A good friend was recently recruited to a hot tech company. He was pumped to leave the medium-sized business he had devoted several years to in exchange for one of those offices with open floor plans and on-site meditation rooms.
In fact, it was those types of added benefits that brought him there. The company offered free lunches, an on-site gym, one of those complicated espresso machines, very relaxed dress code, and an "all you can eat" vacation policy.
His job was the same, but everything around was going to be so much awesomer.
Lipstick on a Pig
Flash forward six months, and my friend is miserable. The hours he was expected to put in were insane and the pressure to perform was intense. Everything was designed to keep him working and spending endless hours at the office. Endless vacation looks great on paper, but it's meaningless if employees can never actually escape for longer than a night's sleep.
It's a classic case of a company using benefits to overcompensate for a not-so-great environment and philosophy. They invested in some cool stuff, then actively discouraged employees from taking advantage.
Don't get us wrong - those benefits are great, but benefits only have value when they're used to the employee's benefit. Turns out, so many of those benefits were "lipstick on a pig."
Only 42% of Americans used vacation time in 2013, and 40% aren't going to use their full allotment of days off in 2014 (citations and related stats can be found here). This is happening despite the fact that there are proven benefits, including leaps in productivity, among employees who take vacations.
It's not just vacation either. There's no sense in having a fancy espresso machine if employees are going to be berated for lingering at it too long, and employees won't use the gym if their boss stands by the treadmill staring at their watch during an employee's workout.
Benefits and employee perks only have their desired effect when employees can use them and see their benefit, especially away from their cubicles.
See the ROI in Usage
Benefits are a company's most obvious way of saying, "Hey, we want employees to know they're more than just another cog in the wheel, and we're going to give them something beyond a simple paycheck." If you're going to dangle carrots in front of employees, they need to have a bite now and then.
It's a simple lesson: if you're going to expand benefits, make sure employees actually use them. Better yet, tailor your benefits around usability - what will they use that will actually help them (and therefore help the company as well)? Vacation time, flexible hours, employee discount programs, cash incentives, and half day Fridays are all simple, low-cost perks that pay for themselves in short order.
Instead of blowing huge sums on obtuse benefits, invest in encouraging employees to use the benefits already at their disposal. So go ahead and cancel the personal Yogi on retainer, and ask for a refund on the Lobster and Filet Mignon Mondays plan you may have bought in on. Go simple, and go for usage.