Whether you’re a startup or an established business, there’s no arguing that today’s recruitment environment has become more challenging than ever. Top candidates rarely apply for job board listings, and the consequences of making the wrong decision can be severe.

For low-paying, high-turnover positions, the Center for American Progress pegs turnover costs at 16% of an employee’s annual earnings. That figure goes up to 20% for mid-range positions (those earning $30,000-$50,000 annually) and skyrockets to as much as 213% for high-education executive jobs.

Getting good employees is only half the battle; keeping them around comes down to providing the right mix of compensation and culture. It’s easy to assume employees make job decisions based solely on pay, but studies suggest salaries actually play a smaller role than other perks.

 

Employees make job decisions based on perks rather than salaries. Click To Tweet

 

Of the workers surveyed in Glassdoor’s 2015 Employment Confidence Survey, nearly 80% would prefer new or additional benefits to a pay increase. Health insurance and paid time off (PTO) ranked near the top of employees’ wish lists, but flexible schedules (30%), office perks like free lunch and casual dress codes (19%), professional development (19%), and gym memberships and wellness programs (16%) were also cited frequently.

So where should your company start? The ideas below will help turn your company into a place employees will love to work.

1. Flexible Schedules

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Want to prove to your employees that they’re valued members of your team? Trust them enough to set their own schedules.

Schedule flexibility has gained a ton of notoriety lately thanks to startups offering unlimited vacation time (or, in its latest iteration, mandatory vacation time). Unlimited vacation time, of course, doesn’t mean letting your employees take six months off to tour the world. Instead, the policies are intended to address employees’ needs holistically by trusting them to take the time off they need without negatively impacting the team’s work.

A few of the companies offering this perk currently include:

  • Sailthru, which offers unlimited vacation, as well as a flexible working policy.
  • Pocket, which grants workers the ability to take as much time off as they need.
  • ZestFinance, which offers not just unlimited vacation, but unlimited paid vacation.
  • Prezi, which gives employees unlimited vacation time, on top of office perks like ping pong tables and in-house yoga sessions.

If unlimited vacation time isn’t in the cards for your company, consider that flexible schedules are just as desirable to employees. FlexJobs reports that as many as 80% of employers already offer this perk, which can take any of the following forms:

  • Part-time schedules
  • Flex-time schedules (for instance, the ability to work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days)
  • The ability to telework on a full-time or part-time basis, or as needed

Another key component to your scheduling policy is the way you handle leaves of absence; particularly parental leave. Many companies are finding that supporting parents with paid parental leave, on-site day care, or even “bring your baby to work” policies maximize retention and actually decrease the leave duration parents take after the birth of a child.

Ikea recently made the news for its decision to expand paid parental leave to all employees, a decision that comes on the heels of a similar move by tech giant Facebook. USAA has been similarly recognized for its decision to offer on-site day care to employees at all of its locations (though this kind of policy is becoming less common).

For an even more involved approach, consider the policies implemented by Badger Balm, Zutano, and others that let new parents bring their babies to work with them. Certainly, policies like these require a fair bit of coordination. Badger Balm, for instance, has parents designate a support partner who can take over the parenting duties if parents must step into uninterruptible meetings or conference calls.

If you intend to offer flexible schedules or competitive leave benefits, bring an employment lawyer into the conversation if you don’t have an in-house HR team with this expertise. In addition to ensuring you don’t run afoul of any state or national laws, the way you word these policies is critical to the success of their implementation. Detail exactly how the programs will be administered, and make employees aware of any disciplinary measures that could come into play if they’re abused.

Offering flexible schedules can be as simple or as complex as you prefer. However you approach the issue, recognize that implementing such a policy can be one of the best things you can do to recruit and retain good talent, behind your salary and benefits offerings.

 

2. Office Perks – Food and Entertainment

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When tech leaders like Facebook and Google started filling their offices with games, food, beer, and other perks, traditional employers looked on with skepticism. Today, however, their impact has become so ubiquitous that many top employees take positions based on a company’s culture and the perks it offers.

Two ways your business can appeal to these culture-driven workers are with free food and on-site entertainment.

As with flexible work schedules, you can offer food perks in several different ways. You can provide free snacks to employees, the way the How About We does. Using a service like SnackNation makes it easy to offer this perk – no more weekly runs to Costco for bulk chips and cookies – it’s all organized for you.

If your company has more of a “go big or go home” personality, you can go all-in by offering free meals, either one day a week (like Frazer Consultants does) or all the time (a perk enjoyed by employees at Storm8). Thanks to the recent surge in companies offering boxed recipe ingredients for home delivery, there a number of services available today – such as RAWvolution – that can simplify the process of offering on-site meals.

