During a trip to California last fall, I stopped in to visit a friend of mine who works at Dropbox. He zipped over to the reception area to fetch me on a Razor scooter, provided to employees to make getting around the office faster (and cooler), took me past the morning yoga class currently in session, the fresh squeezed juice station and granola wall, and the made-to-order stir fry bar, to the plush music room, equipped with instruments and big soft couches arranged in a lounge/bar atmosphere. At the time, I was struggling to raise another round for my start-up, and was packing my own lunch for the plane to save money. It was as if I had walked into a physical representation of the opportunity costs of running my own company — and it was painful.
I have never really lusted after material things, and while rumors of free on-demand massages at the Google offices always made me smile, the allure of corporate perks was never enough to lure me. But this trip to Dropbox got me wondering. For companies that have cash to burn who are trying to attract and retain young talent, what benefits are best? Cost aside, I asked tech employees to offer up their list of favorites, and got over 150 responses in less than two hours.
In addition to all of the traditional perks like 401K matching funds and free medical and dental benefits, employers are becoming more innovative — and employees love it! Based on my sample, here are some of the most interesting and popular perks in 2014.
1. Game Rooms
What appeals to twenty-something techies? Games. Not surprisingly, a lot of companies have game rooms with classic games (e.g., pool, darts, and foosball) as well as arcade games. Some companies took the definition of “play space” to the next level. For example, killerinfographics.com recently added a “climbing wall and 2 kegerators with locally brewed beer” for employees to enjoy at any time.
Employers want their employees to have fun, which raises commitment and creativity levels, but bosses also feel that their companies get a lot more out of having game dens. As Jay Graves, CTO of Double Encore (a mobile design and development agency) explaines, “I like these types of things because they bring people together who might not normally interact on a day-to-day basis. Foosball, darts, and video games are games that people play in pairs, teams, or groups. Spending time together, both while working and ‘off the clock,’ are key to (creating) a company’s culture – especially one that depends largely on collaborative efforts.” His company just added Marvel v. Capcom to their “game corridor.”
2. Good Eats
Free food is always appreciated, and is popular at every scale. Smaller companies offer special weekly treats like the Doughnut Day Thursdays at shopkeep.com or Pizza Fridays at overit.com. “Every Friday our company buys various kinds of pizza to share with our employees,” says Overit employee Alison Krawczyk. “Although this may sound like a simple idea, compared with start-ups who offer retreats to faraway places, this treat is not just about food. It gives us a chance for all of the different departments to come together, socialize and celebrate the end of the week. At a small company with lots of work to do, we spend most of our lunches at our desks. Pizza Fridays allow everyone to take a break away from the screens, and connect over something good to eat.”
Other companies have opted for more of the all-you-can-eat style goodies. Moz.com has a never-ending cereal bar and apartmentlist.com has a 24-7 on-tap keg to keep employees happy. But for companies that can afford it, free catered breakfasts and lunches are definitely in vogue. ONTRAPORT offers its employees their choice of two daily breakfasts, including a breakfast burrito bar, daily lunch including a salad bar and free daily “Worksnaxs” including press juiced from Ah Juice, in Santa Barbara.
Some companies have figured out how to get more bang for their perk buck by making sponsored lunches media-worthy events. For example, for the last 2 years every Thursday has been Theme Day and Lunch at goodbyecrutches.com. Themes have included Jimmy Buffet Day, Smurf Day, and Pirate Day. See minute 2:08 of their video for some fun pictures. “For a 5 minute picture and a 15 minute lunch, it’s got the best ROI of anything we do. It is a great team building exercise that’s affordable, evergreen and easy. Our lunches are great content for social media (all the weekly pictures get posted and shared) and it helps us build relationships with both vendors and customers,” owner Tom Schwab told me. “These lunches are also a good recruiting tool for the company. Those that like the culture are drawn to us.” And the company takes it a step further by turning these culinary adventures into end of year gifts, too. “At the end of the year, we give everyone a Snap Fish ‘Year Book’ of photos from the lunches we’ve had. It’s a prized gift.” Talk about getting bang for their buck!
3. Physical Health
While gym memberships or gym subsidies are the most common health perk, many companies are now bringing fitness into the office by sponsoring yoga, pilates or crossfit. Some companies, like Practice Fusion, have given each employee a fitbit tracking device to help them keep on top of their progress. BTC Revolutions made it even more social by giving their employees UP Bandsand creating a team online where they can share workout successes and motivate each other.
