Can Wacky Employee Perks Help You Retain Your Staff?

Small businesses can easily adapt quirky Google-style perks that motivate and retain employees.
February 12, 2012

USA Today recently highlighted the quirky employee perks some employers are offering to motivate their teams in a still-challenging economy. Pet insurance, at-your-desk meditation services, jewelry discounts and funeral planning were among the most unusual. Others, while nontraditional, are more practical—such as free theme park tickets, on-the-job massages and discounts on cell phone plans.

I’ve heard this tune before. Back in the dotcom heyday, companies vied to outdo each other with offbeat perks (“dogs in the office” and “Friday beer bash” being the most ubiquitous). Back then, quirky perks were a way to show off both your company’s financial success and its in-your-face, non-corporate attitude. But today, even some of the nation’s biggest corporations are offering offbeat perks.

There are several motivators for companies both big and small to move to the quirky perk instead of the traditional.

  • Employers are cutting back on standard benefits like 401(k) plans and health insurance, but still want their companies to be perceived as good places to work.

  • Employees want greater choices and more control over their perks. After all, they’re used to customizing in other areas of their lives—so why not their employee benefits?

  • Employers can’t afford to offer raises or bonuses, so perks like these—often available at little or no cost to the employer other than the effort of negotiating discounts with vendors—can be an affordable alternative.

  • Employers are trying to help employees eliminate stress, and balance their work and personal lives. Perks like dry cleaning delivery or concierge services enable employees to work longer hours. Offering on-site massages helps reduce stress and revitalizes employees, enabling them to work harder.

Can a small company offer these out-of-the-box perks? recently spotlighted 12 big companies’ creative perks, and I was struck by the fact that all of the ideas were easily adaptable to even the smallest business.

  • NetApp has a huge fitness complex, but employees also like to play volleyball outside. (Head to the grassy knoll at your corporate park.)

  • The Four Seasons lets employees stay free at its properties. (Shouldn’t employees get your product or service for free so they can talk it up to others?)

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers matches expectant moms with “mentor moms” who help them navigate the first few months of working motherhood. (Easy to do and reduces attrition).

  • FactSet Research invites gourmet food trucks to visit its offices on a regular basis. (I can personally attest to how excited employees get over food trucks.)

  • And Google…well, Google’s one of the granddaddies of perks, but CNNMoney highlighted its free eyebrow-shaping events. Yes, employees can get a discount on brow waxings from local beauticians right in the office. (It’s easy enough to arrange a discount with a provider of just about anything—massages, haircuts, manicures, yoga classes–in return for access to your employees. If your company’s tiny, partner up with other businesses in your building or corporate park to negotiate a deal.)

OK, so you can offer these perks. The bigger question is, Should you? And the answer is, maybe. What makes all these perks work is they’re tailored to each company’s employees. For instance, if most of your staff is twenty-something women, that eyebrow-waxing discount is likely to be a big hit. If they’re middle-aged men… not so much. As you consider your options, keep in mind what your employees are likely to need, want and appreciate. (It sure wouldn’t hurt to ask them!)

But also keep in mind that employees who are worried about the basics—like health care or family finances—are less likely to care about perks they may see as extraneous. If you can afford it, offering real benefits—like health insurance or a 401(k) plan (there are plans for even one-person companies)—should always be your first priority. Doggie day-care is just icing on the cake.

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