Listen to this article
Unlimited holiday allowance; no set work hours; on-site massage and yoga; paid sabbaticals. Such perks were novelties two decades ago and largely confined to start-ups, but now they are increasingly mainstream.
At Dropbox, the US-based file sharing company, some staff enjoy unlimited vacation, which they can take as they like so long as their work gets done. Many of its sites have gyms, game rooms, free snacks and sometimes professional chefs and on-site restaurants. Other benefits include counselling.
There is also a monthly wellness benefit, says Adrienne Gormley, head of customer experience at Dropbox, “a sum that every employee can claim for physical activities once a month”. They can spend it on anything from running shoes to a massage.
Dropbox is indicative of how perks have changed. Where once companies offered benefits (pensions and cars), which were valuable, and perks (free cake), which were fun, the two now form a spectrum — and the value of some apparently frivolous perks is surprisingly high.
John Lamphiere, managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Glassdoor, the job site and company rating company, says lavish perks are common in sectors such as technology. They can include allowances for “wellness, starting a family and building your own home office space”.
However, Mr Lamphiere adds, Glassdoor research suggests that traditional “core” benefits such as pensions, health insurance and time off are still the ones that matter most to staff. Those for certain groups — such as parental leave— have less of an impact. “Niche benefits only apply to a fraction of your staff at any one time,” he says.
The value of individual items can be high. In the UK, for instance, the monetary value of a free healthy lunch might match that of private healthcare contributions.
Some perks are more about quality of life. Ikea gives all staff their children’s first day at school off. It was one of the first retailers in the UK to guarantee staff at least one weekend off in four.
At Patagonia, the outdoor clothing manufacturer, perks include the chance to go surfing at lunchtime but also support for employees’ social activism. It has pledged to pay bail for employees if they are arrested during a peaceful protest, so long as they have undergone its training for protesting safely.
Ultimately, Glassdoor has found that fun perks are some way down the list of reasons that people join companies. They rarely cost much, however, and they also have publicity value.
If you provide quirky perks, from “new-puppy” leave (offered by BrewDog) to days off to protest, people will discuss it on social media. They might join your organisation for the pension and the healthcare, but it may be the on-site sauna (TransferWise) that first brings you to their attention.
Get alerts on Corporate culture when a new story is published