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Work Perks: Why Your Business Should Say Goodbye to the Free Gym Membership

Ping-pong tables, bucket-list experiences, bottomless sweets dispensers… employee work perks these days are many and varied. But do work perks actually work?

Just as some say that the truly happy person never posts on social media, I contend that the truly satisfied employee doesn’t need work perks. At least, not as we commonly understand them.

Work perks seem to fall into two categories: those that are slyly aimed at getting employees to actually live at work (hello, free buffet dinner by the foosball table), and those focused on improving an employee’s life outside of work (have a massage on us, you poor overworked thing).

And that’s the clue as to why I don’t think work perks work. They’re focused on the time when staff aren’t actually working – rather than helping to improve their work experience.

Ask employees what perks they would actually like, and their list might surprise you: the top choices include flexible/remote/hybrid working, professional development and skills training, and extra parental leave. Employees want and need, perks that help them do better at their job and weave their job more successfully into their life.

I don’t like the phrase work/life balance. It implies that work is something separate from, and at odds with, one’s real life. But a great job – what you’re trying to provide for your employees – should be an important and valuable part of someone’s life.

Here at FLOWN, we talk about work/rest/play balance: three ingredients that together create a rich and satisfying life.

It follows that employers should be finding ways of ensuring their staff can do their work in the easiest, most satisfying way. That way, work won’t seep into rest and play, and employees will be happier and more productive.

So stop wasting money on perks that don’t work, and direct it into a workplace culture that will benefit both your staff and your business.

Here are my suggestions for the sort of ‘work perks’ that will make your staff happy where it matters to you: at work.

Perk 1: A good working environment

Environment matters. And by this, I don’t just mean an ergonomic chair and a desk by the window, but a workplace environment that’s conducive to creating excellence.

What’s in the way of your staff doing their best work? Needless meetings, office politics, Slack overload, red tape? Find these things and get rid of them. Consider establishing a ‘deep work’ culture in your business, where the distraction-free focus is encouraged and rewarded. FLOWN offers facilitated online deep-work sessions that help people stay focused and accountable – and our own staff use them daily.

What could you give your staff to help them do their best work? Do they get exposure to diverse and inspiring thinkers, and to restorative breaks, giving them the opportunity to create new neural connections and solve problems creatively?

Even a brief time in a natural setting can improve a worker’s focus by 15%. Make opportunities to refresh and get creative a part of your staff’s working day.

Perk 2: Flexibility

Structure is important to keep staff grounded and accountable, but why not let staff have input into a structure that suits them? Employees who feel some measure of control over their work and hours are happier and less likely to stray. They’re also grateful – and hence more likely to go the extra mile when you need them to.

While it’s true that businesses need some ‘core’ hours of staff overlap, this can be less than you might think, especially when unnecessary meetings are stripped out (see Perk 1).

Perk 3: Upskilling

I groan when I see companies spend money on free booze and jellybean couches when they could be using it to give their team new skills.

Investing in developing your team’s talent really is an investment – with a great ROI. They’ll use that talent to be better at their job, which will benefit your business. Learning as a team can also help your staff bond, and discover each other’s strengths.

Perk 4: A great salary

Pay your team well. Pay them better than they’d be paid at your competition. I know it can be tempting to scrimp on salaries, especially for startups and if margins are tight. But don’t think of payroll as a ‘cost’, think of it as, yes, an investment.

Staff who are well paid tend to be happier. Their rest and play time is of better quality, so they have more to give at work. Staff who are both well-paid and satisfied (see Perks 1-3) are unlikely to leave, which means you won’t be wasting time, money, and corporate memory in hiring and training a replacement.

And if you get a reputation for paying well, you’ll attract the best staff to your business.

So forget free lunches, shopping vouchers, and gift hampers – these are nice, but focus on making someone’s ‘playtime’ better. Instead, focus on improving their ‘work’ time, and reap the rewards for your staff and your business.



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