The Best Employee Benefits and Perks [HR Experts Weigh In]
At BambooHR, we believe in people.
We believe that the most valuable resources an organization has are its human resources. And we believe in showing employees how valuable they are to the organization. That’s why we encourage offering the best employee benefits and perks and why we have created a culture of appreciation within our own company.
It’s a philosophy that’s not necessarily new—the idea that employees who are treated better perform better—but it’s starting to gain momentum in the professional world. Around the world, companies are beginning to realize that offering major benefits like flexible work schedules, unlimited PTO, and unique perks like a vacation reimbursement program (or a tuition reimbursement program) can do wonders for morale and productivity.
Despite the growing body of evidence in favor of this philosophy, many employers are still skeptical and reluctant to offer much beyond a steady paycheck. To help convince naysayers that pampering employees promotes productivity, we asked industry professionals about their experiences with offering benefits and perks. The response was overwhelming, and each CEO, COO, and HR professional that responded was in favor of them.
Here, we share with you their insights, experiences, and advice.
We hope it will inspire you to go and do likewise. It’s our firm belief that as you use benefits and perks to show your workforce that their contributions are appreciated and that they are valued as individuals, you will see engagement levels increase, retention rates improve, and your organization will become more attractive to prospective employees.
The Best Employee Benefits & Perks
So what benefits and perks you should be offering? Which ones give you the highest return on investment? We think Patrick Colvin’s take sums it up best:
The fact of the matter is, after health insurance, the most desirable perks and benefits are those that offer flexibility while improving work-life balance.
Flexible Work Schedule/Telecommuting
By far the most ubiquitous, popular, and highly recommended benefit among business owners and management teams was a flexible work schedule (usually including telecommuting & work-from-home options). This is largely due to the much-discussed “work-life balance.” Michelle Hayward, CEO, and Founder of Bluedog Design thinks that flexible work schedules should see even more use:
“The most under-appreciated and under-utilized perk in a modern workplace is flexibility. With accountability to the team in mind, employees are empowered to make decisions to attend a child’s school performance or to work from home when life happens or plan flex hours to make a commute less stressful.”
Robin Schwartz agrees:
“Flexible work schedules! Being able to occasionally work remotely as well as being able to shift hours that best fit an employee’s life and job goes a really long way in keeping employees happy and [maintaining] engagement. Knowing they are encouraged to balance their work and life is a great perk.”
Matt Bentley firmly believes in the value of “no office and no fixed schedule. If people want to go snowboarding on a Monday morning, they can. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance is still the most appreciated perk.” So does Amanda J. Ponzar, Chief Marketing Officer at Community Health Charities: “For employees to bring their best selves to work and perform, they need flexibility to enjoy outside interests and family, truly integrating work and life.” Dana Case, Director of Operations at MyCorporation.com does as well:
“I find that one of the most desirable employee perks is being able to provide flexible scheduling options to all of your team members…By accommodating the scheduling needs of your team members and their personal lives, you’ll see how much they feel appreciated and are motivated to work hard for the business.”
Mary Pharris sees it as a must for working women, one with fewer and fewer excuses not to implement:
“From our research, we know that women’s job satisfaction is directly related to job flexibility. More and more employees are wanting flexible work environments. In large part, I think this is because life isn’t confined to the hours before or after work. Employees want the option to take care both of personal and professional responsibilities on their own terms, and with so much technology to make working remotely easy, it’s increasingly easier for employees to satisfy this.”
Far from stifling or inhibiting productivity, this benefit seems to enhance it, according to our responders. Lee Fisher puts it this way:
“We’ve come to realize that flexible-working is one of the biggest benefits for our staff. When we give our team the option to adapt their hours and work locations, they appreciate our flexibility and in turn produce even better results. It’s a simple perk, but a seriously important one.”
It also enables your team to be productive no matter where they are in the world, and no matter how scattered each member may be. Michael Hollauf, CEO and Co-Founder of Meister Task is a staunch proponent of digital collaboration, stating:
“We’ve also enabled flexible working, encouraging employees to work from wherever they work best. To allow this, we encourage all team members to be available on Slack during working hours and track their tasks in our task management tool, so that all team members can stay in the loop with project progress, even when working across different locations.”
So if your work doesn’t physically require the team’s presence in order to be completed, strongly consider offering them the flexibility to do the work on their own terms.
