Employees at several very large and well recognized tech companies once participated in a study where they were asked to answer one simple question. "What's it like to work at Company X". They were also asked to pick only one area of benefit or determinant in their answer. Because of the overall popularity of the companies chosen the majority of responses, as expected were positive. Most were also akin to phrases like, "It's great, we get free food" or "I love it because of the swanky design of the office."
Less than a year later, a cohort from the same group of originally surveyed employees, those who no longer worked at the original company were followed up with a single, second question, "Why did you leave". Interestingly not one of the areas mentioned in the initial survey had any real weight in keeping those same employees from leaving the original employer to go work elsewhere.
If one is to look a little closer at the aggregate sets of answers, there is a distinct generalization that quickly becomes quite evident. The first sets of answers seems focused on what one could classify as "perks", while the reasons for leaving were focused more on what could be defined as more traditional "employee benefits". More specifically in this narrative, the lack of employee benefits. That being said, one could also put forth an argument that perhaps there is no real difference between perks and benefits and that there is no steadfast, real life difference in the mind of most employers?
As a general way of thinking it could be said that perks are intended to lift employees spirits. They’re essentially a more stylish method to help improve the employee experience and make daily work more enjoyable. Benefits on the other hand, are likely to focus more around substantive values, personal needs and help with intellectual or social achievement.
With most employers however this differentiation does not seem to be that evident. There is often a common misconception that benefits means perks and vice versa. Oftentimes, we hear employers say that in order to have a great workforce, the employees simply need ping-pong tables in the break area or a day off on their birthday.
If employers really want to be successful with their employee related programs they must first realize that employee needs are individual and multifaceted and that benefit programs should be in place to give employees real life opportunities for personal and professional growth. While perks may still be useful to attract talent, that use is definitely waining. A substantive benefits program will in the long run, work better to actually retain employees.
Programs focused on employee financial wellness and financial literacy development are the most emerging aspect of what todays employees are looking for in their current workplace benefits. If these types of assistance programs do not exist in the workplace, statistics are already showing that employees will leave and find employers that do.
In the end, it is quite clear that substance is winning over style. Considering what virtually every employee has gone through in the past few years this should not be much of a surprise to employers looking into optimizing their overall employee benefits programs.