Are perks the new “shiny object” that can attract applicants as much — or even more than — robust benefits and high pay? Let’s face it, high medical benefit deductibles and co-pays (along with uninspired retirement packages) are the new normal. So, what prime perks can employers provide to attract and retain great employees?

To understand more, we checked with several companies to see what perks they offer that successfully entice applicants and please employees. We also interviewed employees from a variety of workplaces to find out what benefits they look for from employers. The results were enlightening.

Employers are getting creative

BSI Corporate Benefits, an employee benefits consulting firm, offers free event tickets to their team by being a sponsor at nearby arenas and stadiums. Other BSI perks include summer “Flex Fridays,” where employees can take a half-day in addition to their PTO, birthdays off and on-site massage therapists during the office’s busiest times. All employees receive free Fitbits to encourage wellness, and they are also asked for a short “grocery list” of healthy snacks to be stocked in the office kitchen, just for them. BSI doesn’t credit any one particular perk as the key attraction, but rather the totality of how they care for their employees all year long. A little T.L.C. goes a long way.

Palram Americas is an Israeli manufacturer of polycarbonate and PVC product lines with operations in the United States. The company’s perks focus a lot on wellness and safety. Each year, they bring in a variety of vendors from health, wellness and even financial industries to educate and assist their employees, setting aside a whole day for this event. In the summer, Palram shuts down plant operations for a day and takes all their employees to a minor league baseball game — private suite, food, the works! They also offer family-oriented events throughout the year. The company also puts together teams to create Thanksgiving baskets for those in need. By creating a culture that values safety and family, they feel they are making their company a choice place to work. It seems to be working, as they rarely have hiring troubles.

Here at myHR Partner®, we offer popular perks as well. (We need to practice what we preach, right?) They include: Employee Appreciation Day outings, special “Wheel of Fortune” events, a made-up holiday we call “Winter Blues Day” and birthdays off. We also have an annual retreat, a company picnic and a Halloween party. But hands-down, the perk that our staff values the most is the 40-hour workweek.

When I started the business, I was a burned-out workaholic coming off the heels of the sale of my first company, a staffing service franchise. With myHR Partner, I committed the company to honoring a healthy work-life balance. I offered fair pay for each employee’s expertise based on strictly 40 hours of work each week, versus pay that was padded to compensate for what was in reality a 50-hours-plus workweek in the business world — and what most salaried employees expect to be demanded of them.

I realized it was a risk, but guess what? It has worked out fabulously! Applicants who wanted a true work-life balance understood the trade-off we offered, and they were all for it. Almost 17 years later, we still maintain the 40-hour workweek limit, and we are rewarded with:

  • Incredibly low turnover
  • Little if any employee relations issues
  • A happy and content staff
  • A high-growth organization that operates with a healthy financial outlook
  • Awards, press and many accolades

What employees had to say

When I asked various non-executive employees what company perks attracted and/or kept them satisfied, the most popular responses by far were time off and flexible hours.

Lisa Gares, an IT Manager, says that a four-day workweek perk allows her to be home with her kids more. She says sacrificing eight hours of pay per week is well worth it.

Randi Renninger, a medical coding specialist, says she similarly values the flex time offered by her employer.

Working from home was the next most popular perk. Peggy Quinn, a lease rebooking specialist, appreciates that her company lets her work from home two days a week. Others, like roofing company administrative specialist Barbara Bonk, enjoy working from home every day.

Career development opportunities may surprise you as another popular perk. Brandy McCaskill, a customer service supervisor, and Jeff Koch, a regional youth group director, both told us that they find training and development very valuable benefits from their respective employers.

Ken MacKenzie, a local financial consultant, says that being able to cross-train in different disciplines allowed him to learn more about his industry, and that helped keep him at his firm.

Last but not least, here’s an amazing perk: Sheryl Neckritz, a dental hygienist, says her company offers tuition reimbursement for her daughter, with a value up to $18,000 per year. Wow!

Though many employers see them as “soft” benefits, quality of life and career perks really do attract and help retain employees. In a tight labor market, such as the one we are currently in, employers should learn what types of perks their applicant pool and workforce really value, and then offer benefits that matter to employees. It can pay off in big ways.