Organizations are overhauling their perks policies as they rethink how their offices are going to operate in the post-pandemic age. Physical office space is being reconfigured to adapt to a future where the entire workforce is unlikely to return. Wired has reported that some celebrated corporate perks, including “nap pods at Google, three meals a day at Facebook, lunchtime jam sessions at Spotify, or relaxation lounges at Zynga” have become largely a thing of the past. Joe Wiggins, a career trends analyst at employee review site Glassdoor, observes: “We’re seeing a lot of evidence that perks are evolving quite dramatically . . . Those that mattered most [to staff] were always core benefits like pensions and healthcare. Free food and fun break-out spaces are cool, but they’re not going to keep people in a job if the fundamentals aren’t there. He adds: “No one is in the office anymore; we saw new perks emerging like contributions towards home offices, mobile phones, or broadband. That was the initial wave, but as everyone dug in for the long haul we’ve seen more companies introducing mental and physical wellbeing perks.”
These employee mental and physical wellbeing perks have never been so important. More than a year on from the start of the pandemic and many employees are still working from home. Employers will need to make sure that wellbeing is at the core of their benefits packages for workers who may often be feeling intense isolation as they toil away in small apartments or shared spaces, or care for children. As one manager at a US law firm told the Washington Post: “My opinion is that working from home really affected people’s mental health . . . There is something about that camaraderie from being around other adults who do what you do and interacting with them in person that is better.” Some organizations are adapting to their employees’ new working arrangements by introducing remote perks, including virtual gym membership or subsidized gym equipment. But as Andrew Drake, Client Development Director at HR company Buck, says, these benefits may reflect the changing nature of work in the past year, “but it’s even more important for employers to ensure that staff feel connected through these difficult times. In some cases, that could just mean arranging informal chats and organizing virtual team events as a way to bring people together.”
The shortcomings of the traditional approach to perks were highlighted when Bumble, the dating app where women are in charge of making the first move, temporarily closed all of its offices to combat workplace stress. The company’s 700 staff worldwide were told to switch off and focus on themselves. As the Daily Telegraph reported, Bumble was the kind of workplace where employees could expect “Kombucha on tap, free healthy lunches, and blowouts every other Friday.” But the staff were posting on anonymous review sites to say that “[Employees] are expected to work and be available seven days a week," and “The intense workload makes it difficult to cope with day-to-day work let alone invest in personal growth.” Dr. Rachel Lewis, a psychologist at workplace health and wellbeing specialist Affinity Health at Work, says organizations can invest too much in free perks to reduce stress rather than the root cause of the problem. “Yoga, free lunch, and Kombucha are ‘nice-to-haves, but have long been found to have little impact on employee mental health,” she says. “These are what we call secondary solutions ... burnout doesn’t happen overnight - it happens as a result of sustained exposure to excessive pressure, and experience of chronic stress.”
Google, a company that was known for its headline-grabbing staff perks, including the option for staff to bring their pets to work and the ability to earn credits for on-site massages as part of its benefits package, is also refocussing and following the wellness trend. A Google spokeswoman says the company has introduced that she describes as “a broad set of resources to help those who are struggling in a challenging environment,” and it has turned to technology, including mindfulness app gPause and virtual peer-to-peer mental health community Blue Dot, to ensure their widespread availability to dispersed employees.
There has been a major shift in thinking about perks since the pandemic changed all our lives last year. Perks can do their bit to raise employee motivation - but they should be just a part of a broader program and within an organizational culture that is designed to bolster workers’ health and wellbeing.