Workplace perks that make a difference

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Forget on-site massages, nap rooms and bring your dog to work fads. Instead, offer your staff something they will genuinely appreciate.

Like it or not, workplace perks are a must nowadays. Once, they were something nice to offer; now they are vital to keeping your staff happy, loyal and ‘engaged’.

They are also vital if you are hiring and hoping to attract top candidates. In fact, research from CV-Library shows that nearly two thirds of UK professionals consider ‘extras’ to be a key factor when looking for a new job.

So… a built-in office sauna, ‘paid puppy leave’ or free cooking classes? Fortunately, most employees in our profession don’t care much for cool and quirky.

“You needn’t worry if you don’t have a Google-sized budget, either,” says Victoria McLean, recruitment expert and CEO of CityCV.

There are plenty of practical, low- and no-cost employee perks that make a big impact.

What people want

But first things first: what do your staff want?

“Sometimes bosses make assumptions about what their team would want as a perk, but that’s a mistake,” says Matthew Knight, principal at strategy and innovation practice Foxlark. “You should really ask them. Often it’s something really basic and low cost, like being allowed to come in an hour later on rainy days to beat the wet crush on the train.”

He adds that simple things like fresh fruit mid-morning or a snack in the afternoon are generally welcome, cost little and can boost energy levels, too.

“And why not introduce the Swedish concept of ‘fika’ – a coffee break, often with cake – in the afternoon for colleagues to come together and chat? It gives people 15 minutes away from their desks and can spark useful conversations,” Knight says.

If possible, locate all your desks near windows, too. Research has found that access to natural light and views of the outdoors are now the number one attribute of a great workplace environment.

A visually pleasing office environment is also important, says Knight. “Allow your people to decorate their own spaces, choose what goes up on walls, and bring in plants.”

He also recommends introducing a quiet space, particularly if your office is noisy. “It needs to be a place where your staff can go and switch modes for 15 minutes or so, and I don’t mean a smokers’ corner outside in the cold rain.”

Social time together

A study by employee benefits platform Perkbox shows there’s a growing demand for “social” perks that also offer an opportunity to learn something.

Indeed, perks such as knitting and book clubs are now more popular among UK workers than “boozy” treats like “free drinks on Fridays” and Christmas parties.

Chieu Cao, co-founder at Perkbox, says: “This is good news for employers because these activities have broader positive effects on the workforce than simply keeping employees happy. They can help teams bond and work better together, creating a more positive company culture.”

But let’s face it, most people still love an office Christmas ‘do’.

“Employees see it as a perk they deserve for all their hard work and loyalty during the year,” says Hannah Sheppard, events director at Clownfish Events.

She adds: “One thing to be mindful of is that, with greater cultural diversity in our workforces, clearly not everyone celebrates Christmas. So perhaps throw a party that celebrates the wider ‘winter holiday’ period and end-of-year successes.”

If your budget can stretch to it, celebrate reaching your quarterly or six-monthly fees target, too.

“Mindfulness and employee wellbeing are a big thing now, so you could do an away day offering yoga and the chance for a digital detox, rather than a typical boozy dinner,” Sheppard says.

Less time at work

But one perk that tops them all is being allowed to spend less time in the office and improve the all-important work/life balance.

“You can help your team out in so many small ways that will make their life easier and foster a feeling of loyalty at the same time,” says McLean. “Why not give them an afternoon off so they can attend their child’s school event, for instance?”

Knight likes the idea of allowing employees the occasional “duvet morning” when they can come in later in the day if they wake up feeling under the weather or simply not up to it. “Or a Christmas shopping afternoon so that they can head to the high street when it’s quieter, and perhaps the opportunity to go home early on Fridays during the summer to make the most of the longer evenings.”

Extra paid time off and shorter working days may make you the employer of choice, but they will of course hit your bottom line. That’s why flexible hours or allowing your staff to occasionally work from home are more optimal solutions to keep both you and your staff happy.

What matters most

However, professionals rarely value even great perks above opportunities for personal and career development.

McLean says: “Supporting them through career planning and growth, understanding and developing their talents, coaching to increase their self-awareness and confidence – all of these make them feel valued and help convince them that their long-term future is with you.”

So give your staff time and freedom to train and learn.

“It could be as simple as giving someone an hour a week to do an online course, and allowing them to choose which projects to work on,” says Knight. “Making your people feel supported, empowered and listened to works far better than free cupcakes or ping-pong.”

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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