While the components of a great job–support, challenge, autonomy–are hard to quantify, everyone understands free snacks in the pantry.
So perks become proxies for other upsides. They also tap into the psychology of gifts. While it seems crazy that doctors would be influenced to write prescriptions by free pens, they were (before an industry code ended the practice).
Likewise, freebies at work are loved beyond their actual dollar value. They invite reciprocity. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, “Maybe it’s just recognition,” says Danielle Saladino-Evans, who works in corporate communications at Fingerpaint, a marketing and communications firm, and is part of the committee that decides her company’s perks. “You’re working hard today. Go have something on us.”
If you’re figuring out what perks to offer, here’s how to get the most bang for your buck.
Glassdoor, the career site, recently launched a section allowing people to compare perks at different employers. Scott Dobrowski, spokesperson for Glassdoor, says that people are “looking for companies that will work with their lives and make their lives easier in and out of work.”
Figure out widespread pain points. Since no one likes commuting, shuttle services might work if you’re in the ‘burbs and your mostly young employees live in a nearby city. Likewise, adopting a generous work-from-home policy lets people skip the commute when they need to (and doesn’t cost you a thing).
Not everyone will use a company gym or daycare, or discounts to the theater. But everyone needs to eat. Dobrowski reports that Glassdoor did an internal survey on desired perks and found that “food was one of the top things, if not the top thing.” Danielle Saladino-Evans likewise reports that at Fingerpaint, “food is big,” she says. “If your belly is full, you’re feeling good.”
Since people will want to partake of free food, make sure there are healthy choices so people don’t experience the mental conflict of battling temptation. If you’ve got M&Ms in the pantry, offer fruit, nuts, and low-sugar yogurt in the fridge too. Fingerpaint tries to support local businesses when possible, so employees get the feel-good benefits of improving their community as well.
“If things seem to be busy or crazy, if there’s a higher stress level than usual, we do something special,” says Saladino-Evans, like inviting in a frozen yogurt truck for the afternoon. That gives people a break, and also avoids the problem of the “hedonic treadmill”–the fact that people get used to most good things, and no longer feel as excited by them.
While constant perks, like snacks, are great, unexpected windfalls can give an outsized boost that people don’t build into their baseline happiness.
While you certainly want to buy dinner for a team that’s staying late, this comes across as less of a perk than a bribe to stave off burnout. Perks people can enjoy during the day let them enjoy the rest of their lives too. Saladino-Evans reports that her company once did a private screening of Anchorman, but closed early to show it.
If perks are seen as gifts, know that the reverse is true too. When you take something away, people don’t think easy come, easy go. They assume the worst.
Charging for formerly free coffee means huge layoffs are imminent. People start saying “This is the state of things. Do I want to work there?” Dobrowski says. If that’s the case, that is what it is, but unless you want people polishing their resumes, find somewhere else to save cash.