What Benefits Do Your Employees Really Want?

“Benefits” used to mean health insurance, paid time off, and a retirement plan – if you were lucky. But now, many companies are working harder to ensure employee satisfaction, and they’re going the extra mile to attract and retain the best talent. That means providing extreme perks – think bowling alleys, in-house masseuses, and free gourmet lunch.

But are these over-the-top benefits what employees really want – or are they coming at the expense of the things they really value? Let’s take a look.

Yoga, nap time, and free laundry

Not every company has jumped on the extreme benefits bandwagon. Who’s leading the crowd? New, trendy companies – particularly in the technology space.

A few examples? Google provides a ball pit to help employees reduce stress and have fun in the workplace. They also offer in-house medical care, yoga classes, sleep pods and free on-site laundry facilities. Facebook provides free bicycles for on-campus use. Employees also enjoy free ice cream, baked goods and sweets at the corporate candy store.

Extreme benefits aren’t always unrelated to work, either. Game developer Zynga offers a full lineup of arcade and console gaming stations to provide inspiration and entertainment. LoadSpring Solutions offers employees $5,000 and an extra week of vacation to help them broaden their horizons by traveling abroad.

As for food, and Clif Bar & Company provide free organic cuisine during the workday. Review site Yelp provides free after-work happy hours at its on-campus mini bar. Staff members can also take advantage of the large, well-equipped kitchens and game rooms at the company's facility.

And one of the most extreme perks of all? Chesapeake Energy hires qualified instructors to provide scuba diving lessons and certifications in the company's expansive Olympic-size pool.

While these over-the-top benefits may appeal to some employees, they’re not always practical options for all. And they certainly don’t come cheap – in 2008, Google spent an estimated $72 million just on free food for employees.

When it comes to a multi-billion dollar company like Google, $72 million is nothing. But what about companies with smaller pockets? Are extreme perks coming at the expense of more meaningful benefits? What do employees really value – and what keeps them around?

Establishing a benefit bottom line

Although extreme benefits and perks can provide an added selling point for prospective employees, other factors may be more important when it comes to attracting – and retaining – the best talent on the market.

According to Entrepreneur, most employees look for a specific set of basic benefits when considering a job offer:

  • Medical insurance partly or wholly paid for by the employer
  • Dental and vision plans
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement accounts
  • Paid vacation and sick time

Other highly desirable benefits include training and professional development, flexible scheduling, salary increases and bonuses, more vacation time, and product discounts.

Companies that fail to provide these basic benefits may find themselves unable to attract quality employees, regardless of whether they offer on-site yoga or free lunch. Extreme benefits are great – but only as long as they’re not coming at the expense of the basic benefits employees need.

Give your employees what they want

The key? Figuring out exactly what benefits your employees want, and making those the priority.

Beyond basic vacation, health care and retirement options, companies should consider added benefits designed specifically to appeal to their employees. Working parents will likely value flexible scheduling, extra vacation time, or subsidized childcare. Younger employees may not need childcare, but instead may benefit from weekly happy hours or daycare for dogs. Spend money on the perks that will help your employees most – whatever those are.

How do you find out what benefits your employees really want? It’s simple – just ask. Inform your employees that you’re considering added perks, and poll them on what they would really appreciate and benefit from.

Extreme isn’t always better

Some of the most effective ways to promote satisfaction in the workplace are also the simplest. Here are just a few ideas:

  • On-site child care centers can provide added peace of mind for parents.
  • Using sick time to cover appointments makes it easy for employees to get things done without having to take time off.
  • Occasional work-from-home policies allow employees to work around unavoidable events like minor illnesses, car trouble, or family issues.

By considering the needs and values of their unique workforces, companies can create a more positive culture and help employees feel more valued. In turn, this can increase engagement with and investment in corporate goals, boosting productivity and profitability throughout the business.

What benefits do you offer employees? Have you experimented with any extreme perks?


Abby Perkins is the managing editor at, where she manages the Talent Tribune blog, a blog dedicated to HR and HR software.

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