Social exercise is not just for the wealthy high tech companies. Gravity Payments has a weekly running club, where team members can be excused from their work for an hour to go on an organized run around the neighborhood. ”We find this helps clear people’s minds, provide a mental break, and increases camaraderie among employees,” reports employee Ryan Pirkle. WizeHive UX designer Avi Zuber told me his company promotes regular exercise challenges. “These get us up from our desks and moving our bodies at least once a day. It’s not all that competitive and it gives us all a great breather.” These ideas cost little to implement and are perfect for new companies trying to prioritize employee health and increase loyalty and cohesion along with fitness.
While not nearly as common, some companies are encouraging fitness by subsidizing employee enrollment fees in races and other fitness challenges. For example, last year Kount’s Marketing Program Manager Jennifer Howard and VP of Operations Rich Stuppy participated in the Boise Dirty Dash on the company’s dime.
4. Mental Health
Health perks are not just limited to the physical realm. Employees at Medallia in Palo Alto, Calif., are given cash to “seek out and overcome their fears, whether business-related or personal.” Some have taken professional boxing courses, others singing or dancing lessons, and one employee who “never felt he was funny and didn’t like public speaking” learned to do a stand-up comedy routine and gave a performance at the company which his wife and kids attended.
5. Time Off
Interestingly, most of the employees that responded get more than the traditional two weeks paid vacation. A growing number of companies offer unlimited vacation days (modeled off Netflix and Hubspot), while others, like Moz, give employees an additional incentive to take the days they are entitled to. “Our biggest (and in my opinion, best) perk is our paid vacation policy,” one Moz employee told me. “To encourage the staff to use their vacation time (21 days is standard for all employees), the company gives us a bonus $3,000 in vacation reimbursements for food, lodging, entertainment, and transportation. Our team has gone everywhere from Iceland to India using that bonus!” The CEO believes these perks are essential to keeping amazing people on his team.
A number of companies are now following the 4-day work week model. Jacques Bastien, the young CEO of Boogie, is trying out a 4 day work week / 2 hour lunch combo with his team of eight. “In most cases, we work from 8AM – 1PM, take a two hour lunch break, then start back at 3:00PM. We then work from 3:00PM – 7PM. This means we work 9 hours a day and 36 hours a week. We close the office on Wednesday so we don’t work for more than 2 days consecutively. With this new schedule, we all have more time to handle our personal lives, and we get an extra 52 vacation days a year (technically speaking).
Paid maternity/paternity leave is another important benefit for employees. Paul Hibler, Founder of start-up American Gonzo Food Corporation, gives all managers 1 extra week’s paid time off when they have a child or adopt (separate from disability or FMLA).
Paid sabbaticals also appear to be on the rise. For example, Capterra offers a five-week, fully-paid sabbatical every five years to each of its employees. The CEO pointed out that cost to the company is five weeks of productivity or “10% of their work in the year that they take their sabbatical.” However, another CEO noted that it is only 2% over the course of their five-year employment, and he thinks the benefit to the company and the employee’s health and personal growth is well worth the cost.
Finally, I was pleased to see that many companies offer paid leave for community service projects. Some organize office service days, and many will match charitable donations to the community up to a certain amount.
6. Company retreats.
Company outings range all over the map from happy hours to full celebratory vacations. According to Tarek Pertew (whose company focuses on connecting talent with young, hiring companies), Expensify represents one extreme. They bring their employees on annual month-long company trips to an exotic location. 2013’s destination was Dubrovnik. While a month of travels sounds like fun, for families with kids you have to wonder if this would really be a manageable perk.
Tarek also told me about AirBnB’s “local destinations”, which sounded like fun, too. Seemingly, AirBNB has built “mini cultural destinations” throughout their SF office. “So if your team wanted to go to Bali for a week, they would book that trip and simply go the 3rd floor, where an entire area has been designed to feel like an AirBNB location in Bali.”
Most companies offer their employees free or at-cost versions of whatever they sell (e.g., memberships, furniture, courses, cars, etc.), and that is definitely nice if you happen to like or need whatever the company you work for is offering. A lot of companies offer other one off perks or freebies as well, including:
- Netflix subscriptions
- Magazine subscriptions
- Tickets to sporting games and movies
- Customized shoes (usually Nikes or Converse)
- Free make-up or spa services
- Technology products (MacBook Airs, iPads, iPhones, iPods, and LED Monitors were the most popular)
While the companies above battle to keep employees happy with increasingly elaborate perks, owners like Patrick Lynch from The Frontier Group and I are living in a different reality. “I would like to offer a somewhat different perk that is incredibly important but not quite as sexy: continued employment. There are countless small business owners like myself that sacrifice personal compensation for the sake of keeping their team in place — not having to downsize during tough times, not having to reduce hours.This may not be as cool as a juice bar or foosball table, but it shows employees that their CEO cares and values them. I think that is awesome.” I have to agree.
Originally published at Forbes.