Are workplace benefits all that complicated?

Are businesses guilty of overcomplicating workplace benefits? From experiential rewards to more substantial perks like extra holidays, here's what works and why.

Nap pods, foosball tables, gym benefits, extra days of annual leave – are all of these workplace benefits really necessary? And more importantly, whom do these benefits really benefit?

According to new research released today by global recruitment firm Michael Page, more than eight in ten Brits think businesses overcomplicate workplace benefits, making them difficult to understand, and hard to use or claim.

The survey asked 1,000 UK adults about the benefits available to them and the value they place on these perks. 73 per cent of UK employees went so far to say they may turn down a job if the benefits package wasn’t up to snuff. The results highlight the importance of getting the benefits mix right in today’s competitive job market. It may also help HR managers save a few quid while keeping employees engaged.

Two in three employees believe businesses are investing in expensive benefits that employees neither want, need nor use.

A separate study from jobs search engine Adzuna analysed over a million open roles on the platform in April, and highlighted some of the more unusual perks currently being advertised, which went beyond some of the more upscale perks of trips abroad, and free lunches cooked on-site by chefs.

Adzuna’s analysis revealed a trend of lower cost, unusual perks for staff, including hangover days and feeding the ducks.

“Smart employers are proving that you don’t have to spend big on luxurious office perks or team bonding trips to lure top talent. There are more cost-effective benefits out there that reflect companies’ cultures and employees really value,” Adzuna co-founder Doug Monro says. “The year’s most unusual perks show that Britain’s employers are definitely using their imagination when it comes to standing out in their job ads.”

Rather than offering unusual job benefits, such as free massages, which seven in ten respondents of the Michael Page study understandably find gimmicky, more practical benefits topped the most wanted list.

“Whether you’re an employer scouting for new talent, or a candidate searching for a new job, the benefits package on offer needs to match both parties’ expectations. Yet while we may be accustomed to negotiating a starting salary, discussing more tailored benefits is rarely given the same priority – resulting in neither party getting an agreement that drives engagement for an employee and performance for an employer,” PageGroup’s Oliver Watson said.

As it stands, more than half of the respondents said there was no opportunity to negotiate the benefits package on offer to them last time they interviewed for a job. In fact, over a third did not know what their benefits package comprised of before they took their current job, and two thirds  have been surprised to find out about a particular benefit after working in a role for some time.

“As working cultures become more flexible and dynamic, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to benefits no longer applies,” Watson added. “With only two in ten UK consumers completely satisfied with their current benefits package and 85 percent saying a flexible benefits package would make a job more desirable to them, employers need to relax their typically fixed policies and start an open conversation about benefits far earlier in the recruitment process.”

When it comes to understanding just what kind of benefits employees are looking for, research into their interests and priorities may help. Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services questioned 1,000 UK adults on their recognition preferences in the workplace. The findings show that 84 per cent of millennials in particular are interested in experiential rewarding, where employees receive experiences and vouchers, such as cinema discounts or tickets, as an employee reward. Nearly one in five of these employees said they would like to share these experiences with their team, and an even greater number, 25 per cent, said they would like to share their rewards with family or friends.

Experiential rewarding is one of the more recent tools in HR managers’ arsenal, seen as a way to incentivise employees, while driving productivity across the business. In fact, 63 per cent of higher performing organisations show a clear preference for these non-cash rewards, suggesting that this rewarding technique does increase productivity.

Experiential rewards can range from spa trips to days out, either for ‘on the spot’ rewarding, such as free tickets, or as an ongoing benefit which gives employees access to savings of up to 40 percent on cinema tickets.  For years, anecdotal evidence has suggested that millennials prefer these rewards over material or financial benefits, but this attitude towards sharing these experiences has been difficult to evidence, until now.

“This research shows how important it is to revise benefits and rewards programmes in line with changing employee demands. Rewarding millennial employees with something they can share with others has a number of clear benefits for the business, including team bonding, incentive to continue delivering quality work and greater loyalty,” Chris Baldwin, Sodexo’s director of consumer programmes explains. “Moreover, businesses can often underestimate the impact that work can have on an individual’s loved ones. It’s important for employers to show that they recognise and understand the need for a healthy work/life balance. Any experiential reward can be easily shared with others, but family-friendly perks, such as free or reduced price cinema tickets could provide a family day out for many employees.”

Revising Adzuna’s research into wacky and wonderful workplace perks, here are the top 9.

The most unusual perks on offer

1. Hangover days: Had a few too many at work drinks the night before? Some employers don’t mind if you take the next day easy, according to Adzuna data.

2. Feeding the ducks: One company currently hiring praised its location’s natural beauty as a work perk, and suggested candidates take advantage of feeding the ducks during their lunch break. Disclaimer: bread not included.

3. Pawternity leave: This is not a typo. Some workplaces have actually started offering leave to new ‘pet parents’ while they settle in their furry friends.

4. Free Netflix: An increasing number of companies are offering free entertainment packages to new joiners for their free time.

5. Free ice cream: A growing number of employers are offering free ice cream to keep colleagues cool over summer.

6. In-office meditation classes: Research into workplace stress and its impact on employee wellbeing and productivity reveals that almost 26 million working days were lost due to stress last year. Experts often suggest meditation to ease stress and centre the mind. Some employers see the value in bringing weekly in-office meditation classes.

7. Industry award ceremonies: Innovative recruiting managers are offering tickets to industry events to employees looking to network and have their moment in the limelight.

8. Language lessons: While many roles that are based overseas often offer free language lessons, there’s currently a web agency based in London providing free Japanese language lessons, while further west along the M4 you’ll find employers offering free Welsh lessons.

9. Wine time Fridays: Adzuna has noticed the rise of ‘Beer Fridays’ over the last couple of years, but now ‘Wine Time Fridays’ is in the diary at some companies.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.