Anti-Perks: How to Avoid Them and Get Employee Benefits Right for 2023

Have you heard of “anti-perks?” Many employers are offering them, but many employees don’t want them. Here are the perks and benefits workers actually want.

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Anti-Perks: How to Avoid Them and Get Employee Benefits Right for 2023

Here's what you need to know:

  • Unusual employee perks may sound “cool” but they’re not necessarily what employees want or need
  • The right kinds of benefits and perks help employers attract and retain talent
  • Some “anti-perks” that many employees don’t want or need include on-site gyms, free alcohol, game rooms, and more
  • Employees do enjoy some perks and it’s beneficial to offer a combination of practical and fun benefits and perks
  • Perks that employees really want include flexibility and the ability to work remotely, paid time off, career development, and more
  • Consider conducting in-house surveys to determine the perks your staff would want

What employee would turn down free meals, endless vacation time, game rooms, and housecleaning services from their employer? If you’re asking this same question on behalf of your company, the answer from your employees may surprise you.

Exotic and unusual perquisites, or employee perks, may sound “cool” but they’re not necessarily what employees want or need. Or they make sense only under certain circumstances, like the current pandemic. In many cases, they’re not even what employees say they like, which makes them what are being called “anti-perks.”

A look at why employers offer perks, along with traditional benefits, may help explain what anti-perks are.

Why should employers offer perks to employees at all?

Amanda LaGrange, CEO of Repowered (fka Tech Dump), made the case for offering perks to Workest in an email interview. Repowered provides ex-incarcerates with jobs and training. “When I think of ‘perks,’ I think of the ways we show employees our commitment to them — their whole selves, not just the people at work from 8-5. How we spend our resources shows employees how we value them,” said LaGrange.

Businesses also know that offering benefits and perks pays off in attracting, hiring, and retaining workers. Their reasons for offering both types of incentives may differ, but, according to Business.org, the top reasons for offering them are to:

  • Attract top talent
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Keep employees healthy
  • Raise productivity
  • Increase morale
  • Get tax deductions as employers

Most U.S. employers provide healthcare plans (59%) and many offer other practical benefits, like retirement plans. But some have raised the stakes in the competition for talent by offering perks.

Since benefits can be good for employers and workers, why bother offering perks? The differences between the 2 incentives may provide the answer.

What are the differences between benefits and perks?

Benefits are nonmonetary incentives that supplement employees’ wages. In fact, “total compensation” for workers is the sum of their wages plus the dollar value of their benefits and any bonuses or commissions they receive.

Perks are generally “nice to have” offerings that “go above and beyond” traditional benefits.

Also, benefits generally fall into the “traditional” or “practical” category of incentives, like heathcare coverage, retirement plans, and life insurance.

Perks, on the other hand, are extra incentives for helping employees feel happier at work, with the hope that they’ll perform their jobs better.

Also, perks are generally “nice to have” offerings that “go above and beyond” traditional benefits. And although they can be practical, some are creative, experimental, or just plain “over the top” by employees’ standards.

Another difference between benefits and perks are mandates. Employers offer most benefits and perks voluntarily. But they must offer 3 benefits under federal or state laws:

  1. Social Security and Medicare
  2. Unemployment insurance (state laws)
  3. Workers’ compensation insurance (state laws)

Employers (depending on their size, in some cases) also must comply with laws that regulate how they administer benefits, like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA), and Executive Order 13706.

Perks, as “fringe benefits,” aren’t required by law

The challenge for employers is to offer the perks that workers want and avoid those that will end up on the “anti-perk” list.

What exactly are the anti-perks for employees?

Employers must remember that anti-perks for some employees are “cool” benefits for others. For instance, pet owners may like “bring your dog to work” days, but employees with fur allergies or those who dislike office distractions may not. That’s why certain perks appear on both “best perks” and “anti-perks” lists.

Allthingstalent.org came up with this list of perks that employees in surveys rejected:

  • Unlimited time off. Employees see this as a useless perk at organizations that don’t encourage them to take sufficient time off. This perk also topped several lists of anti-perks.
  • Employee of the month programs. Employee recognition programs aren’t unusual or a bad idea, but employees dislike the shallow and restricted criteria employers use to select awardees.
  • Festival celebrations at work. Employees prefer to celebrate festivals and special events with family and friends, especially on the actual day of celebration.
  • Frequent team-building activities. Staff collaboration is critical for employers, but frequent team-building activities or outings pressure employees to work around them to get their jobs done.
  • Mandatory wellness programs. Employees aren’t opposed to regular health check-ups or free gym memberships, but they don’t want to be forced to participate in these programs. And they don’t feel that these programs are suited to every employee’s needs.

Other anti-perks include:

  • On-site gyms and nap pods. These perks make employees feel as though employers don’t expect them to ever leave the office.
  • Unlimited vacation. Employees say this perk makes them feel guilty about taking vacation time, even staycation time at home.
  • Free alcohol. Employees on social media report having had bad experiences with access to free alcohol at the worksite.
  • Open office plans. Wall-less work areas are distracting for some employees.
  • Game rooms. Employees distrust what they perceive as forced fun between coworkers. This also applies to zany team-building activities.

