In today’s tight labor market, companies are doing all they can to attract employees and keep them around. From free beer to foosball tables, many employers are going all out to get your attention.
But the noise and hoopla of silly perks can be a distraction. They might seem like fun things to have, but when you’re choosing your next job, your next company, or even deciding whether to stay in your organization, you need to look behind the hype.
Here are just some of the many reasons why the following perks are probably overrated.
1. Ping-pong and foosball tables
Ping-pong and foosball tables might sound great in theory, but it’s even more important to consider whether the company has a healthy dose of competition. Many organizations spur on teams with internal contests for the highest sales or best customer satisfaction. These friendly rivalries can drive positive outcomes and good relationships.
But does the company keep competition in check? After all, too much opposition can breed in-fighting or a culture where people are working against each other’s success, rather than working together to beat the competition in the marketplace.
2. Free food
Well-stocked break areas, fancy-flavored water, or daily ice cream breaks might seem like a dream. But it’s not always a sign that the company has your actual well-being in mind. Are there healthy snacks in addition to sugary treats? Does the company also offer on-site wellness clinics and excellent healthcare (including support for mental health)? Are you able to take walking breaks? Look beyond the superficial break area experience to determine whether the company is considering you as a whole person, and contributing to your overall well-being.
3. On-site services
It might seem convenient to have your work provide dry cleaning drop-off or pickup at work. But you also need to think about whether the company allows you to work reasonable hours. Sometimes, convenience perks suggest that a company expects you to work constantly—after all, why would you need dinner at the office if you weren’t working through your evening meal? Of course, you’ll want to work hard and make a significant contribution. But you can do this best when you also have time away from the office, and when you’re not always “on” at work.
4. Slides and swings
Slides and swings might seem like a chance to transport your childhood to your adulthood and let you work with abandon, but think about whether the organization truly empowers employees. Are you able to take appropriate risks on new projects or stretch your wings to grow your career? Do leaders trust employees and give them the freedom to complete work in their own ways rather than micromanaging them? Can you work in plenty of different venues across campus or from home occasionally? You’ll enjoy your work most when you can deliver results with autonomy for how you work, where you work, and when you work.
5. Terraces, balconies, and outside walkways
The opportunity to get outside and enjoy the vista around your office is a terrific way to get some perspective during your workday. But be sure that the long view is part of your overall experience with the company—not just a literal moment in the sun. Consider whether you feel a sense of purpose in your work and ensure you’re committed to where your company is going. You’ll enhance your motivation and avoid burnout if you feel like you’re contributing to something larger than yourself that matters in the long term.
6. Yoga, massage, and tai chi classes
No one can argue with the benefits of these perks. Most companies offer wellness options to demonstrate they value employees. But these will do very little for your well-being if you aren’t sure you feel valued for the work you’re doing. Can you bring all of yourself to work? Do you receive recognition for the outcomes you produce? Do you have opportunities for continuing education or professional development? Are you appropriately rewarded for the work your company pays you to do? Feeling valued generally is a good thing, but feeling valued for the contribution you make is even more critical.
7. Beer on tap
An open bar is a great way to meet colleagues and cut loose (as long as you don’t cut too loose). But it’s even more crucial that the organization promotes healthy relationships between people and teams. Having a best friend at work is rewarding, and working with a team of people whom you value and who value you can be some of the most critical aspects of your happiness at work. Consider whether the company’s culture fosters real connections and meaningful relationships with coworkers.
With companies providing so many perks, it’s a great time to be an employee. But if you want to be genuinely fulfilled at work, you need to look beyond the ping-pong tables, slides, or beer on tap. Ensure that the company has a healthy culture and values your health and well-being. Consider whether the company respects your right to have a life outside of work and empowers you to get your job done. Choose a socially responsible company where you have great relationships with colleagues and a sense of purpose.
Everything counts when choosing your work experience, and right now you can afford to be selective. Enjoy the sugary high you get from the free snacks, but more importantly, focus on the nature of the culture and the work. Those are the things that will provide more buzz in the long term.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.