Other employers keep their employees focused on-the-job with an on-site coffee bar, staffed by baristas trained in the art of keeping workers caffeinated. Check out a delivery service like Joyride Coffee to make offering high quality coffee easy.

Serving food might seem like a frivolous investment, but there’s a pretty compelling business case behind this perk. Epic Systems, an electronic medical records provider, estimates that having an on-site cafeteria saves $400,000-$450,000 daily in productivity costs that would be lost by employees leaving campus for meals.

If you choose to go this route, keep your new perks flexible in the beginning in order to understand employee demand. Imagine, for example, that you decide to provide employees with free fruit in the breakroom. You can set up a delivery system to make the implementation of this program as seamless as possible, but you’ll want to measure how much fruit and what types are being eaten. If, week after week, the apples are all eaten before the oranges, adjust your order to minimize waste.

Beyond food, you can create a positive office culture by prioritizing fun and entertainment. Ping pong tables are the quintessential Silicon Valley diversion, but these days, many companies are going above and beyond to make work more than a workplace alone.

Take SolidFire, a data storage provider that boasts an on-site game room, regular employee Nerf gun battles, and a culture that supports inter-office April Fool’s Day pranks. Gaming giant Zynga is another company prioritizing fun in both its products and offices; the business promises all new employees access to relaxation lounges stocked with arcade and console games.

Creating a fun culture doesn’t necessarily mean investing in expensive gaming systems or taking employees on all-expenses-paid team building days out (though both of these perks are highly valued by workers and can be developed with the help of programs like TeamBonding and AdventureAssociates). Ultimately, it’s more about the attitude you encourage. Employees who have fun at work – even those who are held to the highest standards of productivity – are more likely to want to keep coming to work for you, rather than jumping ship for a more enjoyable atmosphere.

That said, prioritizing fun and entertainment in your workplace isn’t just about encouraging team bonding and connectivity. As in the case of offering snacks and meals, there’s a business benefit to giving employees ways to wind down on-site. Several studies support the idea that relaxation boosts creative thinking and makes it easier for employees to enter hyper-productive “flow states.”

As many companies have discovered, tremendous business breakthroughs can happen when employees’ minds are free to wander, as they do during a game of ping pong or another relaxing activity.

 

3. Professional Development & Education

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There’s a reason today’s smartest companies invest in professional development and education programs. Apart from benefiting their companies in terms of the skills of their workforce, training opportunities can be powerful recruitment and retention tools.

According to Quantum Workplace’s Employee Recognition Trends Report, “access to new learning and training opportunities is the second-most important form of employee recognition.” Further, data from a Willis Towers Watson study suggests that “more than 70% of high-retention-risk employees say they have to leave their organization to advance their careers.”

Offering both professional development programs and opportunities for internal advancement is key to keeping top-tier workers engaged on-the-job. Starbucks, for example, retains employees by offering full- and part-time workers full tuition coverage to complete a bachelor’s degree, as part of its College Plan. eMarketer takes a smaller, but no less valuable approach, by distributing highly-rated business books to staff members for free.

As an employer, you have several options for implementing a training program. You could:

  • Set a discretionary budget for each employee that lets them choose the professional development opportunities they feel would be most beneficial to their positions.
  • Reimburse college tuition costs for employees who seek degrees that are relevant to the jobs they do.
  • Send employees to industry conferences to help develop their skills while also building connections in your field.

Professional development programs can be launched at whatever level of investment you feel is appropriate. For a simple solution, pay for employees’ access to sites like Udemy, Udacity, Lynda, or Skillshare. Encourage them to keep you in the loop as they complete courses and put their new-found skills to work.

 

4. Gym Memberships & Wellness Programs

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Your employees can’t get their jobs done if they’re laid up in the hospital as the result of a stress-related heart attack. Keep them healthy and happy by offering wellness programs that show you value their overall well-being, not just what they do for your company.

As with most of the perks described on this list, wellness programs take myriad forms in practice. For instance, you can offer:

  • On-site yoga classes, like Reverb.
  • On-site gym facilities, like Red Ventures, which boasts an on-site basketball court, bowling alley, fitness center, and yoga studio.
  • On-site massages, like Google, Activision Blizzard, and MINDBODY.
  • On-site meditation space or meditation classes, like Rodale. The Institute for Mindful Leadership can help you put a plan in place.
  • On-site health clinics, like General Mills.
  • Gym membership reimbursements, like NutraClick, which subsidizes gym memberships and hosts six-week fitness challenges for employees.
  • On-site hair styling or beauty services, using a provider like The Red Door.

There’s a real, tangible benefit to taking care of your employees’ health. An international poll by Monster found that “42% of workers have left a job due to a stressful environment, and another 35% have considered changing jobs due to stress.” Comping a gym membership is an insignificant cost relative to the turnover costs associated with losing an employee who finds your workplace too stressful.

