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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

4 Company Perks That Cost Nothing—But Mean Everything

Limitless Red Bull. Gourmet meals prepared by an on-site chef. Six months of paid maternity leave. If you’re one of the lucky few who works at a tech company flush with cash, you might have access to some amazing benefits like these.

But let’s get real. Unless your company is swimming in money, who can afford to offer supersize perks?

Fortunately, it’s not just about money. More and more, employees are seeking greater meaning and purpose from their work. To coincide, there’s a growing trend of offering perks that can help champion your employees’ work and personal development. Best of all, they don’t have to break to the bank.

Here are a few to consider implementing (or, if you’re not the boss, suggesting!) on your team.

1. Unlimited Vacation

Last year, my company moved to an open vacation policy. In other words, we allow people to take the time they need, when they need it, without placing limitations on it. While this isn’t a brand new concept, it’s becoming increasingly more popular.

There are a few ground rules involved, of course: First, as with any planned time off, employees need to notify the team well in advance and make sure the dates don’t conflict with others’ travel. Each person must present a plan as to how work will continue moving forward, and if they’re going to be gone for more than two weeks, they need to provide emergency contact information in case there’s a question that only they can answer. But otherwise, people are free to take the time they need when they need it.

Why it Works

It puts employees in control of their free time and demonstrates your company’s commitment to their well-being. Research indicates that regular vacations boost productivity, so there’s a clear work benefit, too. And while it may sound potentially costly or risky in terms of service delivery, if you have a highly collaborative culture built on a foundation of trust and responsibility, it’s a safe bet that your employees won’t abuse the policy. (My team has quite an impressive vacation calendar over the next few months, and if anything, we overextend ourselves to make sure our bases are covered while we’re gone.)

2. Workouts for the Mind, Body, and Soul

Companies have been providing perks like gym reimbursements or even fitness centers for decades, but the new trend is about encouraging group workouts that exercise both the body and the soul.

For example, on Thursday afternoons, my California team stops what we’re doing early and joins together in a yoga class right in the middle of our office, led by a professional instructor. If yoga feels a little too crunchy for you, consider something more active. Our New York team prefers attending SoulCycle classes together on a weekly basis and experiences the same benefits.

Why it Works

Yes, encouraging employees to stay healthy is important, but instead of simply reimbursing employees for fitness classes, we’ve found that the camaraderie of exercising together further reinforces a unified team spirit. (If you could have seen us attempting headstands together for the first time, trust me, you’d understand.) Plus, many of us work from home on Fridays, so our Thursday afternoon yoga classes are a great way to wind down the week and relax together.

3. A Spirit of Giving

Does your company or team already participate in charity events together? If so, congrats—you’re already a step ahead of the curve. If you’re ready to take it one step further, service sabbaticals are a great way to encourage employees to become more involved in their communities. Outdoor clothing store Timberland, for example, has offered paid time off for employees to volunteer in their communities for more than 20 years.

There are other ways to get employees involved in their communities and giving. My company recently established a scholarship program in partnership with Girls, Inc., aimed at providing college funds for girls in pursuit of a passionate career path. The entire selection process is being driven by employees, and we’ve found that it’s a tremendous way to generate enthusiasm and excitement about the larger impact we can have, even as a small organization.

Why it Works

It’s science—researchers have found that helping others can make us happier at work. When we practice generosity, we also tend to be healthier and live longer. All good things in my book!

4. Cultivating Gratitude

Much like the practice of generosity, cultivating a sense of gratitude is central to happiness in both our work and personal lives. Earlier this year, we launched a gratitude blog for our team to make simple notes of the things we’re grateful for each day. One of my favorite activities is reviewing the posts each week and trying to guess which post belongs to each team member. We also complement the blog by using Gratitude 365, an app that allows you to make note of things you’re grateful for each day.

Why it Works

It’s unanimous. After a test period with our blog, the entire team agreed it’s been a great way to remember that it’s the little things that matter. We’ve also experienced an unexpected perk—it’s helped us get to know each other and the things we’re passionate about a little better.

In some ways, not having a huge budget for employee perks is a benefit in and of itself, because it forces us to become creative about the opportunities we can provide. As Jessie J sang, it’s not always about the money. I couldn’t agree more.

Photo of perks courtesy of Shutterstock.