Perks that modern-day companies offer that aren’t real perks

The War for Talent is fierce, and there seem to be no signs of an armistice anytime soon.

And for a good reason: the young and the tech-focused no longer expect to remain devoted to just one company for their entire career – and nor do they want to be. 

So to attract and retain new, in-demand employees, companies are now thinking outside of the box to arm themselves with a host of unconventional perks – many of which are modeled after the workspace concepts of Silicon Valley. But imitation is not always flattering. 

In fact, it’s much like asking a beer-bellied, middle-aged man to squeeze himself into a pair of skinny jeans from his high school years. The chances of success are the only thing ‘slim’ about it. 

Perks are benefits, but not all benefits are perks

These days, you’ll probably hear more about the perks in an office than the benefits. It’s not our gig to throw our weight behind this. Our company values its employees by giving real, meaningful benefits. Or to paraphrase: Content Insights gives its employees benefits, not perks. There’s an important difference.

Benefits are things like paid sick leave, paternity/maternity leave, and unlimited vacation days. Perks, on the other hand, are things like ping-pong tables, fridges stacked full of energy drinks, video games, and business marathon runs (well, that last one depends on who you ask).

Although such amenities are an attractive signal (we have a fair share of perks to offer), they are also a siren’s song. What do they mean when the novelty has worn off? The experience of playing foosball for the 100th time isn’t the same as when you played it for the first time: people eventually come to the realization that most of the perks that attract employees are superficial. A healthy distraction, maybe, but not enough to mask the lack of decent benefits. 

There are other things that matter more. That’s why we believe that the idea of paternity leave shouldn’t be an ideal – it’s essential for new fathers. New moms shouldn’t have to worry about job security while they’re taking time out to raise children. Having kids, getting sick, needing time to mentally recover after a bereavement or trauma are all things that should not kill your career. After all, being able to nurture and sustain a healthy private life reflects remarkably on the performance at work. 

Yarr, beware of the perk curse! 

If your employer offers a gym, free dry cleaning or – horror of horrors – a nap pod, take pause: are these things just cool, or is there a not-so-subtle subtext? As former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff observed, there are examples when perks of this sort imply “that employees are expected to work very long hours and not leave the office too often.” Although this is not always the case, a healthy dose of caution towards the corporate flytrap is probably for the best. 

Just as Henry Ford sought to transform his autoworkers through the invasive profit-sharing program, today’s employers also use perks to influence employee behavior in a subtle and, in some cases, not-so-subtle fashion. 

For instance, stock options in the US are typically earned slowly over the course of four years, which are a particularly valuable retention tool in Silicon Valley where employees are prone to jumping ship. Or signing bonuses – which are presented under the guise of a reward for starting a job – are sometimes structured in a way so that you are obliged to pay it back should you ever decide to leave the company within the first year or two. 

Point being: be careful on which ship you choose to hoist the colors because some are designed to keep you on board, like that of the Flying Dutchman. 

Snacks! Snacks all around!

Yes, we love to indulge in our free snack perks as much as any other company. People from our country love to eat in general. More than half of us can’t even function without a decent cup of Joe in the morning. But even something as pedestrian as food comes with its own caveats.

Namely, having a company that boasts dozens of employees makes it somewhat easier to navigate through their tastes and preferences – but increase the headcount into the hundreds, and it gets increasingly harder to cope.

Spending a fortune on free foodstuffs is a problem in its own right. But the crux of the issue is twofold: one concerns health, while the other concerns staffers when they begin expecting specific foods (so much that they become disgruntled if their requests aren’t fulfilled). 

Indeed, this should serve as a red flag for the management team. Changing tactics or axing the snack program altogether will probably do more good in these situations. 

Luckily, we at Content Insights count 30 souls, so it is easy for us to come to an agreement as to which meals, snacks, and sweets are to be served next. But should that number rise, modifying or ditching the program in favor of a more harmonious office environment would be a sensible thing to do. Not to worry, though, if that ever happens, celebratory meals – as well as birthday cakes – will still remain mandatory.

And speaking of mandatory…

Mandatory participation often equates to forced fun

Standing at the top of a hill during a team-building trip and taking turns screaming things like ‘I love my life’ or ‘I love my job’ at the top of one’s lungs is not everyone’s idea of fun. Certainly, it does very little to promote a sense of belonging or camaraderie

And if you find this particular example to be weird (it’s just one of many awkward team-building experiences my spouse has had to endure), this is just one of a whole slew of group events and gatherings that workers don’t necessarily feel comfortable participating in. From slam books for grownups and horse-whispering to pizza meetings and bathing with your managers, the list of team activities grows longer and more unconventional by the day.

But at its core, chances are the ‘fun’ everyone seems to be having is fake, especially when it requires them to step away from an urgent deadline or ongoing work project. Others won’t be thrilled that things they don’t want to do are eating into their personal time. And no matter how many company questionnaires you send out, finding a single activity that everyone will love is like finding a needle in a haystack.

The bottom line is: getting together during team-building activities doesn’t necessarily solve the culture issues a company might face. In fact, feats like that are also quite able to accomplish the exact opposite of the desired effect. That’s why, for starters, we recommend making such events non-mandatory. 

For instance, this year, we fielded a surprising number of entrants into the local Business Run. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the entire crew – and nor should it be. We let people participate of their own accord. Even if people don’t show, try to learn from their non-participation or absence altogether. Maybe their response to the activity can tell you something that’s of greater value than the participation itself.

Perk up, but do it responsibly!

If you ever find yourself in a company that offers a whole bunch of fancy perks, ask yourself this simple question:

Are those game rooms, free snacks, and other extra special features really benefiting you – or are they making it so you’ll barely consider leaving the office?

Don’t get us wrong: we think perks play a vital role in creating an environment that lessens the burdens of work. However, no company should rely solely on them in order to lure new employees and retain old ones. Like many things, what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to reality.

For instance, performance bonuses and equity options offer far more potential upside while fixed salary and benefits offer security. It’s essential for all companies to strike a balance that employees feel comfortable with.

Similarly, we believe transparency is vital. Although it is not always possible to guarantee employees a defined progression of titles or pay, employees still need to believe that they can grow within an organization. Ensuring that employees understand their worth and value can be done in a multitude of ways, such as performance reviews, mentoring opportunities, tuition support and additional training, to name a few. Salary simply doesn’t cut it anymore – or at least not as much as it used to.

So remember, meaningful benefits and a well-defined culture are fundamental for attracting and retaining the best in the business.

Perks are just a bonus, not a fulcrum upon which company balance turns.

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