A close second to flexible work schedules is loosening the reins on PTO. Many employers keep a tight grip on both vacation days and personal leave (in some cases verbally or culturally discouraging the use of even those days that are permissible by company policy). According to the experts who responded, this is a serious mistake. Not only does this create a serious liability in the form of unused PTO, it tends to result in team members experiencing burnout and, frequently, leaving the company for more favorable employment.
When asked what one benefit he would most recommend, Steve Pritchard answered:
“A generous amount of time off. Giving employees plenty of opportunities to pursue their personal passions and unwind from work can go a long way towards improving their performance when they are at work. This ensures they don’t become frustrated with the lack of ability to take more than one vacation a year or take a few long weekends.”
He wasn’t the only one. Mollie Delp concurred, saying:
“Unlimited Vacation – to give the team the flexibility and reassurance that they can feel comfortable taking time off without penalty goes a long way. They don’t have to stress over a random Friday or afternoon where they need to be somewhere else (for themselves or family) and how it will overall effect their time off at the end of the year. One of our core values is to be empowered to be awesome in work and life, and we want to be sure our team knows we stand behind this, and that they have the flexibility to take care of their life and those around them when needed.”
So did Patrick Colvin:
If I could recommend a single perk for employees, it would be flexible or unlimited vacation time. This perk shifts the focus from employees just putting in hours to placing an emphasis on production and great results. It allows employees to take ownership causing them to consider what’s best for both themselves as well as the organization. Most importantly it sends an important message to employees and prospective employees about the company culture and values.
The key, however, seems to be making sure your team knows that when you say “take some time for yourself,” that you really mean it. Lisa Oyler put it this way:
“Give employees plenty of time off to reboot and spend quality time with their families – but also set clear expectations that [they] don’t need to have their phones out or be ready to take a work call. Let them unplug!”
Another great way to increase engagement is through prizes, bonuses, awards, and other incentives. Turning work into a competition or game can motivate your team to do their best. It even works internationally, according to Christian Rennella, VP of HR & CoFounder of elMejorTrato.com:
“After 9 years of hard work and having gone from 0 to 134 employees, I can assure you that the best strategy is ‘gamification’…Thanks to this gamification we were able to improve our retention by 31.1%.”
“Business managers who utilize incentives will often see that extra push once there are valuable items and experiences on the line. For instance, some companies offer a round of golf, 5-star brunch, or extended weekends if certain projects are completed ahead of schedule. This simple gesture is often enough encouragement for workers to get their act together and step up their game.”
Health insurance is usually the most expensive benefit (by a wide margin), but it’s also the most sought after. Paying for insurance out of pocket is expensive, and paying doctors’ bills without insurance is even worse, so it makes sense why applicants make career decisions based largely on insurance benefits.
This is most apparent amongst millennials, who frequently value insurance above all other benefits, according to Jody Ordioni:
“Studies show that health is the most important benefit to millennials, and therefore, offering a suite of benefits that relate to health (on-site health clinic, 100-percent paid health/dental/vision benefits) would be my top recommendations.”
The Impact of Benefits and Perks on Employee Engagement and Retention
It’s been a decade since the 2008 economic recession, and as the economy continues to recover, it’s increasingly an employee’s market. This is a fact that’s not lost on those in charge of hiring and retaining employees. Patrick Colvin, Strategic HR Business Partner at the USA Today Network, put it this way:
“Due to the improved economic and job market conditions, the advantage has shifted from the employer to the job seeker, and organizations need to recognize the correlation between benefits and employee retention. In today’s hiring market, a generous benefits package is essential for engaging and retaining your talent.”
It’s becoming harder and harder for employers to ignore: the healthier the job market, the easier it is for employees to jump ship when they find something better. Attracting and keeping employees takes offering them a position at a company where their work is seen as a valuable contribution.
“Benefits and perks are a huge part of employee engagement and retention,” says Mary Pharris of Fairygodboss. “For companies to attract top talent and retain them, competitive benefit packages are essential. Employees rely on a variety of benefits from employers, so making sure you’re offering competitive and desired benefits will help you in attracting talent.”
While not everyone agrees that attracting talent is the goal of perks and benefits, the belief in its power to boost engagement and retention is both ubiquitous and unanimous. “While benefits are not a large driver of talent acquisition,” says Jody Ordioni, Founder of Brandemix, “they have a tremendous positive impact on engagement and retention, especially now that millennials represent 30+ percent of today’s workforce.”
Most importantly, offering a generous benefits package has a non-trivial impact, observable by many businesses. According to Lee Fisher, HR manager at Blinds Direct, “For us, these perks are tremendously important, from the moment an applicant sees a job ad and applies for a job here. Five or six years down the line, employee benefits continue to play a major role in keeping our valuable team members happy.”