Programs like Welcoa, Wellness Corporate Solutions, and TotalWellness can help you put together a corporate wellness program. If you’re going to offer wellness perks, it’s in your company’s best interest to incentivize employees to actually use them. Fitness challenges, like the kind sponsored by NutraClick, are easy to launch and ensure the gym memberships you provide are actually used.

In the same vein, if you’re going to make on-site services available, ensure employees understand that using them isn’t just acceptable – it’s encouraged. Taking advantage of on-site massages, yoga classes, or meditation programs by necessity means taking time away from work. If your employees feel that these breaks will be held against them when their performance is reviewed, they’ll skip out – and you’ll miss out on the benefits of an engaged, appreciated workforce.

Another wellness perk worth exploring is ergonomic workspaces intended to compensate for the detrimental effects of sitting for long periods. Martha Grogan, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, shares that, “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.”

These effects may be mitigated by products like the DeskCycle, an under-desk cycling system, or standing desks, as adopted by groups like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Treadmill desks and under-desk elliptical machines are other options available to those employers who hope to keep employees engaged both physically and mentally.

 

5. Charitable Giving

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One final perk which wasn’t mentioned in Glassdoor’s survey cited above, but that’s still worth considering, is a charitable giving program.

Take the example of Zimbra, a communications provider that offers employees paid time off to do charity work, in order to boost civic engagement. According to Chairman and CEO Patrick Brandt, interviewed by Business News Daily, “Leaders should enable and empower those at their organizations to not just be better employees, but also better citizens.”

Another way to encourage your employees’ inner philanthropist is to match their contributions to charities of their choice or to organizations your company chooses to support. Hydro Flask, for instance, matches employee donations to the charities they support up to $1,000 annually, in addition to allowing customers to allocate part of their purchase costs to charity.

Setting up a charitable giving program varies in complexity, depending on the type of arrangement you choose to implement. The effort, however, is worth it. The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy shares that, “Matching gift programs can be instrumental in attracting and retaining employees, as they foster goodwill and increase employee engagement.”

How to Get Started

Looking at the list above can make even the most well-intentioned organization feel overwhelmed. Where should you begin? How do you prioritize one employment perk over another, especially if your available budget limits the number of benefits you’re able to roll out?

Answering the following questions may help you come up with a workable game plan:

 

Which perks will be easiest for me to implement?

The benefits described above range wildly in terms of scale. Building an on-site gym or offering on-site day care perks, for example, require substantial investments of time, money, and infrastructure. In the case of day care in particular, you’re adding not just facilities, but staff members, and you may be subject to new licensing requirements that are costly to maintain.

Consider which perks will be easiest to implement, and begin there. Remember, you can always scale up and increase your investment as you go. Suppose you begin by making online training courses available to employees using a program like Lynda. If you see benefits, you could take your professional development program further by offering motivated employees greater benefits in the form of college tuition reimbursement or more costly conference travel opportunities.

 

What budget can I reasonably commit to employment perks?

Consider your budget as well. If finances aren’t an issue, go all-in on employment perks. But if your funds are meager, don’t fear. Programs like CorporatePerks can help offset expenses, and plenty of the perks described above can be offered at no cost. For instance, you could:

  • Give employees the ability to work flexible schedules.
  • Develop an internal mentorship program that helps employees develop their skills without requiring investment in paid training programs.
  • Encourage a fun atmosphere with games like SolidFire’s Nerf battles.
  • Rotate out small groups of team members to do charity work within your community.

Any of the above can be implemented free of charge. As you’re planning your budget, think not just about your current capacity, but about the way the programs you implement will scale as your company grows. Offering employees free college tuition may work if you’re a small team with little overhead. But will you still be able to extend the offering to employees as your team grows and your profit margins decrease? It’s far better to implement a program you’ll reasonably be able to afford in the long-term than to have to take back a benefit you’ve offered down the road.

Ultimately, office perks are more about the atmosphere you create than the specific benefits you offer. Building out an expensive game room, for example, won’t make a difference if you work your employees so hard they never get to use it. These types of benefits all come down to showing your employees how much you value their contributions – and that’s something that can be achieved at any price point.

 

What do my employees want?

Still not sure what kinds of office perks to offer your employees? Just ask them!

If you’re thinking about expanding your benefits, poll employees on the types of perks they’d most like to see. For best results, limit their options to a list of possibilities you’ve curated based on your available resources and budget (otherwise, expect to see wildly unrealistic suggestions like months of paid leave or office visits from NBA All Stars on your list).

Be cautious with this approach, and consider your office culture. No matter how fair you want to be, it’s possible that employees will be disappointed if their preferred perks aren’t chosen. Do your best to make the selection process a collaborative effort that takes everyone’s input into account and arrives at a solution that everyone (or nearly everyone) can get on board with.