2020 – RIP To The Employment Perk?

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2020 a watershed year. I’m intrigued to see how history remembers it, as most of us living it would prefer to forget. It will be a year that will be at the very least the catalyst to many changes in the work life as we remember and grew up with. Presenteeism will be frowned upon, turning up to work when feeling ill and “soldiering on” (as per the Codral ad) will not be the badge of honour, but viewed as a (potentially) written warning offence. This pandemic will be known in years to come as an accelerator of the shift of how workforces are viewed by management. 

Anecdotally I’m hearing about commercial real estate people really struggling as office space is no longer at a premium. Working from home  (WFH) has been shown as a viable working option and has transitioned from a perk to an entitlement and in a lot of cases for us white collared workers, a necessity. Companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook (to name but a few) have publicly announced that people will be working from home indefinitely. 

Articles written about how to set up and be successful working from home have flooded the internet and blogging platforms, however there is another angle that needs to be explored. Companies have been pitching themselves to potential employees for years about the perks of their office, the ping pong tables, the pinball machines, the bean bags, expresso coffee machines, massuesses, fully stocked refrigerators, Friday drinks, bring your dog to work, foosball tables even bring your child to work days. As a perspective employee, are these things really perks in a post 2020 workplace? Do they have meaning for the candidates? 

How will we think about our “perks” in a post COVID workplace? First we need to remember that perks don’t make the job. I’ll be surprised if someone takes a job just because of the Friday night drinks or a really cool foosball table. The authenticity of the role is important, the perks are just that. Add ons, nice to haves. Think about the “why” of perks. What was/is the value of the perks? What ingrained principles of your business are they built around?

Are they based around connectivity? Are they based around a perception of culture? Or as Canva so eloquently put it, are they there to “keep the vibe alive”?

The globe is littered with examples of companies who have taken up the challenge that Covid has thrown us in workforce engagement and general wellness management. Companies have been utilising the food and drink delivery companies which are thriving in this market. Some places have had perks around monetary contributions to setting up a home office. One company I saw gave a free virtual ergonomic assessment of the home office and paid for changes required. Others have seen the strain on the family and available attention of the employee with working within a home schooling environment as well, giving out Disney+ or Netflix subscriptions. 

There has been a visible focus change towards mindfulness and general wellness perks. Transferring gym memberships into virtual gym memberships, allowing trainers to work with people online. Yoga, pilates and meditation businesses have pivoted and offering online classes. Offering subscriptions to mindfulness apps like “calm” are offerings we are offering here at TalentVine. There are many things you as an organisation can look at. Some companies, and schools are organising “zoom free days” days where you can just get things done and avoid online meetings, burn out from these types of meetings being a new phenomena that organisations are wrestling with. 

Thinking about perks, there are lots of shiny new ideas to look at, we need to ensure that they are consistent with the brand and values we aspire to be in an organisation. There is also a very real point that the days of the “perk” are circling the drain, economic rationalisation may seem these ideas wither on the vine waiting for funding. Awareness of the optics you are giving off as an organisation is really important here, laying off a number of people on one hand and then posting images of the amazing things you are doing for the remaining staff could be viewed unfavourably. 

As with all things in business, the value to the organisation must be visible and aligned with the business goals. Perks are changing, as is the workforce, they won’t disappear and will continue to be a competitive advantage for those companies who are innovative and creative in what they offer, maybe just sell your shares in ping pong table manufacturers though. 

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