Alongside buzzwords like ‘culture’ and ’employee engagement’, perks have become ‘the’ thing in business. In the constant battle to attract and retain talent, companies have bought into perks as a way to attract and secure the best people. The only problem is that perks, when offered for the wrong reasons or when they have no meaning within a context, are nothing more than lipstick on a pig. In fact, perks have become such a thing that Fortune.com listed the top 10 Perks from Best Companies 2014:

  1. Bingham McCutchen: 2 box seats at Red-Sox games annually
  2. Discovery Communications: In-house premieres for employees
  3. Ernst & Young: E&Y’s benefits span beyond the living. If an employee dies during his tenure at the firm, the surviving family receives either $50,000 or four months’ salary (whichever is greater) within 48 hours of the company being notified.
  4. Intuit: 15 Minute mini-workouts thanks to the workout-on-wheels cart.
  5. Qualcomm: pays summer interns, pays for relocation, perform roommate matching… the list goes on.
  6. Kiewit: After learning how to operate the heavy machinery employees spend a day competing in the “equipment rodeo”
  7. Google: beyond what we all know, 3 winners of Googles annual talent show opened for Bruno Mars in Las Vegas, at the Global Sales Conference.
  8. The Container Store: Shower their employees with gifts on annual “We Love Our Employees Day” (Feb 14th)
  9. Quicken Loans: In an effort to help get Detroit back on it’s feet they partnered with various other organisations to offer great incentives for those who rent or buy in the city.
  10. Cooley: “Snooze or Cruise Certificates”, when awarded, allow employes to either come in two hours late or leave two hours early on a day of their choice.

The problem is that looking at these in isolation gives no context and gives the idea that just doing cool ‘stuff’ or throwing cool ‘things’ at your people will create engagement and loyalty within your company. What the article fails to highlight is that these companies made the Best Companies list for many reasons above and beyond their perks. Their perks simply added to the awesomeness, they did not create it. Perks should help build your company culture and speak directly to your values, they should make your organisations more attractive and so long as basic employee needs are being met, they may help with retention, provided they mean something positive in the daily life of your employees.

Perks need to meaningful and well thought out. Inc.com highlights a stellar example of this – Big Ass Fans have free, name-brand tampons in the ladies bathrooms. Whilst this may make you gents squeamish, it makes a big difference to the ladies. But whilst tampons will get you extra points, if you don’t treat your staff like human beings, with the respect they deserve, and you fail to meet their basic needs,  you may as well leave the tampons in the mens room. If you can’t or won’t do free food why not have a fruit fridge, or just have fruit delivered daily? In South Africa we have a company called Daily Fruit, who do just that. It’s really easy to a buy whole stack of junk food and keep it around for employees to snack on, but having the healthier choices on hand says a whole lot more about the fact that you care about your employees well being than the yearly medicals you offer. True CBA’s or Companies Behaving Awesomely all offer smart perks which make employees lives easier on a day-to-day basis and they were conceived organically, over time. They weren’t merely slapped on the surface to make the company look pretty before hiring season started.

As a final word of caution, before you start thinking about the shade or brand of the lipstick, make sure you have a great place to put it.

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