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Benefits vs. Perks: What’s More Important To You?

By Siobhan on

What would you prefer: a pension or a pool table? Childcare vouchers or champagne Friday? Flexible working or a nap room?

Benefits vs. Perks

Benefits and perks should not be confused. Benefits are forms of compensation that supplement your salary, such as insurance, a pension, and a holiday package. Perks, however, are more like bonuses – additions to the salary. There are the more traditional perks – think company cars, or discounted travel – but there’s been a surge in recent years of more fun, non-traditional perks – think games rooms, beer fridges, or fresh fruit on offer.

This surge seems to be because of a feeling that these things are what will draw millennials into the fold. There’s a general feeling floating about that “millennials” means late-teenagers and the graduates now moving into the workforce. But millennials at the moment are between the ages of 23 and 35 (born between 1982 and 2004), and there are those on the cusp at either side who also qualify. Basically, “millennials” and “teenagers”/“graduates” are very different groups!

So What Do Millennials Want?

Long story short, not the fun stuff. Millennials have children, houses, mortgages, bills, debts, pets. And the impression of this group as “young people” affects what benefits and perks are offered. They want healthcare, pensions, childcare vouchers, job progression opportunities, life insurance. They want the proper benefits, as well as the more serious perks. The same as most of the rest of the workforce, basically!

This isn’t to say that the fun perks aren’t valued and enjoyable and generally nice to have. Job offers are accepted or rejected based on the benefits package, both the hard benefits and the softer ones. Something like the holiday package, especially so – we did the research on this one! But when it comes to the extras, on top of the salary, the ‘fun’ perks just aren’t as valuable as some employers seem to think.

What Perks Are Being Offered?

The five most desirable workplace perks are flexible working (47.2% of people surveyed valued this), bonuses (39.1%), additional holiday (37.3%), staff discounts (22.6%), and a day off on your birthday (21.3%). I would personally class these as far closer to the ‘benefits’ side of things – serious and beneficial!

The perks at the bottom of this list are nap / games rooms (5.2%), parties and social activities (8%), and free snacks and drinks (18%). Perfect examples of the more ‘whimsical’ perks that people are now moving away from in favour of the more serious stuff. And moving away they are: it turns out that 86% of UK adults said the ‘fun’ perks were of no specific value. Only 11% said that they were nice, and a mere 3% said that these perks were very important to them.

The most popular perks are those that are tangible and of real benefit. Top of the list of popular perks is free coffee! And, again, the least popular perks are office toys, fun furniture, and sensory features (like ball pits and fake grass (no, me neither)). A list of the most bizarre office additions features such gems as hay bales for chairs, an indoor picnic table, beach huts, and a throne in reception.

So What Can We Do About Perks?

The really dangerous thing about the fun perks is that they can be used as a substitute for a good and meaningful company culture, harder and more serious benefits, or a fair salary. As Sir Cary Cooper CBE says, ‘businesses often confuse perks with culture’. These superficial extras are nice to have, but are essentially meaningless if not attached to the more important facets of a job.

And if the new, young cohort entering the workforce mistake one for the other initially, the shine will soon wear off and they’ll recognise the value of the serious.

Perks can certainly make employees feel more valued and trusted. But they’re not what make people stay at a job in the long-term. The more serious benefits are far more likely to have an impact on staff retention!

You can create a wonderful, productive, and satisfying work environment by being more creative – and not necessarily with your money. Asking staff what would improve their working lives would be a good place to start. After all, it’s going to be different for every company, and for every individual. You probably won’t completely satisfy everyone, but making an effort goes a long way.