open office
Getty Images/Robert Daly.

Perks. A word that conjures a variety of images, thoughts, and maybe even some reservations. Because the term has only somewhat recently become popular, you may still be getting used to the idea that you’re supposed to care about them.

You may believe that it’s unimportant or that the focus on it is problematic. You’ve always done just fine with your two weeks paid vacation and five personal days. You don’t care about being buddy-buddy with your colleagues or free snacks in the kitchen.

And yet, dismissing perks and non-traditional benefits outright and assuming the worst isn’t going to help you in your job search. Although they vary in meaning and execution from company to company, if you’re guilty of pigeon-holing the following as bogus, you’re only doing yourself a disservice when it comes to finding a job you love.


Flex Hours


What You Think it Means

People show up whenever. It’s basically a disorganized mess, and the workday has no structure as a result.


What it Really Means

You hear flexible hours and you assume everyone shows up after 11 AM and works until 9 PM or later—or they barely work at all, when, in fact, the flexible work policy allows for individuals to work when they’re most productive.

You might prefer a more traditional 9-to-5 schedule because you can’t remember the last time you slept past 7 AM, but you may have colleagues who prefer working late, and so they appreciate the option to roll in after they’ve gotten a restful seven or eight hours of sleep.

Flex hours allow people to work out during the day, avoid a hectic commute, and spend quality time with their families. Instead of assuming the worst, consider how you too might benefit from such a policy.


Work-From-Home Policy


What You Think it Means

Not a lot of progress is made because when people don’t feel like working, they just tell their boss they’re going to “work remotely.”


What it Really Means

You’re trusted. If people have the option to work from home either on a consistent or as-needed basis, they tend to feel like their boss trusts them. They’re accountable without having to be micromanaged.

Whether working remotely helps with balancing the demands of a family or allows you to run errands midday, having the option—and, essentially, the kind of relationship with your manager that allows you this flexibility—is obviously a good thing.


Unlimited Vacation


What You Think it Means

No one ever takes time off. The company implemented it to avoid having to pay people for vacation time.


What it Really Means

It’s true that no set vacation time means that if employees get laid off or terminated, they’re not owed any days off. And while there may be a number of companies who instituted this policy with that in mind, most really just want the employees to take time off without having to count days or go through some rigid, antiquated system of requesting vacation and trying to differentiate between personal days—hence the increasing popularity of unlimited vacation.


Free Food in the Kitchen, Games in the—Gasp—Game Room


What You Think it Means

Every day’s a party. People goof off all day long and basically live at the office.


What it Really Means

Companies choosing to invest in this—games, snacks, adult beverages—aren’t encouraging staff to play all day long. Rather, it’s like saying, hey, have a beer at the end of a long day. Or, take a break with a quick game of ping-pong the next time you’re distracted or experiencing a creative block.

Some of the more tangible perks lend personality to the office and strengthen an organization’s brand. When you’re in a comfortable space with some cool freebies, it can mean a major morale boost. And happy employees tend to be productive ones.


Open Office


What You Think it Means

It’s loud and uncomfortable. There’s no privacy.


What it Really Means

OK, time to get real: Open offices can be noisy, making it challenging at times to concentrate, and it’s true that there is little privacy in the absence of closed spaces, but there are actually a ton of advantages to working in this type of innovative space.

Seriously! For starters, it encourages collaboration and face-to-face conversations. We’re all so entrenched in email these days that it can be refreshing to turn to your colleague or swivel your chair around and have a discussion in person, just like that.

Plus, when no one’s cordoned off or hidden in a private room, everyone’s bound to have a better grasp of what’s going on throughout the company and not just in his or her department, and this is a pretty big deal if you care at all about being aware and looped in.


Interviewing can no doubt be stressful, but if you can remember that you’re not just being assessed, you are also assessing, it may make it slightly less nerve-wracking. Because as more and more companies place importance on finding the right fit, it’s crucial that you consider this, too.

It’s OK if you don’t care about company-sponsored happy hours or a room of beanbag chairs, but instead of falsely believing that perks are all just some startup hype for people who don’t know the real value of work, consider the myriad ways it can actually make your job better.