From ping pong tables to nap pods, surf breaks to unlimited vacation, it seems every day a new story comes out about a company that provides trendy perks and unique benefits. When some of these same companies, such as Google and Zappos, regularly make it to the top of “Best Place to Work” lists, it can appear that these sorts of popular perks are what matter most to employees.

But is that really the case? At a time when employee stress and burnout are costing employers billions of dollars in absenteeism, low engagement and turnover, is foosball really the answer?

Bloomberg/file photo

Companies generally invest in perks as a way to recruit and retain talent, lower stress and keep employees energized and engaged. The perks that provide the best pay-off for this investment are the ones that address the very real needs of today’s workforce. Fortunately, there are many examples of employee perks that serve a genuine purpose, and make a meaningful impact in employees’ well-being, livelihood and quality of life. Here are four examples of perks with purpose:

1. The gift of time
After spending all day at work, who wants to spend their evenings and weekends doing chores and running errands? For the many dual-income, single parent, and busy families, most personal time is spent scattered, cramming in a long list of to-do items and trying to keep up with overwhelming and constantly demanding life responsibilities.

As a result, more and more companies are investing in concierge and errand running perks to help employees take care of personal tasks, simplify chores and give employees back valuable time. More than just a trendy perk, concierge programs and errand running services give people the priceless gift of time, to be fully present with family and friends, or to pursue personal passions, hobbies and favorite activities.

2. All-inclusive caregiving and family support
Today’s families are more diverse than ever before and all-inclusive caretaking to assist employees in a variety of roles, at a range of life’s touch points, can go a long way toward promoting equity and goodwill at the workplace.

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Companies have a wide assortment of ways to meet employees’ needs in these areas, from inclusive parental leave policies — not just for biological mothers but for fathers and adoptive parents — to back-up dependent care to college planning and elder care resource and referral services. A strong employee assistance program with comprehensive life management referrals also offers employees 24/7 access to referrals for all caretaking needs and services.

3. Financial freedom
As many employees, of all ages, face a series of tough financial challenges including mounting student loan debt, increasing college tuition costs, unaffordable housing, rising healthcare costs and uncertain retirement, companies can support employees with financial wellness, education, programs and tools to help individuals and families reach specific goals and create a path to financial freedom.

Many companies have found ways to make a big difference in employees’ financial lives with relatively little investment. Programs like tuition assistance, financial wellness counseling, student loan refinancing (or repayment), legal counseling and employer-assisted mortgages are highly valued and can be great tools for recruitment and retention. Another way to put a little extra in employees’ pockets is through programs that provide discounts on goods and services.

4. The joy of giving back
Today’s employees care deeply about contributing to their communities and the causes that matter to them. Companies can build loyalty and positive morale by matching charitable giving, offering paid time off for volunteering, and organizing on-site fundraising campaigns or events. Many companies get employees involved in choosing targets for corporate philanthropy, or promote group volunteer activities as a form of team-building. Others give employees a chance to use their job skills for pro bono work in the community.

As the demand for talented and skilled employees continues to grow, and the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, companies need to offer the kinds of perks that provide the greatest value. In the end, while trendy perks might get a lot of attention, programs that make a real difference in employees’ lives are what really make a great place to work.

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Ann D. Clark

Ann D. Clark

Clark, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of ACI Specialty Benefits, an employee assistance program and provider of work-life, concierge and student assistance program benefits and perks for customers worldwide.