Incentives Staff Love: Discover the Perks That Work

Depending on the company you work for, the concept of staff perks may or may not be foreign to your ears. But incentivising employees to give their best can actually be a cost-effective way to improve motivation and productivity within your workforce. With this in mind, we look at the perks that work, the ones that don't, and why this is.

"Where bees are, there is honey." - 17th century English proverb

Now we don't know much about bees here at Agency Central (although we could probably help you to find a Beekeeper, if that's your thing), but we do understand this proverb. Bees, as we well know, are busy - and the work they're busy at is the production of honey. 

But what if the queen bee could get her workers to go just a little bit faster - increasing the efficiency of her hive and creating extra honey? 

That's right - she'd have more honey.

Every employer would like their workers to work a bit harder - it's just a fact of business. The only thing more certain is that their workers think they deserve a pay rise. 

But let's be realistic here. There's only so much money to go around, and while Louise from Accounts might really like that sports car, and Jim from Marketing probably could do with a decent holiday this year, economic times are kind of uncertain, and pay rises might just have to go on hold for the time being.

Even the best recruitment consultant in the world is going to struggle selling your firm to a top candidate if working for you is about as appealing as spending a wet weekend in hell.

Convince employees that they want to work for you

Micro businesses (0-9 employees) made up 95.5% of all private sector businesses in the UK in 2015 according to British government statistics - so for a very average company to give each of its employees a £1,000 a year pay rise, the bill could easily come to £9,000 a year. That's also £9,000 that's very difficult to claw back, should your operation find itself in need of a little extra liquidity for whatever reason.


But what if there's another way around the problem of motivation? How can you convince your employees that they should be doing more to aid their company's cause if you can't commit to paying them more? 

Creativity is notoriously difficult to foster in the workplace - with many corporate cultures seemingly geared up to limit, rather than accelerate, this most positive of forces.



Make sure they benefit from their work in other ways is how. Tech firms such as Google and Airbnb have embraced this concept wholeheartedly - giving their employees perks the likes of which have never before been seen. When you've got the resources to provide things like office slides and four-figure travel allowances, the results can be truly astounding.

In the best case, staff incentives can work really well, but in others they're ineffective - or worse, have a negative effect. In order to understand why this might be the case, we first need to define what we actually mean by 'work well'. What can we measure a staff perk by to see how effective it actually is?

What is an 'effective staff perk'?


At the end of all this, there's really one thing that we're interested in (other than improving our employees' lives, that is!). This is the same thing that all businesses are interested in, which is of course, how we can become more profitable. 

How you actually achieve an increase in profitability depends on the type of business you are running, as well as the type of people who work for you, but there are a number of measures you could use. We came up with a few different facets of employment that could conceivably be improved in some way by staff incentive schemes:

Recruitment-boosting perks

"You don't build a business - you build people - and then people build the business."
Zig Ziglar

One indirect way that profitability can be improved in almost any company is to find good staff and then retain them. While partnering with a good recruitment agency is an intelligent way to achieve this, even the best consultant in the world is going to struggle selling your firm to a top candidate if working for you is about as appealing as spending a wet weekend in hell.

Even if salaries at your organisation are nothing to write home about, there are a number of ways to make the place more appealing to potential employees - and better still - many of them are absolutely free. While strategies like allowing people to bring their dog into work might not work for everyone, even just ensuring that staff get a long enough lunch break, or finish early enough to miss rush hour can make a big difference to people's quality of life.

Essentially, any of the perks we mention in this article should help to boost your recruitment potential, so keep this at the forefront of your mind when making investments to improve things for your staff. Remember that happy workers are productive workers, and you can at least hope that they'll respect you more for making it happen for them.

Income-boosting perks

"Money can't buy happiness, but neither can poverty." - Leo Rosten

Fairly self-explanatory, this one. Income-boosting perks work not by raising your employees' salaries, but by making them go further. This could also include schemes which allow workers to make extra money independently of their salary, such as the gifting of company shares as an incentive.

Pay rises: the only thing truer than the fact that people like them is that they always end up wanting more of them.



These perks are always appreciated, because they are an indirect way of allowing your employees to earn more money - often without paying the extra income tax that a pay rise might entail for them. Such incentives might include services such as free housekeeping or dog minding - which can make a big financial difference to the employees that use them.

This can also be a great way to curry favour with the local businesses your firm employs - getting news of your company's good name into the right mouths to drum up valuable new leads. Perks can be as much of a marketing exercise as they are a retention one.




Health-boosting perks

"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver." - Mahatma Gandhi

Your health is really the last thing that you want to lose. No other facet of your life is responsible for so much of your happiness - or taken for granted with such abandon while it remains. But Britain's transition to the Service Industry is destroying workers' health just as surely as the smog of Industrial Revolution cities did - forcing people into sedentary lifestyles that doctors say could be worse than smoking in terms of shortening life expectancy. Small wonder that we're facing an obesity epidemic.

