Office benefits are a crucial component of developing a work culture that employees can invest in and potential job candidates want to join. An attractive set of perks can help your business recruit and retain top talent. On the flip side, a lack of sufficient benefits will lead to higher turnover and staffing issues.
Despite the clear benefits of office perks, they do come with some risk. Although most employees enjoy workplace benefits while successfully completing their job responsibilities, others may abuse these perks and be less productive as a result. If your office perks are distracting team members from their daily duties, it may be time to rethink your approach.
Providing workplace incentives can make you an attractive employer and reduce your turnover rate. Additionally, if you’re trying to get employees to come back into the office following the COVID-19 pandemic, office perks may be a crucial motivator. Whether you’re pushing return-to-office plans or simply trying to keep your in-office employees engaged and happy, here are some common perks that bring some playtime and other benefits to the workday.
Nothing beats an excuse to celebrate and escape the monotony of everyday work. Office parties are easy to pull off because everyone is already gathered in the same building. You can adjust the scale — and how much money you spend on the event — for each occasion. Want to celebrate workers’ birthdays with cake? Gather everyone in the conference room to sing “Happy birthday” and enjoy a slice. Want to hold a potluck luncheon before Thanksgiving break? Have everyone bring something for the team to share.
Office parties are a way to practice team building and boost employee involvement and morale. Price4Limo, an event transportation company, found that 55 percent of the workers surveyed actually prefer office parties to group trips. Office parties are a low-key opportunity to relax and not worry about work for a bit.
You may be surprised to learn that not every company provides employees with the computers they need to do their job; some businesses require workers to use their personal devices or buy a work laptop on their own dime. If you provide staff with computer equipment, that could be considered an office perk.
You’ll be a more appealing employer if job candidates know you supply all of the technology for their role and allow them to take their laptops home with them at the end of the day. Employees will be happy to know they don’t have to use their own devices or be on the hook for repair expenses.
Speaking of buying things for your employees, there are often other work expenses that arise. Perhaps you want to give managers a monthly budget for lunch meetings or pay a staffer back for attending a trade show. Covering these costs proactively or reimbursing team members can generate goodwill. This perk can include providing staffers with easy-to-use expense trackers to make filling out expense reports painless.
When employees see what you’re willing to spend on them, they’ll be more motivated to fulfill their end of the bargain by doing a good job. This gesture can also benefit your company at tax time, as some business expenses are deductible.
Here’s another expense to consider: Many businesses provide food for their employees on a regular basis, not just when there’s an office party. This can range from basics such as coffee and grab-and-go snacks to a variety of daily beverage choices, bagel brunches and catered lunches. Such treats are enticing because they help workers cut down on their own food costs and save time, and employees don’t have to worry about squeezing in a morning coffee run before their shift or figuring out what to have for lunch.
The pandemic has reshaped how people view the time they devote to their job. The five-day, 40-hour in-office workweek is no longer the expectation it once was. On top of more flexible work hours, employees today are seeking more vacation time — not the mere two weeks per year that was standard in the past. Companies that provide perks such as remote workdays and unlimited paid time off (PTO) can stand out from competitors.
Flexible work policies allow employees to achieve a better work-life balance. Whether someone has to pick up their kid from school or attend a doctor’s appointment, giving them the benefit of bending the 9-to-5 workday provides the freedom to get work done and take care of what is going on in their personal lives. Small businesses that facilitate this level of work-life balance may find themselves bringing in top talent who would otherwise look elsewhere for employment.
Surveys repeatedly show that employees forgo vacation due to job security fears. Business owners who want to promote a culture of taking time off should set the example themselves. If you use company-allotted vacation time, your workers may feel more encouraged to (appropriately) seize the perk too.
Gym equipment or recreation rooms are perks that can serve multiple benefits. For example, on-site gyms can save employees time because they won’t have to travel to an off-site fitness facility after the workday ends. Everything they need is in the office, which is perfect for a lunch-break workout. Recreation rooms let workers de-stress after intense meetings, give their eyes much-needed screen breaks and bond with co-workers outside of work tasks.
Some businesses even provide access to on-site basketball courts and massage therapists. In moderation, taking time out of the workday for these activities can, in turn, make employees more productive when they’re focused on their responsibilities.
Providing common perks or unique job benefits can be a double-edged sword. The same perks highlighted above, all proven to benefit the employee experience and thus employers, can hurt businesses instead of helping them. This happens when team members exploit workplace perks and productivity suffers as a result. Here are the ways these office perks may be abused.
Office parties can be a blast for everyone involved, but they also can prevent employees from getting work done. If your office party is a big event planned outside work hours, it shouldn’t be a problem, but other types need to be planned carefully.
A gathering in the middle of a workday or toward the latter half of the day could lead some employees to shirk the rest of the day’s responsibilities. Socializing and relaxing are fun, and it’s understandable that team members may lose track of time. But those who continually ditch their duties after office parties or take such events to the extreme may be forgetting that the purpose of work is to, well, work. Office parties should be used as motivators to participate in the workplace but not as excuses for work not getting done.
When an employee is meant to be working but is instead using their office computer for reasons unrelated to their job, they are engaging in what’s known as cyberloafing. While occasional internet browsing is to be expected and is arguably even beneficial for breaking up the workday, cyberloafing can hurt productivity when it gets out of control.
