Workplace Perks That Employees Actually Want

At Work


Kyla Bills

When you think of perks at work, you probably think about the dot-com-boom foosball table and donuts in the kitchen, or today’s startup Topo Chico on tap and a private T-Pain concert at the company retreat. And while some donuts are better than no donuts, which of those add-ons really make an impact on employee happiness in our current work environment? (Note, I’m talking “extras” that are the icing on top of the big things workers are looking for.) I searched the web, talked to colleagues, and polled my friends to round up a few of the work perks that really do make a difference.

Snacks, snacks, snacks

A recurring and unsurprising theme is that people really care about the food in their office. From Google’s cafeteria to Buzzfeed’s catered lunches, consistently having a good meal at work can be a huge part of employee satisfaction. “Sony’s free lunch program helps me save a ton of money on food. I work in an expensive area and live relatively far from my office, so buying or bringing lunch every day isn’t always an option,” says Elli Hu, an employee at the company’s New York offices. “The cafe in the office is also subsidized. I can get a coffee and balanced, filling breakfast for under $10. There are plenty of snack options available as well, such as fresh fruit, granola bars, chips, and pastries.”

Programming opps (for both business and pleasure)

In my own work experience, I loved taking advantage of a learning-stipend perk. Through my current job at New Stand, I was able to find and take a class on data analytics outside of work hours. To learn about something related to my job—but that I wouldn’t have necessarily learned through my day to day work—reflected a reciprocal investment between me and my company. When employees have opportunities to learn new skills and information, they bring that knowledge back to the org. A win-win for everyone involved!

Of course, most people want more out of their week than just work-work-work. And while we all obviously all have lives outside of our day jobs, carving out time between 9 am and 5 pm for some extracurricular fun can be a great way to inject life back into a less-engaged team. Events can be as simple and cheerful as an ice cream social or a lemonade-and-games popup in the office lobby. Or, try something as hands-on and creative as an online cooking class. (The results of New Stand’s recent scallion pancake-making session were unanimously delicious.)

Despite these examples, programming doesn’t have to be food-focused, but as noted above, people do love free food… Some other tips: Go for activities that bring people together, start by holding events during work hours (a collective break in the day can feel like a perk in itself), and always allow team members to opt out. Planned fun, yes; forced fun, no thanks.

Investment in community

When a company shows they care about the community they’re a part of, it can make employees feel seen as human beings who care about their personal and collective impact, too. Naturally, most people don’t feel good about working at a soulless corporation. So being part of the greater good goes a long way. And it makes sense then that philanthropic opps are often popular at work. Promoting volunteer activity within your org can even help increase employee engagement and productivity.

While you’ve likely seen photos of beaming teams in matching t-shirts after helping out at a soup kitchen or completing a fundraiser 5K together, companies can encourage individual efforts, too. At New Stand, employees get one day off—separate from their own PTO—to volunteer as they choose. Other companies offer matching programs for charitable donations. Employers can also build meaningful relationships with local small businesses and nonprofits as vendors and partners. See: the snack brands in your office, employee perks programs (such as with nearby fitness studios), and gathering spaces (from corporate events to team dinners).

Actually good merch

What would you prefer: a cheap, company-logo string backpack or an insulated, brand-name water bottle you could take on your commute? There’s a big difference between a throwaway freebie that checks off the “employee gift” box and something considered and useful (and nice enough that you really want to use it). Not only does a practical, high-quality gift do its job of showing genuine appreciation, but it also makes the employer look like it knows what’s up in the eyes of employees.

Big points for sending folks home with, say, a sturdy tote bag with a cool enough design that they would’ve bought it in real life. Or comfy slide sandals for WFH days. Or a box of treats and trinkets for a better workday: a fancy hand lotion, boutique-brand desk candle, and a stylish notebook for new ideas. Company swag should be all about helping your employees get through their day and elevate, enhance, or ease their work-life experience.

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