With websites like Glassdoor acting as a Yelp for workplaces, more companies than ever are looking to outdo their rivals in a bid for top employees. Many modern companies are leaning away from the “all-business” mentality, in favor of fostering relationships and engagement with their staff. With this shift comes a variety of workplace perks encouraged by top companies like Google and Facebook in order to attract and retain the most skilled performers.
If your mind immediately turns to free coffee and pastries, you’re not wrong – but that’s only the beginning. Workplaces might offer anything from free haircuts to complimentary massages to on-site laundry or gyms. It’s a far cry from the days when employees would be happy to simply get health coverage and a retirement plan as their “perks.”
Yet even with all the frills and bonuses, the question remains: Are extravagant perks what top employees really want; or are all these perks just window dressing? It turns out that the startup industry’s top performers may see right through extensive add-ons. Let’s examine what benefits the top performers are really looking for in a workplace, and how you can use these valuable perks to attract them to your company.
A focus on wellness and work-life balance
One major desire for top performers is to find an employer that emphasizes work-life balance. These talented potential employees are undoubtedly hard workers and team players — but they’re also going to need downtime to recharge and stay creative. Add in the possibility that these candidates may have young families to take care of, and it’s no surprise that many job-seekers look for companies that value a healthy balance between work and personal life. In fact, a positive work culture has been linked to employee health, in the form of lower blood pressure, improved immune systems and decreased stress.
Allowing flex days for staff to use, either to work from home (if applicable) or to simply take a personal day, is a huge benefit for employees. Some companies don’t even track paid sick days, allowing employees to decide for themselves if they truly need the day off to recuperate. When good employees are “on their honor” for taking sick days, they generally end up taking fewer of them. Emphasize that you put the trust in your staff to decide when they need to take a breather – it shows that you care about their well-being.
Speaking of well-being, consider offering a stipend for a yearly gym membership: if your employees have physically demanding jobs, a gym membership can help improve their conditioning and help them stay in great shape, thus improving performance. It sounds like another fancy frill, but it actually pays dividends towards the health and happiness of employees. Top candidates are the kind that push themselves to stay healthy and blow off stress in a productive manner, and exercise is a great way to meet those goals. Healthy employees cost a company less in medical care and genuine sick days — and they’re more likely to form bonds with other physical activity-loving coworkers. Your company doesn’t need to invest in putting an actual gym on site – it can be enough to offer a few hundred dollars per year, for any type of gym membership or classes.
A dedicated commitment to staff
Here’s another important point: all the flashy perks in the world won’t matter to top performers, because they can see right through the bagel Fridays and the fancy juice bars. They’re looking for deeper, more substantial benefits that will keep them at a company for the long run. It should come as no surprise that all employees, not just the cream of the crop, like to be valued. This means placing an emphasis on staff retention, even during tough times.
One example of a company valuing its employees is The Container Store: although the company’s stock dropped 40 percent in January of this year, the company “hasn’t cut pay, perks or its commitment to training.” The company needed to trim the fat in some areas, but did so without touching employee pay. This signals a genuine desire to retain staff, build loyalty and attract new hires (30 percent of all new hires at The Container Store are company referrals, proving that good word-of-mouth goes a long way toward attracting quality candidates).
When you’re interviewing a top candidate, be sure to put emphasis on the corporate culture; explain how dedicated upper management is to fostering and retaining staff. Speak less about the flashy perks, and more about how your company invests in its people. It’s also important to focus on how this top candidate will be a part of the team, and how they will contribute in the role. Elite workers want to know that their work will be valued; in the long term, this means much more to them than any sort of fancy lunch catering.
Further education and learning experiences
Another beneficial way to show that your company cares about its employees is to create opportunities for ongoing learning, training and certifications. Top candidates never want to rest on their laurels; instead, they’re always looking for chances to grow and develop new skills. If their workplace encourages these ambitions (which may include covering costs for classes and tutorials), that’s a worthwhile perk.
Some companies offer in-house learning curriculums to help employees of all levels, tuition reimbursement, or even simple training programs or monthly tutorials for staff. Employees don’t like to feel stagnated. When they feel stuck at a job, it’s easy to jump ship — you’re likely to retain employees longer, and foster increased dedication to the job, when you find ways to invest in their personal growth. Providing (and encouraging) opportunities for employees to improve their job skills, and expand their knowledge, benefits both the individual and your company as a whole.
Put value in people, not things
With so many influential companies piling on the frills, it can become easy to get caught up in the hype of extraneous perks. Although you don’t want to pare down to zero perks, it’s better to take a look at what specific benefits would drive top performers to choose your company. It could be that they value much different perks than catered food and massage days – more often, people are looking for a company that reassures them that their contribution matters, and compensates their efforts with a good work-life balance. At the end of the day, investing in your employees has far more value than paying for the biggest and best perks.
Originally published on Sept. 4, 2016.