It’s not just about the money, is it?

There’s a lot that goes into looking for a new job. Location, responsibilities, potential for career progression.

And of course, the salary. Ideally, you’d like to be paid an absolute wedge. But for obvious reasons that won’t usually be possible, so perks and benefits are the next to be considered when looking for that perfect role.

Employee benefits are the non-monetary bonuses given to keep workers happy, healthy and (hopefully) loyal, often advertised in job postings to attract top candidates. Depending on the size and structure of the company, and the experience level of the employee, they can range from small tokens of appreciation to expensive gifts and perks.

But are they actually useful?
Do employees see them as a necessity?
Is it possible to do things differently?

Benefits aren’t always what they seem

Naturally, companies want to hire the most enthusiastic and capable workers. In any competitive economy, those workers will be in demand.

Alongside salary, location and reputation, perks are going to be one of the things that swing their attention towards certain companies over others.

Some benefits can be well-considered enhancements to employee wellbeing that sit comfortably alongside a decent salary package. But some can be cheap gimmicks intended to dazzle while papering over the cracks of a company that isn’t inherently attractive.

The cliché of a Shoreditch startup with table football and beanbags is all too real. These days it’s spreading to more traditional businesses, catering to workers with expectations of a comfortable, designy environment. Coworking spaces are growing in popularity in towns and cities through the UK, and tend to be full of Instagrammable plant pots and recliner chairs. The environment itself is supposed to be a perk, with younger workers especially expecting a designed, rather than just functional, place to work.

Team retreats are commonly promoted, especially in sales-heavy organisations with social, competitive employees. Annual trips to the Alps to ski, snowboard and suffer regrettable drunken behaviour are par for the course, alongside the occasional ‘casual’ chats with management that linger long in the mind upon returning home.

But is it really a holiday if you have to spend it cooped up in a converted farmhouse, team-building with Nathan from Accounts? Is watching the Managing Director embarrass himself with a cringeworthy karaoke set really a perk? Even if you are in a picturesque destination, it’s not guaranteed to actually be fun.

And then there’s the beer. As someone who doesn’t drink, I get pretty narked off with Beer as a Benefit (or BaaB, as I’d like to term it) being positioned as the must-have perk of choice in any modern company.

It’s deeply fashionable to install beer kegs in startup offices and coworking spaces alongside the organic Guatemalan espresso dispensers. The uncomfortable truth is that it encourages unhealthy drinking habits. You end up seeing the same faces huddled round the taps as soon as they open in the afternoon, 3 pints deep by the end of the workday. I know it promotes a casual ethos, and responsible adults should be able to take care of themselves, but the idea of people having to drink to cope with their jobs is at odds with the job being attractive in the first place.

(And in this age of brilliant booze alternatives, if the only other option is water with a few cucumber slices floating in it … poor show.)

And then there’s the dogs.

According to a survey from Aviva, the number 1 least desired workplace ‘benefit’ is a dog-friendly workplace. It’s fun in theory to have a friendly canine wandering the corridors, available for pets, until they start the yapping…

The greatest workplace benefit is proper time off

According to the aforementioned survey, 43% of employees said they were most interested in 22-35 days of paid annual leave.

You can’t really blame them, can you? A generous and fair time off policy is going to result in rested, healthier workers who have time to spend with their family & friends, refreshing and rejuvenating themselves rather than getting burned out.

Compare it to unlimited paid annual leave, which we’ve covered before. Unlimited leave can leave a lot to be desired, encouraging a confusing culture where nobody really knows what’s appropriate and what isn’t. While it’s popular with modern tech companies, it’s not always a great success.

The other greatest benefit?

A company culture that respects its workers.

Workers want to see a company with a range of 5-star reviews on Glassdoor, saying how great it is to work for. It doesn’t matter how many ping-pong tables or gym vouchers you provide if there’s a toxic culture of overwork or harassment. Positive and healthy company cultures result in fewer employee sick days, better productivity, and better ability to attract talent.

If you build that first, pay well and then provide the gym vouchers & beanbags, you’ll be sorted.

Photo by Hello I'm Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash