A Guide to Employee Perks
Employee perks are a critical component of modern-day compensation strategies.
Last updated on 2/10/2023
This comprehensive guide covers everything related to employee perks: from the unique perk examples of employee favorites to best practices and insights into the future of employer perks. We cover everything you need to know about company perks in 2023 and beyond.
Topics covered include:
Before we can dive into all of the things you'd need to know about perks, we first should define perks by answering the simple question, "what exactly are perks?"
Employee perks are non-wage offerings given to employees that extend beyond salaries and benefits (like health insurance, dental, vision, etc)
They're often called fringe benefits too.
Perks are ways to support the employees beyond the standard salary and benefits and include purchasable, programmatic, and environmental perks.
What perks are not:
Read full definitions of compensation, salary, benefits, perks, perk stipends, and more here.
Employee perks are part of a total compensation package. They're not meant to replace other types of compensation, like a competitive salary, bonus structure, or benefits. Those are table stakes. Employee perks are the extra things employers offer that show employees how much they value them as individuals and as whole humans with other needs outside of work. Great perks can help top candidates choose between two employers who may offer similar salaries and benefits, and they can also help employees feel more supported and engaged on the job. But offering a wide variety of employee perks can’t make up for unfair compensation and lousy benefits.
Almost everybody understands how salaries, bonuses, and benefits work.
But employee perks? Not so much.
Perks have been loosely defined since their inception, and this is a surprisingly serious issue.
Without a precise and agreed-upon definition, our conversation around perks becomes hazy, and confusing and we can't discuss their role because nobody is on the same page, which means we certainly can't solve their issues.
A prime example of being misunderstood is in the not-so-distant past when people claimed company perks were equivalent to company culture. Or that simply adding a few fun perks could transform a toxic culture.
Fortunately, the conversation has progressed enough to acknowledge that company perks are not company culture, but rather a part of it.
The lack of definition has made it easy for perks to be stretched, pulled, and applied in many different directions to solve many different problems within organizations.
It's resulted in company perks becoming the quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive “go-to” to solve organizational culture issues, keep employees in the office longer, and make employees happy while distracting them from organizational and leadership issues.
The incorrect application of perks has led to them being branded poorly and being widely misunderstood and disliked by many people.
Fortunately, those days are close to being over.
The industry has come a long way in the past decade. The reasons companies offer perks as well as the lifestyle benefits they're seeking, are much more altruistic and impactful on employees' lives.
However, we think there's still room for improvement.
It's time we reimagine how company perks can contribute to an employee and a company because right now they're barely scratching the surface.
Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey
If your goal is to continue with traditional perks programs, below is a short list of the perks that you can expect your people to want.
Want to see a full list of perks that engage your employees? Then check out our comprehensive list of top perk vendors.
There are a lot of advantages to offering employee perks in 2023, below are just a few of the most salient:
If the amount of press coverage of company perks indicates their impact within organizations, they're transformative.
A quick Google search for company perks will result in articles covering the “best unique employee benefits for 2023," with perks that appeal to everyone from recent grads to working parents. While there's not much research strictly tied to company perks and their impact on business outcomes, ask any recruiter about their conversations with potential employees and they'll talk about the importance of offering perks.
If you take a step back, you'll see that it's not the actual perks that matter; it's what they signify. They show a company's willingness and desire to support their employees and their goals, beyond simply getting the job done.
Sure, employees want free coffee and pet insurance and in-office showers with towel service. However, what employees really want is to have better, more productive, balanced, and happier lives—and to work for a company that supports them in building that life.
Employee happiness is excellent for an organization's bottom line. Studies have shown that when employees are happy, they're 13% more productive, which improves performance across the board—and can lead to an increased stock price for public companies.
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” — Richard Branson.
We're clearly in a war for talent. The unemployment rate is at an all-time low, and the gap between the skilled labor necessary to complete a job and the labor available is rapidly increasing. These two factors drive companies to do anything and everything they can to attract, engage and retain top employees, and offering company perks is a standard way employers are accomplishing their hiring and retention goals.
We're preaching to the choir here, but hiring the right people for the job is challenging. In fact, 76% of hiring decision-makers say attracting quality candidates is their #1 challenge.
Why is there such significant emphasis on quality talent? Every organization wants high-performing employees—and top-quality candidates often have unique interests and priorities. Gallup research suggests employers study top talent within the organization to ensure that recruiting messaging and experiences align with what the right candidates will be drawn to.
Today, salary ranges are transparent. It's easy for any employee to pull up Glassdoor and have an idea of what they're worth and how much they can expect an employer to pay them. This transparency in tight labor leads employees to look to other elements of the organization to know if they're the right career home for them for the foreseeable future.
Insightful research from Adam Grant states that employees only care about three things: career, community, and cause. These three are directly related to an employee's ability to grow in their career, feel like they belong and are respected, and work on a mission or cause they believe in.
Patrick Lencioni's book, The Truth About Employee Engagement, boils employee happiness down to three similar items:
Many of today's perks support people in their journey toward achieving these deep desires. Company perks like book clubs, Toastmasters memberships, company-sponsored sporting teams, or paying for happy hour can lead to the development of an internal community. Additionally, continuous education and training help team members grow and achieve more in their careers, helping them to have a more significant impact on their company's mission.
Company perks are not the only ingredient in employee happiness and engagement, but a carefully crafted perk program can be more strategic in fulfilling employees' needs than people realize because it's a lifestyle benefit that goes beyond basic benefits.
When talented employees are happy, organizations win. As pointed out above, happy employees are more productive. They also tend to stay at their companies longer, making employee retention an essential focus for companies.
According to Kronos and Future Workplace research, 87% of HR leaders consider retention a critical or high priority over the next five years. And rightly so. Pre Pandemic research by Gallup puts the cost of replacing an individual employee at one-half to two times the annual salary of that position, with employee turnover costs totaling a trillion dollars for U.S. companies. With the increased challenge of hiring amid a talent shortage, those costs could climb even higher this year.
Many employee perks are low or even no cost to employers. But even perks that come with a pricetag pale in comparison to the rising costs of employee turnover. Investing in your current employees, and creating a more satisfying and rewarding work environment, can save you thousands—or more—down the line.
For too long, company perks have been added to companies without too much strategic thought behind them.
They've slipped into a reactionary mindset. “Everyone wants yoga, so we're offering yoga” and “everyone is offering ice coffee and kombucha on tap, so we should too.” As HR strives to become the strategic partner to leadership, as Dave Ulrich mentioned in Human Resources Champions, it's important to zoom out of the day-to-day operational focus and offer a strategic approach to perks that provide a competitive edge for the company.
One method of becoming a strategic partner is offering perks that do more for the business and its employees by proactively strengthening its unique purpose or core values.
Perks should reinforce values like empathy or learning, or principles like “never eat alone," or tied to using your company's software are a powerful way to translate what matters to the company into employees' everyday lives.
What results is an even more pronounced and positive culture.
This reinforcement is seen on a micro level in the differences between employees collaborating over lunch vs. eating in silos. It's the difference between employees comfortably owning their failures vs. sweeping them under the rug. It's the difference between your LGBTQ+ team members being comfortable bringing their whole selves to work versus feeling withdrawn or even alienated.
Here are examples of ways that companies can reinforce their unique culture:
A company invests in a clear signal to the employees about what matters to the organization and what behaviors they value.
Make sure you're thinking about your perks program strategically to differentiate yourself from the myriad of competitors vying for talent.
Making employees happy today doesn't necessarily require a salary increase, especially if their salary is already at a point they think is fair for their work and leads to a high quality of life. As Daniel Pink's book Drive suggests, once people meet a certain fair level, they can focus on intrinsic motivational factors such as mastery, autonomy, and purpose. And offering the right perks can even convince your people to spend more time working onsite, if that’s what your business needs. A 2022 survey of office workers revealed the most wanted perks as fitness perks, such as yoga studios and office gyms (46%), and access to a designated quiet space (44%).
Perks can enhance employees' lives in many ways that more money cannot, like added convenience, continuing their learning to advance their career, caring for their family in ways they might not be able to by themselves, contributing to others more, and developing a greater sense of community.
Have you heard of perk stipends yet? They empower HR to craft custom programs that enable their people to purchase the perks they want and need most.
In the example to the left, Sam's company allocated $100 per month to spend the following perk stipends: learning, health & wellness, and food.
What would you buy with your $100/month for perks?
Whether it's selecting individual perks, debit cards, or Compt's stipends -- our goal is to help you select the best perks program for your situation.
Not all company perks are created equal.
That's why we've created the 4Cs and 1P framework, which we’ll explore below.
It's a tool that HR managers use to ensure they approach employee perks thoughtfully and proactively.
Our goal is to help companies everywhere find balance and inclusion with their perks. We talked with many HR professionals about their perks programs, and from these conversations, we noticed four distinct methods for thinking about perks and how to select the best ones for an organization.
The first thing to consider when offering perks are their purpose.
Each perk has a purpose associated with it -- i.e., the reason it's being implemented at an organization.
Reflect on the difference between offering your employees catered lunches versus conference allowances.
The purposes of perks can be broken into five distinct categories, what we refer to as the 4C and 1P: Convenience, Career/Continuing Education, Community, Contribution, and Personal/home-life.
Convenience perks are all about adding a level of comfort to an employee’s life. Not having to leave work to accomplish some essential errands can be a huge time saver. There are two types of convenience perks - ones that employees pay for and the ones they don’t.
Perks like in-office dry cleaning, car washing, and manicures are brought into the office to save the employee's travel-time or organizing, but they’re still often paid for by the employee.
The other category is the convenience where companies pay for them and include perks such as coffee, snacks, catered lunches, and beer.
The goal with continuing education perks is to assist employees in developing further mastery with their craft. When employees learn more, they’re more intrinsically motivated, more productive, happier, and that positivity flows throughout all of their work. If they’re a leader or a person who leads without the title, this positivity can be contagious and permeate other employees and their work as well.
Perks like conferences, books programs, paid online training or seminars, and professional organizations all educate employees and can all meet this perk need.
Organizational Behavior expert, Adam Grant, recently released new research on what employees care about, and it’s these three things: career, community, and contribution. While most people don’t realize it, the perks offered at a company can increase the community element tremendously.
Community is a sense of connection and belonging. The community is feeling respected and cared about.
Perks like in-office yoga or meditation sessions, company-sponsored Toastmasters memberships, extracurricular sporting teams, or happy hour lead to increased community and personal growth.
Defined as supporting employees in their contributions to helping causes.
Contribution-categorized perks are creating a policy around volunteer days, running a company-wide charity like bringing in canned foods for the hungry or school supplies for needy children, and even offering matching programs for charitable giving.
If perks were a pyramid similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the contribution would be at its peak.
Those are the main purposes that most perks have, though some might not fit squarely into a particular category. Often there’s overlap, which is excellent. If you can find perks that fulfill multiple purposes, you'll be able to offer more value to your employees and give them the best possible experience.
Though the purpose is an important idea to keep in mind when selecting perks, it's not the only one. There are still costs, employee use, and the impact that still have to be considered.
Personal or home-life perks apply to the perks that they’ll use outside of the office and can be used to make them more balanced, fulfilled, and whole which will have an impact on their work. This includes health & wellness perks like discounts on gyms or health & wellness perk allowances. It also includes perks such as tuition assistance, pet insurance, daycare support, or egg-freezing.
Wellness programs are great for employee satisfaction and one of the best company perks you can offer. Design your employee perk program to center on wellness, and you'll see more engaged teams. More engaged teams mean lower employee turnover and a much better environment.
Perks can range anywhere from free to thousands of dollars per employee.
While we believe company culture shouldn’t be about the size of your wallet but the size of your heart, it’s true that companies with bigger pockets can offer more expensive and specialized perks.
That’s why large organizations can afford to cover tuition reimbursement, egg freezing and other fertility treatments, and gender-affirming surgeries.
If you’re an organization with a tight budget, company perks are not out of reach. However, they might require more creativity and come in the form of a company culture initiative.
Instead of offering gym passes or installing an on-site gym, develop a free "100 Push Up Club," create a company-wide 30-day challenge where everyone picks their own goal or develop a fitness contest where the winner receives a prize like a Fitbit, a pass for a free massage, or whatever else might be related to the contest.
Thinking that all perks will apply to everyone is an outdated line of thinking.
When perks were brand new and everyone was happy to have something extra in their office, people were appreciative of everything and anything. Nowadays as more companies offer more perks and the employee experience is becoming increasingly personalized - employees want perks that are customized to them and their needs.
Take providing beer for example. While beer used to be an excellent starting point for offering perks, there is rarely an office where everyone drinks beer. Either some people are gluten-free, prefer wine, are new parents, and would prefer some other investment with that perk money, or are remote employees who cannot enjoy this perk at all.
Apply this line of thinking to all of the perks you offer and you can quickly see how lopsided your perks offering can become.
When thinking about your perks, be sure to give an honest assessment to how many people and who they’ll apply to. Remember to consider your remote team too.
Perks have different types of impact, as well as varying levels of impact.
With company perks, often there are two approaches to impact: proactive and reactive.
Proactive perks are ones that are offered because the company is proactively trying to align with new company values or industry trends.
Reactive is when companies are offering perks in response to their competitors or the industry, or they’re realizing that there is something they need to address within their company.
An example of the latter type of reactive perks is a company noticing that the team isn’t staying up on their craft anymore, so a company might institute a book program, a book club, or even give everyone a couple of hours of “learning time” per week for them to better hone their skills.
Those were the 4 top things to think about before you add a new perk.
Some of the other considerations addressed less often when it comes to picking a perk are:
Ultimately, before deciding on your company’s new office perk, it’s important to have an idea of what goal you’re trying to accomplish, and where it falls on a spectrum of money, employee application, and impact.
If you want to read more to decide which perks would be best for your team, check out The 7 Best Employee Perks for 2021.
Are your perks not accomplishing their goals anymore? It could be time for an update.
Perks as a talent strategy have been around for a while, and as their role and significance inside organizations increases, so have the problems associated with them:
With the unemployment rate at an all-time low in the United States, and the skills gap increasing, top talent is more difficult to attract than ever. Companies are turning to perks as a way to stand out from the competition. In this case, more is better. Offering perks was once an innovative strategy, but companies of all sizes and budgets have since adopted this approach.
As Kirsten Pollard, Chief People & Culture Officer at OFX, puts it:
“[The basic perks] are more than important, they’re essential. The competition to retain talent is rife, and perks are expected these days.”
Regardless of whether you offer 2 or 20 perks, someone on your team (maybe you?) will have to pick, purchase, and maintain them for the team. Today, most people use email filtering and spreadsheets to keep track of this, which is an inefficient and time-consuming model.
If you feel this pain, learn more about the Perks Tipping Point to see how you can address it.
Unlike many other industries, perks do not yet have any frameworks or processes defined for how they should be picked by companies. Most people are relying on prior knowledge, experience, and those around them.
If you're looking for a new approach, check out lifestyle spending accounts which are the new approach many companies are taking.
Because they’re often combined with benefits in research studies, they haven’t been given their proper place in research studies.
To combat this, we've begun pulling together a big list of perk statistics.
Many articles online tout “the best” company perks, but the truth is that everyone’s preferences, wants, and needs are different. On top of that, what someone might need today regarding health & wellness or continuous learning might be completely different in six months.
We think company culture shouldn’t be about the size of the company’s budget but rather about the size of the company’s heart.
With big-budget companies having unlimited opportunities to buy perks, smaller companies need to be more creative than ever before if they want to compete.
What does this year have in store for employee perks? That's the question we set out to answer. We recently connected with passionate people-first folks in the people operations industry, as well as managers, tech CEOs, and culture software owners and asked them to provide their thoughts.
Below are the employee perk trends that bubbled to the top:
As Baby Boomer employees retire, more Generation X (and Y) will face the challenges of balancing their parents and grandparents care with their careers, often on top of their own immediate family. Employers can help by offering expanded perks related to caregiving roles, such as childcare and elder care services or reimbursements, additional time off, flexible work hours and location, and even stipends to help supplement other caregiving costs.
You can learn more about these in-depth by reading our top employee perks for 2023 article.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” - Peter Drucker
Company perks are still in the early innings for their use in companies everywhere. As the talent market continues to tighten, and the percentage of GenZ and millennials in the workplace increases, companies will continue to turn to perks as strategies to enhance their culture, differentiate themselves, and make a meaningful impact on the lives of their employees.
Perk stipends through Compt help you to build an inclusive, personalized, and meaningful perks program for your people that is flexible, cost-effective, and scalable for HR.