Forget Free Pizza: 5 Perks That Will Actually Make A Difference To Your Employees

Most small businesses can't go head-to-head with companies like Google in terms of lavish perks, but there are other ways to compete.

There’s a moment in The Internship, the 2013 comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, when the two middle-aged, out-of-work sales guys arrive at Google’s headquarters and realize that life on the top of the tech pyramid is very different. With upbeat, cool music playing in the background, the two schlemiels are shown around the Googleplex, reaping its infinite perks: fancy fruit, in-office yoga, dry cleaning picked up and delivered to your cubicle’s door.

These are lavish perks that actually exist in companies like Google, and they’re only getting more luxurious: some of America’s fastest-growing companies, it seems, are fighting each other over who can spend more on spoiling their employees. But there’s a smarter way: small business owners can offer their workers Google-class treats without spending Google-level money by following these five simple suggestions.

1. Invest in Education

Sure, a freshly diced pineapple every morning sounds delicious, but acquiring a skill for life is much more appealing. As a recent Gallup/Lumina poll found, an overwhelming majority of business leaders believe that a job candidate’s skills far outweigh his or her credentials. Give your staff the right extracurricular training and you’ll not only make them more efficient employees but also more desirable as they move on in the professional world. And, best of all, there are many educational options available that are tax-deductible, a nice little money-saver for you.

2. Sweeten the Commute

The federal law that allows a pre-tax transit benefit of up to $130 per month was re-enacted earlier this year, which means you can offer your employees to save a chunk of change on their morning commute. They’ll thank you first thing every morning as they take that reduced-price train or bus ride.

3. Work Out

As numerous studies have proven, the benefits of keeping fit are many: your employees won’t just be healthier and less likely to take those costly sick days, they’ll also be more energized, more productive, less stressed, and happier. And did I mention more creative? Scientists found that a robust workout increases creativity for up to two hours afterwards. That’s a pure benefit to you, boss.

4. Have Fun

Just like kids often prefer playing with the big cardboard box rather than the fancy toy that came in it, the sort of outings employees love best are the simplest, most impromptu, and, thankfully, least costly ones. Having worked with HR departments of small and mid-sized businesses, I know firsthand that the outings employees remember most fondly are the inexpensive and impromptu ones, like the round of beer on the boss after work one Wednesday for no particular reason or the cheesy but fun night out bowling. So budget for a bit of fun—it’ll increase productivity, creativity, and overall job satisfaction.

5. Let Fido In

Unless you have employees who are deathly allergic to pet dander, or rent office space from Cruella Deville, you may want to make your cubicles friendly for Fido. As a recent study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University had shown, having dogs run about in the workplace can reduce an employee’s stress by 11% per day, or as much as 70% if he or she doesn’t already have a dog at home. It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more companies are welcoming four-legged friends, proving that sometimes, a cold, wet nose is the biggest perk.

While every office may not have a Google “conference bike” or massage tables around the clock, more often than not those luxurious perks divert from building a strong company culture and increasing employee happiness and productivity.

By adding simple, yet worthwhile perks to your company’s culture, you can keep your employees both productive and happy. That’s something every business owner can get behind.

Isaac Oates is the CEO of Justworks, a NYC-based startup focused on online payroll and benefits.

[Image: Flickr user Victor]

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