Free snacks are great, but today’s in-demand employees are drawn to benefits that help them make the most of their lives.
Across most industries, financial compensation is still the number one factor when people are considering which jobs to seek out and accept.
But a growing number of potential employees are swayed by other employer-offered perks that reflect a new emphasis on how work fits in with the rest of life, and vice versa.
Thanks to the innovative workplaces of the tech revolution, funky perks like on site game rooms, nap pods, and free food are simply part of our world now.
But those amusing extras that are designed to make a workplace fun, foster a welcoming company culture, and keep employees at the office through mealtimes so they can power through and meet deadlines, are not the most important things that today’s employees keep in mind when weighing different job offers or investigating the companies they want to work for.
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Money, of course, rules. Salary level is still the number one item steering job decisions among top talent, according to an HR professional at a Wall Street giant I will call Stacy Smith, whose career has focused on recruiting for large financial firms. (Job security is also important, she says, so I’ve changed her name.)
“Pay is always going to be amongst the top three, and people tend to look at both base salary and what opportunity there is for incentive pay (both in cash and equity form).”
Beyond cash, though, the perks that matter the most to people these days, regardless of age or industry, reveal an importance on work/life balance that should make hiring companies take note. Barbara Ballard is a senior talent advisor for management consulting firm North Highland who is witnessing a clear shift in employee priorities.
"It depends on the person," Ballard says. "Everybody has their own list of what’s most important. Some people will not negotiate on salary, but some will take a lower offer if the tradeoff is better for their lives, for example, less travel.”
She notes that traditional benefits like healthcare and retirement are also still valuable parts of a compensation package, but not always a dealbreaker. “If a company doesn’t offer great retirement and medical, people tend to be okay with that because they are married and use their spouse’s benefits, or they’ve already got their own programs set up.”
Paid Time Off
A significant amount of paid time off (PTO), whether it’s a combination of sick and vacation days and federal holidays, is attractive to new hires. Some companies have increased their time off policies, even offering a lot of extra time off for family leave after the birth of a new baby, to meet this demand.
A new trend in time off is the addition of unlimited paid time off, something that works well when guidelines are in place to give employees a framework and an incentive to give their best to the company in return.
Ballard says her employer just made the switch. In the past employees got a set number of weeks of PTO, which they had to accrue. Now, the perk is unlimited PTO. “You can imagine if you’re a potential employee and you hear ‘unlimited PTO,’ that’s going to be attractive.
But there are limits around it.” Employees have to get manager approval with plenty of notice depending on how much time is requested. Still, this generous perk can foster a sense of trust between the employer and its workers, giving them the feeling that their time is valued.
At the end of its first year of offering unlimited PTO, Mammoth HR in Portland found that this perk was its most highly rated benefit. “Our employees ranked unlimited vacation third-highest among the benefits we offer, just behind health insurance and a 401(k),” wrote CEO Nathan Christenson in Fast Company. “We offer our employees flexibility because we want to invest in their personal lives.”
Flexible Hours and Remote Work
It is clear that flexibility in general is one of the most sought after job perks overall. More than one recent survey has found that flexible work hours and the option to work from home or “remote” top the lists of ranked benefits or perks among workers.
The ability to incorporate your work into your life, or vice versa, is a very attractive aspect of certain jobs, and is “almost expected” by in-demand workers in the tech space, says Smith.
In a Modis survey about the current state of technology in America, 50% of people asked about job benefits said “flexible work hours” would appeal to them most, far more than unlimited vacation time or extended family leave. People want the freedom to take care of interests and obligations outside those of their jobs, which helps them be more productive while they are at work.
While tech companies have embraced remote and flex hours, other industries are catching on, hoping to attract talented employees with the promise of flexibility. Ballard is happy to note that, “Large healthcare companies are allowing more and more working from home, which is unusual.”
Today’s talent wants to know that there is room for growth, whether it’s the freedom to pursue other interests or a path up the ladder to advancement.
Training and education funded by the employer is also a sought-after perk. Many companies offer tuition assistance to employees seeking advanced degrees or certification. Dr. Kathleen Carson, who runs a dental practice near Los Angeles even provides a professional coach.
“I push each of my team members to go as far as they want to with what they want to be and I encourage them to utilize their coach to help them get there,” she says. “I allow for all of this on our business time.”
Smith notices the desire for flexibility in other areas, especially among younger workers. They want employers to be flexible not only with hours and location, but also with the opportunity to work on side projects and businesses.
“For example at my employer, we need to disclose outside business interests and get approval to continue working on them,” she says. “Lots of people want to have their hands in many different areas and projects.” At Google, employers are given time off to explore other interests, a practice that is meant to “keep them stimulated, engaged, and give them new perspectives when they return to their primary job function.”
This kind of pioneering creative spirit, when fostered, can lead to innovations for the business and product or division spinoffs that prove to be profitable parts of the company.
When a company empowers employees to be “intrapreneurs,” that is, act like an entrepreneur with similar autonomy and leadership, but backed by the company’s resources and responsible to management, those employees are likely to get more of what they need: “autonomy, creativity, and meaning,” without the financial risks of starting their own business.
This is a valued idea among workers. A recent survey by Post-it Brand found that 80 percent of office workers and managers would consider a lower paying job “at a company that had an intrapreneurial culture.”
Another benefit that employees find appealing is the opportunity to travel, beyond the typical one-week vacation that a traditional nine-to-five job used to offer. Companies may give people the chance work and live abroad while rotating among different work groups. Many companies now offer sabbaticals, or longer periods of time off, to foster exploration and welcome people back well-rested and well-rounded.
Fortune reports that AutoDesk, for example, provides six-week sabbaticals to employees every four years, and that length of the time away can be combined with other paid time off.
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Whether an employee clocks in at a traditionally-scheduled office, or they fly down the hallways on a company scooter to get to a meeting, or they join in by video-conference from a hilltop retreat, employees are starting to voice the need for meaning in their work. “People want to know that their work will matter. Will they make an impact? Will they affect change?” Smith says.
A company culture that makes workers feel like they have an effect on the business, and even the community and the world, is attractive to potential employees. Smith adds “Companies are selling candidates on their culture through things philanthropic work that employees can take part in, attention to diversity and working on programs to foster an inclusive environment like trying to close the gender pay gap.
Generally being more socially conscious is where things seem to be headed, and that will attract top talent.” In a survey of future “Generation Z” workers (young adults born 1990 to 1999), “30 percent say they would take a 10 to 20 percent pay cut to work for a cause they deeply care about.”
Beyond Free Snacks
We all read about free breakfast lunch and dinner, a year of paid maternity/paternity leave, company bicycles, etc. and think “wouldn’t that be cool?” There’s even an employer who gives employees free bacon. Sure those perks are fun and interesting, but maybe they are only small parts of the big picture when it comes to job satisfaction.
“What they may play into, however, is a larger view of company culture and that is important,” adds Smith. “If a firm values collaboration and dynamic work practices, they may implement that by creating shared spaces like game rooms that can foster that environment. The values themselves are deciding factors for high performing people."