Cool office perks are all fun and games — until you lose your corporate identity

There’s a new level of competition for talent that most companies haven’t seen since before the Great Recession. The unemployment rate is at a near-historic low of 4.1%, which means that finding, attracting and retaining the right talent is becoming increasingly difficult. Studies show that millennials are changing jobs at almost double the rate of previous generations, which means that offering the same benefits package that you’ve always offered might no longer cut it.

What’s making attracting and retaining the right employees even more difficult is a new level of visibility into what it’s like to work at some of these “New Age” companies. For example, Google provides free meals, access to gyms and group fitness classes as well as education subsidies and tuition reimbursement. Facebook offers generous paid leave and paid time off, family planning benefits and free transportation to and from the office.

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Employee recreation room is seen at the headquarters of Skype Inc. in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg Tony Bates, chief executive officer of Skype Technologies SA, poses for a photo following an interview at the company's offices in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010. Bates started as CEO at Skype in October after coming from Cisco Systems Inc. where he was senior vice president and general manager of the service provider group. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Tony Bates

Tech giants like Facebook and Google have also pioneered the unconventional office spaces — and many have followed suit — especially in New York and Silicone Valley. Bike racks, lounge areas, foosball and pool tables have become commonplace. Even wilder, Zappo’s office is dotted with fake zoo animals and a ball pit, and a 65-foot Ferris wheel sits inside Acuity’s headquarters in Wisconsin. Cool benefits and perks made popular by big tech companies have been adopted by companies of all sizes across the country.

The benefits and perks you offer say a lot about who you are as an organization — your corporate identity. However, it’s important to make sure that the benefits you offer align with your corporate culture and the work you do.

Most employees would say they want to work in an environment that feels more relaxed and fun — they would prefer an office with treadmill desks and beanbag chairs rather than sitting in a cubicle farm.

That’s especially true for millennials and the newest cohort to enter the workforce — Generation Z —who would agree that nontraditional benefits and perks are much more appealing than what firms have traditionally pushed on their career pages.

Benefits that appealed to past generations aren’t attractive to younger workers for a number of reasons. Typical major medical isn’t a draw because young adults can stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. A 401(k) plan, while important, isn’t hugely appealing because retirement feels so far away. Many younger workers are encouraged to start their 401(k)s early but are focused on other financial goals.

Instead, you should consider your audience: What does appeal to millennials and Gen Z, for example, is help with education and finances. These generations likely have a mountain of student loan debt. That’s why student loan debt repayment programs are becoming popular voluntary benefits.

Many companies also are beginning to cater to pets, both by allowing employees to bring their dogs to work and providing pet insurance.

But to compete with the Facebooks and Apples of the world, employers will have to do more than just offer student loan debt repayment or a pet-welcoming environment. These tech companies have also become sought-after jobs for their approach to dress code, flexible hours, the ability to work from home, catered meals at work and even wellness initiatives like onsite massages and the opportunity to consult with nutritionists.

Importantly, choosing perks and benefits that attract and retain talent now and in the future brings another challenge to the forefront. The benefits and perks that matter to a young workforce are likely different than those a near-retirement baby boomer needs and a Gen Xer taking care of their families wants.

Your benefits and perks also need to align with your corporate identity. Adding a second option for getting from one floor to the next in the form of a giant slide might not fit your law firm, for example. Neither will an open floor plan for those employees who frequently deal with sensitive information or handle phone calls (and besides, open floor plans have become a divisive design element). Likewise, a completely flexible work schedule where employees can come and go as they please doesn’t work for those serving clients during “typical” business hours.

Your employee benefits and office perks need to fit your corporate identity and your audience — your employees. Losing sight of either will make it more difficult to grow or attract the employees who can take you into the future.

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