So what can employers do to help? Well in addition to classic health-related perks like free gym memberships, yoga classes, or showers at work (to encourage healthy commuting), there are a number of ways that you can minimise the time people spend torturing their bodies sat in a chair. Don't forget that good physical health promotes good mental health, too - which is another massive issue in Britain today... 

One way to help employees keep fit is to introduce standing desks - ensuring that people spend a good proportion of the day on their feet, even when they're working. These desks aren't cheap, but will make a big impact in terms of your employees' health. They show that you care - in a big way. 

Other less conventional means of helping staff get away from their desks include introducing work from home days (allowing employees the flexibility to work from wherever they see fit), or even shortening daily working hours themselves. While this may sound counter-productive, there is growing evidence to suggest that a shorter or more flexible working day can lead to greater productivity and increased employee loyalty.

Morale-boosting perks

"Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length." - Robert Frost

One thing that most people can agree with is that there just isn't enough happiness in the world. It's one of those things that's universally appreciated by its very definition. So why don't we do more to make the world a happy place? If you're still trying to work out whether you'd like to be feared or loved as a boss, then this one probably isn't for you - but if you already know the answer, then it's time to incentivise your way to a new era of productivity.

First off, we should point out that improving any one of the facets listed here is likely to improve morale. It's simply what happens when people have more disposable income, less aches and pains, or a better team to work with. In order to improve morale specifically then, we're going to have to be a little bit imaginative. 

Ensuring that employees automatically get their birthday off work (paid of course) is one way to make an extra day's holiday seem like more than it actually is. Or you could simply give employees more annual leave allowance in order to let them make their own mind up.

On a more sombre note, ensuring that you provide excellent benefits to employees' dependants in the event of their untimely demise (and ensuring they know you will do this) is actually a great morale-booster. Google are well-known for taking good care of the families of employees if the worst happens, and this seems to be much appreciated by Googlers.

Even if you don't have the financial resources to do this (and many firms don't), there are other ways you can help in the event of a death. Don't forget that employees who have recently been bereaved are likely to have emotional needs that you can really help with - whether that is by providing free counselling, or just ensuring that employees in these cases can get a suitable amount of time off following such an event. Bear in mind that not everyone will want to be off work for an extended period in this case - so having HR Staff who are trained in the legal and psychological issues at play here can really help. Far too many firms nowadays do not provide staff with the support they need in the event of a bereavement.

Creativity-boosting perks

"Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it." - Dee Hock

Creativity is a divisive subject in many workplaces. While non-creatives might see their more imaginative colleagues as divas - obsessed with work-life balance, aimless conversation, and desktop totem poles made out of fruit - creative members of staff often wonder how others can exist without such vices, and suspect that a secret longing exists deep within their hearts.

Unfortunately, creativity is notoriously difficult to foster in the workplace - with many corporate cultures seemingly geared up to limit, rather than accelerate this most positive of forces. This in turn is fuelling a rise in the outsourcing of creative marketing functions - which of course ignores the fact that creativity can be beneficial for any person in any job role, from an Accountant to an On-Site Janitor

One of the best ways to effectively manage creative employees is to simply ask them what they're thinking (they're paid to come up with good ideas after all) - but one perk many will appreciate is to allocate a budget to create a library of good work-related books and to give employees time to read them. You could even give each employee a book budget - much like universities do with postgraduate students.

Work from home days, sabbaticals, and meditation classes also tend to go down well, and will improve your office's creativity by improving relaxation and bringing in new sources of inspiration for the people who matter most. Ask yourself where you tend to come up with your best ideas, and how many of those you would have missed, had you been stuck sprouting roots behind a desk.


The potential dangers of staff perks

That's right, even forces for good like employee incentives have a darker side. Staff perks aren't without their risks - and it's important to keep these at the forefront of your mind before you design any scheme. So let's take a look at what you need to be aware of.
 
Work-life balance is the best perk you can have... 

It's well-known that Silicon Valley is pretty much the epicentre of a perks-explosion that's been rocking the world for the past couple of decades. Firms like Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter have been busy providing employees with free gourmet food, transport arrangements, gyms, spas, laundry services and even dentistry - all lit by the hazy sunlight of Northern California.

Sounds idyllic doesn't it? And we're not going to make any bones about it - because it's probably pretty good. These folks have got it made, and we wouldn't for a minute suggest that most of them aren't living life to the full and having great fun doing it.

Hang on a minute though. What is the cost of all this assistance? It's been suggested that the provision of so many perks and services is further-blurring the line between work and leisure for many employees of tech startups - with smartphones, email, and late nights in the office ensuring that many people are never truly getting time away from their job.

As an employer, it's easy to see pound signs light up at this point - because those workers sound seriously engaged, don't they? Surely they must be working pretty hard?

But think back to what we just said about creativity-boosting perks (which often involve spending more time away from the office, rather than less), and consider the devastating effect that stress can have on your workforce.

...and the second best perk is doing a job that you actually enjoy

There's a reason that salaries are referred to as 'compensation'. They are there to compensate the person doing a job for the considerable proportion of their life that they will spend doing it. 