It seems every company that’s putting this philosophy into practice is noticing a difference. “Company benefits play a huge role in employee retention,” says Steve Pritchard, founder of Cuuver. “It’s a two-way street; if an employer is flexible and offers great benefits, staff are generally more likely to want to stay working for them and appreciate the perks they are being offered that they may not get at another company.”
Is There a Downside to Benefits and Perks?
Despite the growing evidence, some businesses are still skeptical. The high price of some benefits may intimidate a cost-conscious professional. Some even believe their workforce can’t be trusted with the freedom and responsibility of benefits like flexible work schedules. Some don’t think they need or deserve such luxuries.
It may even be a simple lack of thinking outside the box on the part of the employer. Whatever the reason, each employer may be overlooking an important fact—that without their team, they don’t have a business. Benefits and perks are investments in your workforce, and they pay dividends in the form of loyalty and dedication to the company. Lisa Oyler, HR director at Access Perks, agrees:
We always say that no company has ever suffered from trying to be more empathetic to their customers and employees. The cost and effort are worth it when you consider the huge advantages of employee engagement and retention and the costs of turnover and disengagement.
Steve Pritchard of Cuuver put it this way:
In my experience, employees are very appreciative of the perks they are given and do not abuse them. I can’t say this will be the same in every business, but because these benefits are there to make them happier, employees generally make the most of them and perform better. Some companies believe that having strict rules and no extra benefits is the way to go – which is why they don’t hold on to their best staff members for very long.
There are several strategies—which can be implemented simultaneously—for achieving a balance between keeping costs in check and offering a generous benefits package.
Mollie Delp, HR specialist at Workshop Digital proposes one way: “Everyone has to be mindful that you still have to get your work done and that client needs will always come first.”
Wayne Sleight, COO of 97th Floor proposes another strategy: “Giving people more stuff won’t make them happier, but perks that support the company’s values, mission, and purpose will.”
Lisa Oyler offers us a third reason: “And as long as managers are setting clear expectations for employees, there shouldn’t be many issues with over-abuse of benefits. After all, benefits are only going to pay off for the company when employees use them.”
Obstacles on the Path
Even if you decide that your employees are worth the investment, there are hurdles to clear on the road to successfully implementing your benefits and perks. The biggest is friction between the previous company culture and the new policies, as pointed out by Jody Ordioni, founder of Brandemix:
The one negative I’ve become aware of is when managers aren’t on board with the benefits culture; i.e. if an organization encourages remote work but one’s manager requires all employees to be on-site, it creates a culture of resentment which could have an opposite effect from the desired results.
Matt Bentley, Founder of CanIRank echoes the sentiment: “If you are the type of Manager that…[is] more suited to micromanaging, then a flexible work environment may not be suited to you as you will naturally feel you need to double check what all of your staff are doing day-to-day.”
That’s not the only way managers and directors can undermine the positive aspects of employee benefits. Half-hearted commitment can be just as detrimental as outright opposition. In the words of Robin Schwartz, managing partner of MFG Jobs: “Before offering a new benefit or perk, it’s important to ensure that your organization has the means to make it permanent. The downside of introducing new perks is seeing them be taken away because they cost more than expected or just weren’t sustainable.”
In the end, if the benefits and perks are carefully planned and strategically implemented, the rewards will outweigh the costs.
How to Decide What Employee Benefits and Perks to Offer
Hopefully, in addition to providing a compelling argument, we’ve sparked some new ideas on where to begin with offering benefits and perks to your team. As for deciding exactly what to implement, that may be a little harder. Just remember, it all depends on what kind of talent you’re trying to attract. As Jody Ordioni puts it: “When considering which benefits to offer, companies need to consider their talent needs and tailor benefits to the wants and needs of the people they need most.”
But, you may be thinking, doesn’t everyone like more time off? Remember that, as Amanda J. Ponzar put it, “Different generations are looking for different things in the workplace. I love to focus and get work done, but one of my Millennial colleagues thought the [peace and] quiet was more ‘like a graveyard’ and wanted to be more social and engage with his colleagues to get energized about his work. We have employees from early 20s to mid-60s and not everyone wants the same perk so it’s important to ask employees.”
Michelle Hayward agrees: “The reality is that not all perks are created equal in the eyes of all employees. A certain subset of the employee population values high-quality health coverage. What motivates others can be money, time or notes of appreciation. As a leader, the challenge is navigating how dynamic the shifting sands can be.”
