressers, doctors, mechanics, laundry facilities... the list goes on. These services all help employees with tasks that usually take up their spare time or require them to book days off work.
- Free shuttle buses to work. The Silicon Valley giants run dedicated employee shuttle buses through the San Francisco area to their respective campuses.
Which perks are right for your business?
With so many potential perks to add to your company website and job adverts, choosing which to implement isn't an easy task. Factors to consider include:
- Current employee needs and preferences
- The type(s) of employee you hope to attract in future recruitment rounds
- Local transport links and shops
- Cash flow and budget
- How to measure the benefits and effectiveness of each perk
- Available office space
- Your brand values
- Company culture
- Administrative issues
The perks we've mentioned in this article certainly aren't all the employee benefits we've uncovered during our research - but we've highlighted the most common, and the most effective.
No business would implement employee perks if they didn't make a return on investment in the long run. The benefits of the right employee benefits package can be vast - and the cost of failing to offer the most basic perks isn't insignificant either.
Employee perks can form an integral part of your company's HR strategy. Perks make recruitment easier and cheaper, increase staff retention rates and improve employee productivity.
However, perks can only do so much. If your company has deep-seated problems, offers extremely low wages or has a toxic working environment, free fruit and pool tables won't make much of a difference.