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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Give the Best Employee Perks—on Any Budget

Company perks like Starbucks’ new college tuition program, Google’s childcare, and Facebook’s onsite doctors get lots of press. Presumably, these perks get attention because they’re so valuable—and because only a select few companies have the ability (read: cash) to offer them.

So, how about the rest of us not-so-flush employers? The truth is, every business owner would be wise to reward his or her employees beyond the paycheck, especially if retention is a priority. Yes, a good job and a steady paycheck are rewards of their own, especially during the job market we’ve seen during the last few years. But it’s important to recognize that the people who come to work for you every day play an important role in the success of the company. Why not reward them with a little something beyond the obvious?

If you’ve been trying to figure out the kinds of perks that your employees would appreciate and that you can afford, here are a few things to think about.

1. Understand the True Value of Perks

Flexible hours, a fun environment, and time off are all worthy extras, but there are some perks that are worth paying for not just for the well-being of your team, but for the good of the company. Depending on the priorities of your staff, healthcare, onsite exercise classes, professional development conferences, tickets to special events (sports, concerts, or Burning Man—hey, we’re based in Nevada!) are examples of perks that could go a long way toward boosting morale and building a loyal team.

Since happy employees tend to provide better customer service—something that is vital at ShortStack—I’m all for finding ways to show appreciation to my hardworking team. As Herb Kelleher, founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines once said, “Profit is the byproduct of good customer service.” I completely agree. And when employees are happy going to work, they work harder to make others happy. To this end, paying for healthcare, a new laptop, or a phone bill are great investments for the company. (If you don’t have the resources to offer multiple costly perks, an annual cash bonus will go a long way, too.)

It’s important to keep in mind (especially for the cash-strapped) that perceived value matters, too. A couple of tickets to a Giants game might cost you $300, but the fact that you’ve gone out of your way to give an employee something you know will thrill her makes the gesture much more valuable. It’s kind of like the gift card phenomenon. I’d rather have someone give me a $25 bottle of whiskey than a $50 gift card because it shows they know what I’m interested in.

2. Listen or Ask to Figure Out What Employees Really Want

In order to find the perks that employees will seriously want and enjoy—and therefore that will be the most valuable, you have to listen. Since I sit at the receptionist’s desk, I tend to overhear a lot of the conversations that go on in the office, and it gives me a little insight into the kinds of extras my employees might appreciate. Sitting where I do isn’t realistic for many managers, which means you might have to make an effort to spend time with your employees outside of the office, like through quarterly lunches with individuals. Lots of things come out during our Friday lunches (yes, we all go out to lunch every Friday—a beloved perk!). The most important thing is to meet in a casual setting where you have the opportunity to talk about non-work things—and get a sense of your employees’ likes and needs.

For instance, I recently heard one of my employees mention that she was going to buy winter tires over the weekend, and I offered to pick up the cost. She had been going above and beyond at work, and I wanted to reward her for her effort. She was shocked and grateful—and she realized that her well-being is important to me. That relatively small investment left me with a happy and loyal employee and made me feel more like a leader and less like the boss.

One caveat here: Squeaky wheels definitely tend to get more attention, so just be sure you’re doing your best to not just reward those who make their needs known.

3. Offer Perks as Often as You Can

Perks are often best when they happen often enough to serve as regular reminders of how much you appreciate your employees.

For companies like ours, this means having a healthy mix of perks we decide are worth paying for and perks that cost absolutely nothing but make people very happy. We have an open-dog policy—a few employees bring their dogs to work every day, some only on “woof Wednesday”—hosted Friday lunches, paid time off for volunteer work, the option to work from home, and so on. I’ve heard of companies that offer a monthly movie day, mobile car washing, financial planning seminars, and many more creative ways to give employees a little extra.

If you don’t have the money to offer pricey perks, come up with other options. A couple of extra days off during the years when your profits aren’t in a place where you can award bonuses or a dinner invitation when you can’t buy catered lunch every day will go a long way. And those things are all relatively cheap!

By getting to know your employees, paying attention to their hobbies, and recognizing the things they care about, any business can offer a variety of perks that fall within its own budget—and keep employees happy, motivated, and successful.

Photo of coffee cups courtesy of Shutterstock.