Why Some Job Perks Fail to Retain and Engage Employees

When employees have a say in the brainstorming and decision of what perks will be part of the incentive to stay, they will have a stake in the success of the new perk programs.

As companies face employee retention and employee engagement challenges, leaders are looking at why certain programs such as unlimited vacation or wellness programs may not be driving those metrics in a positive direction. Do employees need a smorgasbord of perks in order to get them to stay? Do perks actually get employees out of bed every day and get them engaged at work? Perks may be awesome and even worth bragging about at a weekend barbeque, but do they drive employee engagement and employee retention?

Companies invest thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars to research, develop, launch, and maintain programs they feel will help employees, get them to be more engaged, and happy at work, ultimately keeping them at the company. If perks are important, then what perks should a company be offering that will reap the rewards of employee engagement and employee retention?

Digging In

Big companies didn’t always offer all the perks they do today. When they were start-ups, they had a team of people fully engaged in making something great. Employees believed in what they were doing and were emotionally invested in the outcome. They came to work every day with fresh new ideas that came to them in the middle of the night when they couldn’t sleep. Employees were excited about what they were doing. These companies were a place where employees felt their values were aligned and where their ideas and skills could be utilized. 

Simply put, human beings want to conquer. The baby tries to conquer getting out of the crib, the toddler falls hundreds of times before taking that first step. The first-grade Little League or softball player will throw the ball as many times as someone is willing to catch it, so he or she can be a better ball player in the Saturday afternoon game. We were born to conquer. We pick ourselves up over and over because we want to be better and get it right. We try harder because of the reward of getting where we want to go.

How do we capitalize on that same basic human instinct at work? How do we create an environment where people thrive, want to come to work, are engaged and help move the business forward? How do we create an environment where an employee can learn new skills and try new things to be able to conquer? And if we can do that, will that help us figure out if and what perks will be part of the total package to help get an employee to stay?

Coming to Grips by Looking in the “Leadership Mirror”

First, leaders need to come to grips with the fact that something they have invested money into, some of the employee perks just aren’t driving employee engagement and retention. Ego can be tied to a leader’s ideas, so a look into the “leadership mirror” is probably in order. Things never stay the same—they go forward or backward. So it’s all about gravity or inertia—and that’s science. There is no reason to tie ego or something emotional to a past decision.

The People Know the Answer

Putting employees into the driver’s seat can be a game changer. Employees understand what’s making them want to stay in the company. When they have a say in the brainstorming and decision of what perks will be part of the incentive to stay, employees will have a stake in the success of the new perk programs. Since things never stay the same, doesn’t it make sense for employees to decide when or if the environment and perks need to change now and in the future? Just as a customer's needs evolve, our employees are going to want different things at different times.

Creating the Environment

No matter the size of a company, any change can be difficult. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your company environment actually encouraged and supported change? What would it look and feel like to the employees if the company were nimble and could respond not only to market conditions for the customer base but also to employees and what they want? Do you think they would want to participate to make that happen? 

Leaders must lead by example if they want to build the kind of environment where they can tap into what employees think and feel about initiatives. Employees can learn to look at things from a business perspective—just like the leader does. This can help build a leadership mindset within the employee base and helps change happen much more effortlessly.

Choosing the Right Path

Since the people are driving the change so they can be engaged and want to stay, have brainstorming sessions in your departments or divisions with front-line employees. Listen to their ideas on how they would gather the information that is needed to make those perk decisions. Additionally, if they come up with the how and the why, they will own that process and follow it through. Try different ways to gather that information in different parts of your company. Remember, the more employees have a say, the more engaged in the decision and the outcome they will be. Have them be part of the process to measure results. This can help build the professional maturity and leadership mindset within your employee base.

Yes, this takes time, but leadership will spend the time either way—on the front end being proactive or on the back end doing damage control and creating perks that might not give them the employee engagement and employee retention leadership is looking for. The people know the answer, leaders just need to ask, be ready to listen, then act.

Author of “The Leadership Toolbox” and COO of Sinousia, Vicki  Brackett  has spent her career leading small, medium, and Fortune 500 organizations through start-up, turnaround, and rapid-growth scenarios. She specializes in process re-engineering and moving key performance indicators in the right direction, all while increasing employee engagement and retention. For more information, visit www.theleadershiptoolbox.com