Remember what’s most important: making your employees feel like they are irreplaceable and not interchangeable. As Nate Masterson puts it: “No matter what you choose, it’s important to make employees feel like people that have something to offer, not just numbers or placeholders.”
Additional Ideas for Engaging and Retaining Your Team
We received a great deal of feedback in our survey regarding creative and innovative ideas that help sweeten the deal for prospective and current employees. Here are some of the ones we liked the best.
“We hold ‘Pizza and Presentations’ twice a month, where we treat our employees to a catered lunch in one of our conference rooms. Not only does this allow our team to enjoy time together and receive updates about each department’s projects, it provides everyone a chance to celebrate milestones in the company. This is a great way to say thank you to your employees for their hard work.” — Emily Burton of Fueled
“We find that often it’s small things that matter. Like setting out bowls of healthy snacks throughout the office a couple days each week. It’s nice for the employees, good for health, but it also brings groups to the break rooms, where they can mingle and get to know people outside their own departments. The same concept applies to volunteer opportunities, and our highly competitive (yet still fun) 5k.” — Lisa Oyler
“The one we love the most is our ‘Monday Breakfast.’…we do it every 2 weeks and we order food from a local restaurant. It’s a great start of the week, we come to work and chat about how the weekend went, and start the day and week on a positive note.” — Tatiana of Enhancv
“Because people loved being recognized and people love food, ordering catered lunches can be a great way to bring employees together at the office. This will not only help establish a more sociable and welcoming environment, it also provides a much-needed midday break.” — Nate Masterson
Unique Time Off
“I like summer Fridays, which we do a version of at Community Health Charities (and other employers have offered this). Some employers have you work longer hours during the week and get every other Friday off, or for us, we close early every Friday afternoon for employees to get a jump on the weekend during the summer. This is very popular!” — Amanda J. Ponzar
“Snow days! When winter weather causes hazardous travel conditions, we encourage employees to stay home and take a ‘snow day’. Essentially, they are not charged against their leave for opting to stay out of the office. Many workers have children who may also have a canceled school day when bad weather hits. Encouraging employees to stay home, if possible, not only reduces the stress of their day but shows them that we value their safety. In return, we often see the employees ‘online’ or still producing work remotely.” — Robin Schwartz
The Motley Crew
“Here is what have developed: Allotment of volunteer hours per employee to use each month to give back to the local community; Unlimited Vacation; Team Building Budgets (or “Fun Budgets”); Opportunity to attend a conference or organization that can further develop your skills.” — Mollie Delp
“One of the most creative employee perks we’ve provided is organizing weekly company-funded yoga lessons within our offices…[we’ve also] taken a number of steps to provide employees with both in-house training and external professional development events, such as sponsored conferences.” — Michael Hollauf
“We found that [student loan assistance] reduced the financial stress student loan debt carries for our employees and had a direct result on our retention.” — Patrick Colvin
“We look for those things that require engagement. Like a stocked library and monthly book club, where 97th Floor purchases the books for participants. It’s provided the most value in terms of keeping engaged people further engaged and generating new ideas and insights that directly impact our culture, our work, the way in which we work and the lens through which we measure our successes, and failures.” — Wayne Sleight
“Typical benefits we offer include a great holiday package, regular bonuses, and dress-down Fridays. The more unusual perks are surprise retail vouchers after a great performance, and activity days like waterspouts, go-karting and treetop obstacle courses. We also host regular fuddles, where we extend lunch hours so our team can enjoy lots of food and socializing.” — Lee Fisher
“Two of the most creative I’ve heard about are maternity concierge service where this particular company helped with pre- and post-birth with everything from helping you choose the right car seat to facilitating meals. And the other, one company offers shipping costs of breast milk for moms, and more companies are incorporating this benefit for new moms who have to travel.” — Mary Pharris
“Today, even companies with conservative workplace cultures are trying to reduce the stress of ‘real-life’ by offering valet car parking, dry-cleaning, and in-house massages…Other benefit trends include student-debt repayment, benefits for significant others and even wedding expense reimbursement for couples.” — Jody Ordioni
“[Enhancv Talks are events] we organize internally. We have a Facebook group where we vote on topics and the people who can talk about that topic so that everyone can learn about it. [The talks allow] employees to learn and teach each other about topics they’re excited about. It helps improve relationships, public speaking skills [for] the ones that present, and it shows support for co-workers, promotes learning and encourages everyone to become better generally. Also, it doesn’t cost anything.” — Tatiana of Enhancv