One-of-a-kind anti-perks

FlexJobs’ researchers discovered these “over the top” perks:

  • Homemade guacamole
  • A personal assistant per employee
  • Free mechanical bull rides
  • Murder mystery parties
  • Unlimited snacks
  • Daily catered lunches
  • Free-beer Fridays
  • Free housing
  • Free 2-hour housecleaning services a month

Tech giants like Google, Apple, and Twitter are known for the exotic perks they offer their workers. But employers in the banking, retail, marketing, communication, and healthcare industries also offer perks to dazzle employees and job candidates.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Should employers ever offer “cool” perks?

Yes, when they’re appropriate, say business leaders.

Brian David Crane, founder of the software company Caller Smart, told Workest by email that organizations can offer a mix of “cool” and practical perks. But he thinks they should stick to practical perks like continuing education, in-house professional development, mental health services, and remote work because they’re more likely to support a company’s growth.

LaGrange said her view of perks changed over the years as a CEO when discussing someone’s loss of a relative twice in 1 year. Her executive team decided that adding a bereavement leave to her company’s policies was more supportive than any words or gift it could offer the bereaved.

LaGrange’s company also offers a mix of practical and fun perks, like one-on-one therapy sessions and a staff recognition program, along with festival celebrations, all-team lunches, summertime outdoor grilling, and break room sweet treats on Fridays.

Stephanie Badouix, HR director at TouchTunes, favors music in the workplace as a way to remove barriers between employees and help them connect with each. “Music can help with cultural enrichment, and it brings an element of fun to the workplace,” Badouix told Workest by email. “We offer music in all our offices through our TouchTunes Unlimited jukebox.”

Badouix also sees team lunches and team-building activities as effective ways to promote collaboration at work.

So, what perks do employees really want at work?

LaGrange said that every human is wired so differently that it’s impossible to meet every employee’s needs and preferences at the same time.

“The more we can provide tools so people can care for themselves and their community/family, the more we actually support our team,” said LaGrange. “This is why we offer on-site therapy with an amazing group of therapists, while employees are still on the clock. And we pick up the bill for therapy too — no need for them to file [an] insurance [claim].  An employer who creates a safe space for people to work and to walk through life is far better than having a ping pong table or kombucha on tap!”

With that in mind, here are 10 perks compiled by PerkUp, a firm specializing in incentives, that scored highly with employees:

  • Flexibility, the ability to work from home (WFH) or anywhere, and set their own hours
  • Family support with childcare perks
  • Career development and mentorships
  • Mental health and wellness programs
  • Free meals
  • Community involvement, with time off for volunteering
  • Learning and educational opportunities
  • Technology access, including coverage for connectivity services
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Choice of perks

A choice of perks could be one of the most important incentives you offer. And Crane agrees. He said that organizations can offer a mix of “cool” and practical perks and allow employees to choose the ones they want or need.

How can employers get perks right for 2023?

You can start by asking employees what perks they value and are most likely to use.

“It’s critical to have feedback from employees on what is working and what is not. Looking at not only participant levels, but also how many people are telling their fellow colleagues about a perk. [This] tells you more than a survey ever could,” said LaGrange.

Crane also believes in getting employees’ feedback. He recommends that employers conduct in-house surveys to find out what their employees want and then choose a feasible and practical package for your organization.

Badouix said she always asks employees during stay-in interviews what her company should do to improve its perks and benefits. “The answers vary depending on the employee,” she said. “One employee might value professional development, while another might value wellness benefits, and yet another wants a pet-friendly work environment. This is tricky for employers, but a total reward à la carte solution is necessary.”

Badouix not only recommends surveys and interviews with employees but also benchmarking with similar companies to find out what else is resonating with workers. This way, every dollar spent on benefits is valuable to your employees and is a smarter investment, she said.

So, how should you move ahead with employee perks in the new year?

What are updated perks employers should offer in 2023?

Perks need updating as the workplace evolves and employees’ needs change. Pandemic-related stress, rising inflation, and a restless labor market are creating many of these transitions.

Here are 5 strategies for harnessing cutting-edge incentives for 2023:

  1. Use data to determine in-demand perks.
  2. Offer perks that support flexibility, like PTO, WFH, and leave policies for caregivers.
  3. Allow employees to customize perks.
  4. Make mental wellness a priority.
  5. Offer financial wellness programs.

The takeaway: Perks can be “cool” without being impractical

Perks can be “cool” without being impractical, and when combined with traditional perks, they can support employees at work and at home.

Here’s how Badouix summed up the state of perks in today’s workplace. “The practical benefits in today’s workforce are the baseline for employers and there’s only room to grow from there. Any type of cool or fun perk that organizations can offer their employees will be important for attracting talent, employee engagement, and retention. To remain competitive in today’s employee market, companies need to look at offering more for their employees than just the practical benefits.”

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