If you heard of some of the perks on offer in the business world today—particularly in Startupville—you’d think workers were living in a parody of the 1999 comedy Office Space. Valet parking! On-site haircuts! Macaroon-baking classes! It’s a veritable cornucopia out there. The same goes for this year’s crop of Growth 500 companies—which, clearly committed to employee retention, offer employees deal-sweeteners that run the gamut from foundational to just plain fun (see above).
According to Martin Halek, director of MBA programs at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, the realm of work perks is still an “evolving universe” and more prone to creative flourishes than ever before.
“It used to be creative to have a room in your building for a gym. Now it’s like, ‘Isn’t that a standard benefit?’ Are casual Fridays still a perk? So much is left to interpretation,” he says.
When so many employers are doing so much where perks are concerned, is there a risk of the employee collective taking bagel Fridays and staff retreats for granted? Will the concept of perks be rendered altogether obsolete? Potentially, says Halek, who reminds employers preoccupied with keeping up with the Joneses that they “have considerable control over dictating that mindset.”
“Remember that a perk is beyond the realm of benefits that are compulsory,” he notes. To avoid getting lost in the rat race, heed Halek’s sage wisdom: before introducing a perk, do your due diligence. Research benefits through brokers or consulting firms that specialize in employee incentives. “There is an incredible amount of data on which perks are effective, despite a lot of the decisions to implement them being made without much forethought,” Halek says. The desirability of a perk will, of course, depend on the demographics of your workforce, and Halek notes that there’s nothing wrong with test-driving incentives to clock how they fare with employees. You can also go the tried-and-true democratic route. “Surveying your workers might be a good place to start,” says Halek. “Ask employees, ‘Given how each perk will affect your wages, which one would you rather have?’ Obviously, everything comes with a cost.”
Even as the working world’s overflowing buffet of perks seems ever more extravagant, Halek cautions employers that the most enticing benefits are still the most fundamental. “A healthy employee is a positive and productive individual, so anything in the wellness sphere still tends to have the most momentum,” he says, flicking at the evergreen appeal of things such as employee-assistance plans. “Ping-Pong tables in the lobbies might bring smiles to people’s faces; investing in mental health, say, is way more sustainable. Let’s focus there.”