Employee perks 2.0: Embracing change and resilience for growth in brave new world
When it comes to the realm of perks and benefits, Google was once the talk of the town. In addition to the usual offerings, they had free food, snacks galore, onsite gyms, massage therapists, cozy nap capsules for daytime rejuvenation, convenient laundry services, and an endless array of extras. However, Google recently scaled back on some of these perks in an effort to reduce expenses. While the initiative could have been beneficial to save money, it certainly begs the question for people managers: Are employee perks losing their luster?
In our quest to unravel the mysteries of employee perks, we put forth this burning question to our panel of experts consisting of Smiti Bhatt Deorah, the Co-Founder and COO of Advantage Club Technologies Inc, Dr David Burkus, an Organisational Psychologist and Author of the acclaimed Best Team Ever, and president and Ira Wolfe, Chief Googlization Officer of Poised for the Future Company.
They joined forces during People Matters' most recent Big Question session in collaboration with TechHR India 2023. Together, we uncovered some answers, invaluable insights, and pragmatic solutions related to employee benefits and perks all while exploring the Art Of The Possible!
Reshaping the perkscape
Employee perks have long been recognised as a crucial aspect of a company's operations. Prior to the pandemic, companies such as REI, Salesforce, Twitter, and Evernote were lauded for their provision of benefits such as paid volunteer time, complimentary cooking classes, and three daily catered meals. Even companies with limited resources implemented low-cost perks that had a significant impact. However, in the current era, we find ourselves in a changed environment where employee perks have evolved to focus on supporting emotional well-being, redefining the Employee Value Proposition, and promoting flexibility.
The Co-Founder of Advantage Club Technologies doesn't believe that perks have been completely silenced after the pandemic. “Rather, they are being rearranged to adapt to the current circumstances. Since 2020, we have experienced not only significant changes in the economy but also shifts in the demographics of the workforce, including millennials, Gen Z, and baby boomers. These changes lead to evolving requirements over time. Organisations are struggling to keep up with the changing demands of employees, which is why employee perks are not disappearing; they are being adjusted to meet the evolving needs,” said Deorah.
She further gave an example to explain that “during the pandemic, there was a greater focus on wellness rather than perks like office childcare. The shift has been towards supporting emotional stability when managing multiple responsibilities from home. This change in direction requires organisations to adopt a new mindset and adapt their strategies accordingly.”
The Employee Value Proposition, which encompasses the reasons why employees choose to work for an organisation, has always consisted of various elements, said the author of Best Team Ever and added, “Perks have traditionally been one of these elements, but they have evolved over time. In the early 2000s until around 2010, perks like childcare, dry cleaning, and free food were used to encourage employees to spend more time in the office. However now we either no longer want employees in the office as much, or we are still determining the ideal frequency of their presence. Consequently, the emphasis on different aspects of the value proposition will always shift accordingly.”
The Chief Googlization Officer of Poised for the Future Company emphasised that currently the most important thing, whether it's considered a perk, benefit, or integral part of work, is flexibility.
“Flexibility is not simply a four-day work week or other specific measures people may try. We are in a completely new environment that requires a broader perspective. It extends beyond where people work or their location. The key is to think in terms of the context of flexibility. This presents a challenge for companies, as they tend to prefer one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Wolfe.
Unlocking retention: The power of enhanced benefits
When an employee leaves a team, it can have a cascading effect, causing other team members to consider leaving as well. This phenomenon sheds light on Great Resignation, where workers quit and changed jobs at unprecedented rates. During such situations of high employee turnover, revisiting and enhancing employee benefits programs could be instrumental in retaining top talent.
According to a Workhuman survey conducted in fall 2021, more than 50 per cent employees wait to evaluate their company's new benefits offerings before making a decision to stay or leave. Smiti Bhatt Deorah shared some examples of both short-term and long-term benefits that can be implemented to address this situation.
“Creating a purpose-driven organisation is crucial for employees to understand the objectives and goals of their work, which in turn drives affinity towards the company and promotes retention. In the short term, offering unique perks and benefits can help attract candidates and differentiate companies during the hiring process. It also contributes to employer branding and showcases a company's commitment to employee well-being,” stated Deorah.
“In the long term, these initiatives lead to higher employee satisfaction, increased productivity, improved overall culture, and reduced attrition. Moreover, incorporating health and wellness programs can further enhance productivity and potentially reduce healthcare costs. Ultimately, a combination of these factors creates a positive working environment that benefits both the employees and the organisation as a whole,” she added.
Empowering a diverse workforce
While workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) often bring to mind concepts like employee resource groups, diverse workforce representation, and inclusive hiring practices, it is crucial for companies to also assess their employee benefits. When developing benefit programs, it is essential to take into account the distinct requirements of various groups. Traditional one-size-fits-all benefits packages are ill-suited for today's diverse workforce. Instead, implement a personalised and adaptable approach to cater to a broader range of needs recommended by Dr David Burkus.
He suggested focusing on two categories of perks. “The first one involves individual perks related to health, wellness, and resilience. For example, a company in Texas introduced an emergency fund perk, offering interest-free loans of up to $1,000 to employees who may face unexpected financial challenges. This perk promotes a sense of care and resilience among employees. Mental health perks also fall under this category, contributing to overall well-being,” said Burkus.
