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What Perks Should Companies Give Employees?

Perks are a way of showing employee appreciation. They are corporate offerings that are neither salaries nor benefits such as health insurance and retirement accounts but can make a difference in the life of employees.

Perks range broadly, from free food and snacks to the ping pong tables and other games that some Silicon Valley firms made famous in technology news as huge and relatively unusual add-ons. Some tech firms offer a wide range of speakers that come to the corporate offices, free haircuts on-site, discounts on public transportation, and so on.

Some perks are in a category by themselves, uniquely recognizable as benefits just for working at a corporation. Others, though, are very directly adjacent to traditional benefits, but go a step further. Examples include offerings such as unlimited vacation time and Netflix’s one year leave for new parents. While vacations and maternity leave might be standard benefits, they are usually not nearly as generous as these examples.

The Example of Unlimited Vacation

A recent survey of perks by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is a bit ambiguous about what perks employees should be given. Why? Because at least some of the perks that employees indicate they want may be difficult to enact in real life.

Unlimited paid time off, for instance, was the hands-down winner in one survey cited by insurance company MetLife. Seventy-two percent of the 2,500 people surveyed wanted this, while 61% wanted more standard perks such as an onsite gym and dry cleaning services.

Many employees cite unlimited time off as a perk they’d like.

There are firms that offer unlimited vacation time, many of them in Silicon Valley. Yet there are conflicting opinions on whether this truly works. A Wharton business professor said that in practice, actually taking unlimited vacation time may be unworkable, as there may be heavy cultural pressure not to use the perk. Currently, about half of employees with regular vacation schedules don’t take them, and cultural influence plays a role.

Employees may receive signals that their workload or expectations of deliverables won’t change much if they do take time off. In other cases, they may risk facing considerable resentment from coworkers if they do take off, because those coworkers may be facing a heavier workload thanks to their vacationing colleagues.

Yet a University of Pennsylvania doctoral researcher indicates that employees at firms where unlimited vacation is a perk do feel that they get more time off – but only if they are in strong and close teams. If they aren’t, the impact of the perk is not a positive one.

Companies considering enacting this perk – clearly one of the ones employees want the most – need to consider whether their business leadership and corporate culture could support it.

Perks Should Underscore Culture

This leads us to a critical point about how organizations choose perks: they need to be integrated with a company’s culture as well as employee preferences. Giving employees unlimited paid time off will only work if you have a highly motivated workforce and strong, cohesive teams.

Other perks, such as ping-pong tables, should also reinforce a part of the company’s culture. If the point of ping-pong tables is to reinforce teamwork – and that teamwork should be fun – it’s a well-chosen perk. If your company’s values actually aren’t that, then the ping-pong table can be seen as ultimately meaningless or even destructive.