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Workplace Benefits and Perks vs Salary – A Balancing Exercise

We are seeing an increasing number of companies that are offering extensive, lucrative and sometimes unusual workplace benefits to employees in an effort to not only attract, but also retain a talented workforce. The best example of employers turning to (sometimes outrageous) workplace benefits is never more apparent than among the innovative technology giants of Silicon Valley, where talented and creative employees are hard to find and even harder to keep from leaving to work for competitors.

Google, arguably one of the most desirable employers in the world, maintains doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists and physical therapists on campus for employees. Facebook, also an employer reliant on attracting creative and talented employees, offers reimbursement for day care and adoption fees, as well as a maximum $4,000 ‘baby cash’ for newborns. Apple and Facebook gained global attention in 2014 for announcing that they would help female employees pay for freezing their eggs. In Australia, we have seen kikki.K, which sells stationery and gifts, offer employees a paid day off work for their birthday and OBS provide an Xbox room for team building, great coffee and (apparently) lots of beer. Atlassian even offers new hires a ‘holiday before you start’ travel voucher for pre-employment rest and relaxation.

Whilst it is easy to see how these large corporations can afford outrageously expensive workplace benefits for their employees, there is also an increasing trend for small to medium size businesses to jump in on the action in an effort to retain talented employees and encourage them to stay for the long term. The message from these businesses is that whilst they obviously have less cash to throw around than the huge tech corporations, they want to ensure employees are happy and assist them to maintain that ever elusive work/life balance. Benefits that I have seen smaller businesses provide to employees include gym memberships, ability to work from home, health insurance, additional annual leave and paid parental leave. Ever conscious of the stresses that work can bring to employees lives, I’ve also seen small businesses offer additional ‘no questions asked’ days off work, where an employee is able to tell work that they won’t be coming in, without the need to provide a reason or medical certification.

Many of these benefits do not largely affect the bottom line of the business and are not all that costly to provide to employees. Whilst these benefits are not intended to replace a portion of an employee’s salary, employees do recognise that their employer is going above and beyond their minimum obligations and from a number of studies that have been conducted, employees highly value these workplace benefits and are looking for these benefits when joining organisations.

This is no more obvious than in Generation X and Millennial employees, who, unlike their Baby Boomer predecessors, are looking to employers to provide financial security, social consciousness and employee wellbeing in addition to competitive salaries. In a study comparing their Millennial candidates to the remainder of their candidate workforce, recruitment firm Hays, found that benefits, in addition to competitive salaries, are a significant influence in Millennial employment decisions. 42% of Millennial respondents said that they would not accept a job that did not provide perks and employees, above anything else, still expect competitive salaries.

However, whilst employees are looking for workplace benefits, the provision of these ‘perks’ is not the most important consideration and generally, the focus only turns to benefits once basic pay and working condition requirements have been met. A PwC survey of Millennials ranked competitive wages and other financial incentives higher in importance than good benefits packages. This shows that workplace benefits, to use the words of the Hays study, are merely viewed as additional ‘perks’.

Whilst the vast majority of businesses are not going to be able to afford to gift employees extravagant workplace benefits, this does not mean that small to medium size employers are out of the race altogether. Smaller businesses who want to provide additional perks to employees must balance what they can realistically afford, the type of employees they want to attract and retain and the salary expectations of those employees. There is no point in a business offering an excellent paid parental leave scheme if the business largely employs older, senior employees who have grown children. Similarly, there is little advantage in offering a gym membership or an additional day off work for birthdays if the business cannot afford to pay competitive salaries to staff as these benefits are probably not going to be enough to prevent staff looking elsewhere to meet their salary expectations.

For those businesses who are unable to consider offering workplace benefits to staff, all is not lost. The PwC survey found that Millennials value personal learning and development more than any other workplace benefit. Whilst providing, regular, detailed feedback to employees can be time consuming for managerial staff, it has very little, if any costs, associated with it. Establishing an organisational culture of feedback and reward will not only assist in retaining staff who wish to continue learning, but will also ensure that the best employees are always improving their performance and therefore, improving the productivity and services offered by the business.

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