5 Guiding Questions for Picking the Right Employee Perks

Massages, in-house chefs, free oil changes, and so on; we all know about the amazing employee perks the likes of Google and Facebook provide. Even small startups often give generous perks. Tech startups like Codecademy enjoy daily catered lunches. So what perks are best? The answer, as always, is it depends. Here are 5 questions that will help you determine what's right for your company

1. Budget

In our case, we knew we wanted to do something in the $3,000 to $5,000 range. We have about 25 employees, so we needed to keep it under $200 per employee. We also wanted to cover the tax that employees would owe (talk to a tax expert to learn what kinds of perks are taxable), which means we only had about $170 per employee to work with. Budget alone won’t give you an answer, but it’s good to figure this first so that you can explore realistic possibilities.

2. One-time or ongoing?

A baseball game outing is a one-time thing. The employee who starts a week after the company baseball game won’t get to enjoy the game. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s worth considering. Other perks, like gym membership, are ongoing, and as new people join, they start getting the perk. One-time things can help spice things up, since they aren’t predictable. But you can let prospective employees know about the ongoing perks available.

3. Impact

With any form of non-monetary compensation, you have to ask, why? Why not just give everyone more money. They can buy a gym membership, get oil changes, and see baseball games with that money. Impact is the answer to that question. The goal is to provide something that has an impact beyond the monetary value. Many companies do things to save their employees time - oil changes, chefs, and haircuts at work. Being able to get your oil changed while at work has a bigger impact than the $40 value of an oil change. The more impact the perk has, the more authentic it will seem. Giving everybody Target gift cards to buy milk is a great example of a very poor impact.

4. Secondary benefits

As with anything, the employee perk you chose will send out ripples through your company and cause secondary effects. For example, Giving in-office haircuts would have a secondary benefit of better looking employees who may experience a boost in self-esteem. Gym memberships can have a secondary benefit of healthier employees. Moreover, the very perception among employees that the company cares for their well-being can be a great secondary benefit of a number of health-focused perks. But it cuts both ways. Pizza every Friday for lunch can lead to a decrease in productivity in the afternoon, and higher blood pressure among employees.

5. Is it really a perk, or a trap?

This last point is an extension of the point above, and each company needs to decide where they stand on this issue. Many of the perks commonly associated with tech startups are designed to keep employees at work as much as possible. Video games, places to sleep, catered dinner - all reduce the need for a life outside of the office. Now, the fact is that many companies are full of single 20 somethings who love the idea of not making it home every night. But be mindful of what signals you’re sending your employees with perks that replace what otherwise might be part of their home life.

What we did at Graphicsland

It all started when we provided employees with breakfast every Monday, a snack on Wednesdays, and lunch on Fridays during the two busy months in spring. We decided to get some decent quality food that would be healthy to help fuel the team through the busy season. It was a hit. So we thought, “Maybe we should do this all the time?”

We figured it would cost about $5,000 per year to provide a nice lunch every Friday. So we started to think about what else we could do for $5,000 that might have a bigger impact. We thought of going to events like concerts, but many employees have families and might be unable to attend any given night.

Eventually we settled on getting a Fitbit for each employee. Fitbits are not uncommon as employee perks, thanks in part to Fitbit’s focus on that market. We set up a company group, so those who want can share their steps with others and compare “scores.” For us, Fitbits ticked all the boxes - they’re an ongoing perk that we can offer any new employee, they’re something that most people wouldn’t spend their own money on, they send the message that the company cares about health, and they (in theory) will help employees be more active and healthy. Moreover it’s helped create a little fun, which is a critical part of building a well-functioning team.

I’ve even started taking some of my weekly meetings with managers outside, walking around to get some steps, which is no easy task for an office worker.