“The second category pertains to in-office environments and includes perks aimed at creating gathering moments. These perks could involve providing food or other activities that facilitate unstructured interactions among employees, leading to bonding and a stronger sense of connection with the organisation. In fully remote organisations, a similar effect can be achieved by allocating more budgets for professional development opportunities, such as conferences, where employees can bond during breaks and social events. Many remote and hybrid organisations are reallocating their budgets to prioritise these bonding opportunities that were traditionally facilitated in the office,” he added.
Personalisation and trust in focus
Employees have a desire for growth and advancement, and training is often the key to unlocking their potential. The ADP report highlighted the importance of aligning training programs with employee goals to foster talent management on a larger scale. However, the question that arises is: How can leaders actively engage employees in decision-making and ensure that allocated budgets are effectively utilised? Ira Wolfe emphasised the significance of personalisation and trust in addressing this challenge.
“Employee experience, which is quite significant, can vary depending on factors like generations, marital status, location, job, and career aspirations. Personalisation is key in this new era, moving away from the old approach of treating everyone the same. We talk about four connections: self, role, others, and the organisation. It's not just about aligning with the company culture, but about the experience people have within that culture,” said Wolfe.
“People need support in areas like resilience and developing soft skills, such as grit and growth mindset. Different individuals may require different solutions, like personal growth or guidance on their next career move. In terms of costs, there are innovative ideas like emergency funds or same-day pay, where employees can access the money they've earned immediately for unexpected expenses. These perks can benefit employees regardless of where they work,” he further added.
Small gestures, big impact: Ways to show you care
When employees feel valued and appreciated by their leaders, their commitment to the company increases significantly. They become more motivated to exceed expectations and take ownership of their responsibilities within a project. Moreover, a key outcome is their overall happiness in their roles. The COO of Advantage Club Technologies and Organisational Psychologist shared simple ways to show genuine care towards employees:
- Resilience perks, such as pay on demand or interest-free emergency funds.
- Go above and beyond to provide personal assistance.
- Maintain regular communication with training managers.
- Invest in training programs that highlight the importance of each team's purpose.
- Continuously identify and understand employees’ true needs.
- Analyse data on the utilisation of previous perks and programs.
- Discontinue underutilised perks.
- Prioritise regular identification of benefits and perks.
Understanding the difference: Benefits vs perks
Commonplace perks include complimentary office lunches and offerings like free premium subscriptions or retail discounts. Unlike perks, which are intangible and do not have a monetary value, they contribute to a healthier work-life balance. Benefits, on the other hand, are expenses that employers help cover. Health insurance serves as an example of a benefit, with some companies covering the entire cost while others offer low-cost co-pays, explained Dr David Burkus.
“Benefits typically refer to standard offerings such as health insurance and salary, while perks are seen as unexpected or additional benefits. This categorisation may vary by country. However, it's beneficial to view these aspects holistically rather than separately, especially when reallocating funds saved from downsizing or office closures towards areas like employee benefits and perks,” he said.
Moonlighting: Can it be viewed as a perk?
Moonlighting gained attention and sparked debate after Rishad Premji, the Executive Chairman of Wipro, referred to it as "plain and simple cheating." However, the reality is that moonlighting, which involves taking on additional assignments outside of one's regular job, has been a common practice for a long time.
According to the US Census Bureau's Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, the rate of multiple jobholding increased from 6.8% in 1996 to 7.2% in 2018. Interestingly, more women in the US hold multiple jobs compared to men. Considering these trends, shouldn't we consider implementing policies or even view moonlighting as a perk?
Smiti Bhatt Deorah believes it's all about how you present the benefits and package it. “For example, allowing employees to choose their own projects outside of work can be seen as a perk. However, certain restrictions can be put in place, such as not allowing projects that conflict with their current job. By defining and packaging it properly, moonlighting can be viewed as a product that offers employee flexibility.”
Adding on to the same, Dr Burkus suggested creating internal opportunities “for employees to explore different projects and earn extra money through overtime pay or a similar system. This way, they can experience growth and fulfilment while avoiding potential intellectual property conflicts. Ultimately, if employees feel the need to work outside of their primary job, discuss with the employee what measures we can implement to provide those opportunities within the organisation.”
Conversations that count
In this evolving landscape, it has become crucial for companies to prioritise employee needs. To address disengagement of individuals, organisations must shift their attention to enhancing the employee experience. This entails leaders engaging in personal conversations and fearlessly addressing the questions that employees need to hear, suggested Dr David Burkus and Ira Wolfe.
“Having meaningful conversations with employees, regardless of the setting, allows us to learn more about them and foster a sense of connection. We should not overlook the importance of these conversations, even as we transition back to office settings. Every employee is unique, and taking the time to understand them can lead to valuable shifts in the workplace dynamic,” said Wolfe.
In line with this, Dr Burkus said, “Sometimes, existing policies or practices hinder employees' ability to excel, and by removing those barriers and implementing more autonomous policies, we create an environment where they can thrive. These conversations go beyond simply asking what employees want; they delve into identifying and addressing what prevents them from achieving their full potential within the organisation.”
To learn more from leaders about some of the burning questions in today’s world of work, stay tuned to People Matters' Big Question series on LinkedIn. Explore more such themes at the 10th edition of People Matters TechHR India on the 3rd and 4th of August 2023 at The Leela, Ambience Mall, Gurgaon. Click here to register and be a part of Asia’s Largest HR & WorkTech Conference!