One of the best perks you can get is therefore when you get 'compensated' (and preferably compensated well) for doing a job that you actually love, alongside people you get on with. What this means is that every day is a perk - because life itself becomes much more enjoyable. You simply don't need to paper over the cracks with foosball tables and at-desk massages, because you're just having fun to begin with.

Of course not everyone's that lucky, and there are many job roles that just simply aren't that much fun. Without wanting to point any fingers, it's safe to say that not every job is a calling, and that many employees do just live for the weekend.

Our take on this is that while livin' the dream is indeed the name of the game, there's no reason that you can't have some fun along the way. As long as perks are correctly targeted, we'd say that they're a good idea. 

In order to actually target them correctly, read on...   

How to choose the perks that will work for your business

This is the point where we figure out the staff incentives that will work best for your particular business. It's important to consider everything here, so that we can figure out exactly what will work for your team, and drive them to new levels of happiness and productivity. 

Employee incentives that don't work

As we've pointed out, the wrong incentive will do no good - or could even be counterproductive for your business.

Whilst a company-wide sales incentive for an all expenses paid clubbing trip to Ibiza might work really well in some instances (namely those where the employees are known for partying it up), in others, you can see how it might not be such a good idea - and it could even end up putting strain on a team member's family situation.

Another example might be the introduction of a free dog-minding service for employees in a company where only one member of staff (a Senior Manager) owns a dog. While this may open the door to pet-ownership to many employees, others might see it as favouritism or nepotism, and dislike the fact that this expensive perk has been presented to them in lieu of a pay rise. In a team with many current and potential dog-owners, however, this service could go down a treat!

Perks that work without fail

There are some perks that just work, no matter what type of business you're running. You could be a firm of Accountants, a health spa, or even a recruitment agency - these are the things that will make your organisation a better place to work. 

We're not just talking about pay rises either - because the only thing truer than the fact that people like them is that they always want more of them. They don't always end up boosting loyalty and / or staff retention rates...
 
One thing that does boost retention is looking after staff when they're feeling at their most vulnerable - like when they've just joined your firm as a new recruit, for instance. Welcome kits are a great idea, not only to show new starters that you care about them, but also (if executed correctly), to help them in their day-to-day life as they progress in their career within your firm.

Creative ideas for what to put in a new starter's welcome kit include:

  • Modelling clay (M&C Saatchi Mobile).
  • An Amazon Kindle with an unlimited account on Amazon books (TH_NK).
  • A bottle of champagne (Spicy Mango Technology).
  • A welcome balloon for your desk (Karmarama).

Many of these items are more useful than you might first imagine - with the Ebook reader especially killing two birds with one stone by: a) giving new starters a really cool gizmo, and b) giving them access to a whole world of published knowledge and creativity. 

The welcome balloon might sound a bit silly at first, but think of it in terms of a crowded open-plan office. Suddenly everyone knows where to find the new starter so they can introduce themselves to them!

"Treat employees like they make a difference and they will." Jim Goodnight

Quite simply, the best perks are universally-useful to all employees, fostering a spirit of teamwork and belonging. They improve employees' lives in a way that goes beyond simply having a few extra quid in their back pocket come payday, and actually manage to turn work into a place that they want to be. Look after your team, and your team will look after you, as well as each other. The corporate family is a cliche, but it does exist - just don't ever utter those words!

And don't forget another of the best perks you can have - which is having a boss who's respectful, friendly, and empathetic to your needs. If you manage to achieve an egalitarian atmosphere in your workplace, then this is almost certainly you - so well done! As a bonus, you shouldn't need surveys or formal reviews to find out your employees' needs, because you'll already know about them from the genuine conversations you have both in and around the workplace.

For this reason, the perks that will work best in your firm or team are specific to those people - those employees - and it's your job to find out - know - what they are. Be a good boss.

Conclusion: fitter, happier, more productive

If you're in charge of a group of people - be they employees, team members, or other subordinates - it might be a while since you actually had to work for anyone else directly. Such is the nature of success and promotion. 

But the best bosses never lose sight of what it means to be an employee. They're there for their people, and they help, rather than hinder them. Fostering this kind of atmosphere in your business creates truly the best perk there is, and can lead you to discover the things that will ice the cake of employment in your company.

We recognise that this is an ongoing process though - and even the best employers have limited time and resources to deal with the demands of a growing team. In the meantime, this guide should illustrate some of the ways in which you can keep your most vital asset - your employees - happy and content. This will inevitably lead to higher levels of loyalty, productivity, and creativity, which form the path to the thing that keeps businesses growing - profitability.

One more thing. If you watch one video today, make it this one. Here, the excellent RSA Animate demonstrate some of Dan Pink's points about the things that motivate us, and you might be surprised. Rather than money, Pink says that human employees working beyond very basic tasks are motivated primarily by three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Check it out and learn something new today. We did.

Written by Matt Atkinson