A 2020 BBC investigation sought to identify the right amount of internet distraction to fuel workers versus causing them to slack off. The consensus was that the line was unclear, and there is no amount of cyberloafing that is universally appropriate. Instead, businesses should aim to set reasonable usage policies that make sense for their workforce — and remind employees that being provided with work computers is a privilege and that they’re not to be used beyond work purposes.
This method of abusing work perks is, unfortunately, fairly common. Examples include sales leaders taking clients to dinner on the company’s dime and ordering the most expensive wine and dish on the menu or staffers using additional hotel services on a business trip. Some workers traveling for work events may try to expense every single Starbucks run. Others may think dry-cleaning their suits should be a reimbursable cost.
Being able to “charge it to the company card” is a slippery slope for some employees, so it’s important to set boundaries on what does and doesn’t count as a legitimate business expense.
As noted above, there are several benefits to stocking your office with food and drinks. But doing so can turn into a headache if your employees develop a sense of entitlement. When workers become accustomed to getting high-quality, free food on a regular basis, you risk damaging office morale whenever these treats aren’t provided.
But even if you do consistently offer this perk, satisfying your hungry workers day in and day out, they may see it as an opportunity for socializing instead of refueling. Catered lunches, for example, can lead employees to lounge around for longer than usual, and keeping the office kitchen filled with snacks gives staffers reasons to leave their desks and have time-consuming watercooler conversations. Food shouldn’t go to waste, but neither should the workday.
Many companies today allow employees to set their own hours and offer them plenty of vacation time. These can be great perks when used correctly, but they can easily be abused. For example, some people prefer later start times because they genuinely work better in the evenings, but is the real reason your team member is logging on at 11 p.m. because they want to spend every day sailing from dusk till dawn? It’s unlikely that worker will have much energy left at that time of the night, and it would be extremely challenging to collaborate with colleagues at that hour.
Staff members granted the flexibility to work when they want and to take as many PTO days as they need might end up putting in far less effort than if they were confined to a more standard work schedule. If productivity and output aren’t matching the amount of time someone is working, they may be abusing this perk.
Leisure time becomes a problem when employees spend much of the time they should be working on relaxing or playing instead, particularly when they are on the clock. Having a pingpong table in the break room shouldn’t be an excuse for a three-hour tournament, nor should employees sign up for so many fitness classes at your on-site gym that they’re breaking a sweat more often than they’re accomplishing work tasks. Furthermore, instead of rejuvenating workers, too much recreation time can reduce their productivity.
Office perk abuse often arises when you give a little — food, flexibility, etc. — and workers try to take a lot. So, how can you ensure that your incentives don’t backfire? These expert-approved strategies can help.
According to Marielle Smith, former vice president of people at Narvar, managers will know if perks are too distracting when employees aren’t reaching their goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
“Like other policy approaches, such as flextime or [the] use of mobile phones, it’s best to give employees specific goals and KPIs that they need to achieve and be less concerned about how they accomplish their work,” Smith said. “If employees are underperforming, their manager should address the issue as soon as possible and develop a plan with the employee about how they can achieve their goals — and perhaps that includes spending less time enjoying the office perks.”
Perks should reward hard work and facilitate a robust company culture, not serve as excuses for laziness and promote disruptions. If employees are getting their work done and staying focused throughout the day, then they earned the time to enjoy these benefits.
“Putting an emphasis on tracking KPIs puts the focus on deliverables, so employees know where they stand and can make wise decisions about enjoying perks without feeling any pressure or scrutiny from their managers,” Smith said. [Read related article: How to Use Key Performance Indicators]
Incentives should exist in moderation. If workers want to enjoy the benefits you provide them, they need to prove that they can balance work and play. But the responsibility isn’t all on them; managers must establish strong communication with their teams. Setting expectations early about what is reasonable perk usage and what isn’t can prevent problems down the line.
Lead by example and communicate with workers each day, reminding them of assignments and checking in on timelines. Additionally, if a specific perk seems to be getting in the way of a particular employee’s productivity, you can work with that individual on time management strategies and prioritization.
Your employees should feel that they can trust you. If any situation makes them feel more prone to distraction, they should feel comfortable coming to you to discuss the problem.
According to Piyush Patel, author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work (Dream Big Imprint, 2018), building trust starts with fostering an environment that encourages open communication, including uncomfortable conversations.
“A big part of that means an honest willingness to hear the truth — no matter what it is,” he said. “When you see potential issues … sit down to have a conversation with them about why that is.”
As a leader, you need to support your employees by clearing roadblocks, providing the tools needed to get work done and acting rather than talking, Patel added.
“Building trust isn’t something that’ll happen overnight,” he said. “It starts small.” Trust, of course, goes both ways. You need to be able to trust that your staff will fulfill their work obligations regardless of the opportunities you provide for flexibility and fun.
“Perks are a wonderful benefit to support employee well-being and company culture,” Smith said. “Employees need to do their part in appreciating rather than abusing these benefits. If perks are distracting employees from delivering on their commitments, then the perks situation needs to be reassessed.”
Office perks have benefits and deserve a place in your workplace culture. Though employees have the potential to be distracted by these offerings, you can take steps to prevent workers from abusing office perks. Finding balance is the real key to ensuring employees enjoy the perks while doing their job effectively. If you can build that kind of environment through solid communication and trust, your company and office culture will be better for it.
Adam Uzialko contributed to this article.