No small business could compete with employee perks like Goldman Sachs’ cover for gender reassignment surgery or free housing for interns, as offered by Facebook.
But there are plenty of smaller businesses owning it in the creativity stakes, offering benefits which really get people talking.
Employee perks for PR gain are a marvellous tool for small businesses who are first to the post with a new idea.
Quirky perks can put a company of any size on the map, showing that it cares about its employees, and helping it gain the edge in the war for talent.
No better example of this is Scottish craft beer company BrewDog, which hit the headlines earlier this year when it introduced a week’s paid leave – catchily dubbed ‘pawternity leave’ – for staff bringing home new puppies or rescue dogs.
In fact, this benefit was one of a much broader – yet arguably less eye-catching – package offered by BrewDog with huge financial value, such as enhanced maternity and paternity pay, a sabbatical programme and 10 per cent of the annual profits split equally among staff. But it was puppy leave that secured the brewing business press coverage on Mashable, BBC News, CNN, ITV, Huffington Post, and many more.
In 2015, several companies, including Twitter, EY and Zillow, began offering nursing mothers who had returned to work free breastmilk delivery kits and shipping while away on business trips. It was a move widely, and positively, covered by the media and is certainly not the most expensive perk for small businesses to replicate.
Meanwhile, in recognition that most employees come with an entourage, Manchester-based company Peninsula Business Services lays on a Christmas party for employees’ children, while LinkedIn hosts an annual ‘Bring In Your Parents Day’ citing the stat ‘one third of parents don’t understand what their children do for work’.
A social media buzz
Such events have incredible power on social media. Type in LinkedIn’s hashtag #BIYP and you’ll see it’s spawned a global movement of businesses opening their doors to curious mums and dads. LinkedIn offers printable resources for other businesses wishing to host their own BIYP events, such as branded posters, logos and invitations for parents.
But, while the lure of press coverage is irresistible to any business looking for exposure, employers should note that quirky perks may not be viewed as favourably by staff as by the media.
Ask small business employees what benefits are most important to them, and pensions still come top – even among 18-34 year olds – followed by private healthcare.
In 2016, Glassdoor reported that nearly three in five (57 per cent) people put benefits and employee perks among their top considerations before accepting a job. And a recent survey of small business employees by Untangl.co.uk found that 70 per cent felt benefits should be offered by employers.
However, employee perks must be meaningful. It’s not good enough to trot out a half-baked idea and expect staff to shout about it from the social media rooftops.
The key to getting it right is to blend benefits and culture, and make offerings relevant to their specific workforce. Holiday accommodation marketplace Airbnb, for example, offers staff $2,000 to travel and see the world, while ethical brand Body Shop pays staff for five volunteering days per year. You get the idea.
The good news is that smaller businesses have the edge over the global behemoths when it comes to speed of implementation and agility. If start ups want to offer staff a day off for their birthday, a more relaxed dress code, or to implement flexible working –which it’s worth noting is still hugely coveted by employees – it’s probably a simple case of good internal communication and updating the HR folder.
Small businesses wanting to invest in their people need the right blend of fun, quirky perks and sensible, externally-sourced benefits – which cost around £45 per person per month to deliver – plus a pension. This, combined with the buzz and flexibility of working for a small company, will attract and keep entrepreneurial, ambitious candidates.
Five creative employee perks that won’t cost the earth
1. There’s something oddly exciting about a new deck of business cards. But why be generic about it? Let your staff go wild, unleash their inner artist, and pick their own colours and designs.
2. Pull the projector screen down, scatter cushions and blankets on the floor, order in pizzas and popcorn and turn your meeting room into a cinema on wintry Friday afternoons. This can be a good antidote for the end of summer Fridays, if you already offer them.
3. Do as the Americans do, and offer staff a personal day or two that can be taken anytime throughout the year without notice. Note, these are not to be confused with sick days or annual leave.
4. Cooking lessons are a superb team bonding activity, and you get to eat your hard work at the end. Sign up for something hands on like sushi or bread making, and take plenty of photos for social media and the company blog.
5. Give employees £50 each to spend kitting out their desks in keeping with a chosen theme. Offer prizes for the best looking and most inventive desks and switch the theme each quarter. Another good photo opportunity for social media.
Richard Stewart is founder of Untangl.co.uk.