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Do workplace perks really matter?

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
Photo: Martin Barraud/Getty

Companies in the tech sector, like Google, Netflix and Microsoft, are known for showering their staff with flashy perks like catered meals, table tennis and cooking lessons.

And now, smaller firms in the UK are beginning to get on board with the concept. From gym memberships to healthy snack bars and free alcohol on Fridays, many businesses now offer a variety of different workplace perks to energise and motivate staff and improve employee retention.

It’s unlikely that anyone will complain about fancy coffee and free food, but do these perks really matter when it comes to employee satisfaction?

A survey of 500 employees last year found that perks do increase workers’ efficiency, decrease turnover and improve company culture overall. More than half (53%) of those who have employee perks said they give them a better quality of life, the results showed. Even providing cereal, as a small gesture, is the kind of thing employees appreciate.

Research also suggests these perks aren’t really all that important, though. A survey of over 3,000 professionals by LinkedIn found more people cared about core benefits, such as paid time off, flexible working and health coverage.

When respondents were asked what factors were likely to keep them at their company for more than five years, 44% said strong workplace benefits, like healthcare and parental leave. When asked why they were proud of their company, 51% pointed to a good work-life balance and flexibility.

Overall, there was a greater appreciation of workplace benefits such as having time off, rather than tangible perks such as game rooms.

In addition, it’s also important that perks don’t mask underlying systemic problems at work, such as overstretched and directionless staff. Rather than nap pods, on-site massages and fruit bowls, companies would do better to focus on improving management techniques, reducing workplace stress and ensuring staff have clear goals.

“Whilst the technology sector, over the past twenty-odd years has catalysed a global trend for casual, shared work spaces replete with a range of snacks, on-site meditation rooms and dizzying ‘flexible benefits’ schemes, it seems the most powerful lever we have at our disposal to improve employee satisfaction and retention rates may have been ignored for these flashier choices,” says Erinn Collier, former head of business for Uber and co-founder of software platform Just3Things.

At the end of the day, there’s no replacement for engagement with, and satisfaction from, your daily work, she adds.

“Yet we are distracting generations of employees from the reality of their actual connection to their employer and its mission with this range of comparatively short-lived perks instead of addressing measures to strengthen that connection,” Collier says.

Perks and benefits aren’t the only things that matter when it comes to work satisfaction too. Research has shown workers look for a number of things in a company, such as ethical behaviour and environmentally-friendly initiatives.

Millennials, in particular, want to work for businesses which reflect their personal values and according to a 2016 study by Cone Communications, 76% consider a company’s social and environment commitments before deciding where to work.

The recent Global Talent Trends study by Mercer collected data from 800 business executives, 1,800 HR leaders and more than 5,000 employees from all over the world. Among the findings, the research identified three factors that employees and job candidates are looking for in a company: workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and wellbeing and working with a purpose.

While gym memberships can be a great way to get staff to exercise – which benefits both physical and mental health – there are other key ways to keep employees healthy and happy. For example, fostering an open environment to talk about stress, and making sure people aren’t overworked.

And while we all want to be paid fairly for our efforts, salaries aren’t everything when it comes to work. A sense of purpose and meaningful work are key factors when it comes to work satisfaction, according to a survey of more than 2,000 American professionals for the Harvard Business Review.

More than 90% of employees surveyed said they were willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for great meaning at work, the study found. In addition, employees with “highly meaningful” jobs were far less likely to plan on quitting, and had longer job tenures.

So the next time you’re looking for a new job, it might be worthwhile to look past the flashy perks to see what a company is really like – it might make a big difference to your job satisfaction.