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Opinion Editorials

How employee perks give competitive companies a serious edge

(BUSINESS) Breakneck speeds of innovation are now the norm in business, and the most competitive are offering employee perks in the name of progress.

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The nature of business is simple when you boil it down: get the edge and monetize it. To keep the doors open, companies either have to do one thing extraordinarily well that transcends trends or innovation, or they must continually progress and change the rules of their platform with each release.

Case in point, there’s little to improve on when it comes to a Chicago hot dog or a New York slice; these culinary feats will forever be favored because they’re ingrained into the culture as a staple. A pair of Levi’s jeans or Vans sneakers don’t need to innovate, the classic appeal of the brand sells itself.

Technology is a different animal. Innovation is everything.

People wanted a new app or SaaS (Software as a Service) tool yesterday, and they want to hit a button on their phone to get it. We want new apps to automate mindless tasks, and we’re always looking for a way to cut paperwork when it applies to everyday life. We want to pay bills with a click or know who’s ringing the doorbell via the camera attached to our network. We love Nest because it controls our house and who doesn’t love a Spotify playlist connected to a wireless speaker out by the pool?

Companies bending over backwards to create faster and with more of a wallop allowed for these breakthroughs.

Because anything technology-related is crushing financially-speaking, there’s a constant hunger for talent. And talented developers, marketers, SEO junkies, office managers, all use the hyper-competitive talent market to their advantage. If a new job pops up that pays more with better benefits, people will bounce without so much as more than two-week notice and a “sorry, not sorry” letter of resignation.

The company loyalty of the past is long, long gone.

Companies like Twitter or Google throw the kitchen sink at their teams to keep them happy and offer everything from education stipends for their kids, dollar for dollar 401(k) matching, improv classes, catered gourmet meals, and even monthly mani-pedis. These things seem crazy, but they’re small measures to make sure the best talent doesn’t walk for a huge reason – they need the best minds to keep pushing the brand to new heights.

Make no mistake; if a SaaS tool is dominating the market, there’s one right behind it, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. Because of the dog eat dog landscape, retention is critical. If the best members of a team move on after a year or two, pushing the brand forward becomes harder and harder because there’s a rotating door. Teams have to find ways to keep their staff engaged not only through work that matters and a thriving culture, but the perks offered need to be sticky and make it hard for employees to walk away from.

One of the more revolutionary retention methods of the last few years has been student loan debt repayment, and as a result, teams are staying together, longer.

The probability market for student loan repayments is massive.

Nearly 70% of new grads walk off the stage with at least 25K owed to private and federal institutions and the debt clock is ticking upwards toward $1.4 Trillion, with a T.

Because student loans are a soft target, it’s an easy win. Often touted as the new 401(k) for millennials, many companies are offering to match dollar for dollar with their teams or just make a monthly contribution on their employee’s behalf. For the companies, this move is killer because of simple math: the average student loan bill is low thanks to all of those deferments, loan interest rates, etc.

In some cases, the loan amount could be as low as a $200 monthly contribution, which is easy for an enterprise-level businesses pocketbook. The employee’s student loan is out of sight, out of mind, and often with a few bucks extra, moving the debt needle faster. The best part: the employee feels like the company has a vested stake their well-being and future growth.

One of the easiest wins for a company is how they view time spent in the office. Because wifi is everywhere and checking email on an iPhone is only a swipe away, more and more companies allow for staff to work remote. Life happens and some days, sitting at the desk is a real wrench in the gears if the dog needs to go to the vet or the AC goes out in mid-July.

A change of scenery helps, and for many people (and let’s be honest), banging out six hours of good work is a more realistic output than drifting through eight hours of “sort of” productivity. Fully 53 percent of workers want free time over a raise.

Companies with a liberal work from home policy lead the charge in perks employees want. Same goes for generous vacation time policies. Even if the average employee doesn’t come close to using their allowance, the central thread that matters is the freedom of knowing they can.

Another way to put a lid on employee churn? Companies are taking a real swing at healthcare.

Because affordable medical care isn’t always available, many companies are covering significant portions of what’s taken out of an employee’s check. Some ultra-progressive businesses like Google or Atlassian even offer 100% covered healthcare for their American workforce. While universal healthcare would make sense, many companies are picking up the slack and are keeping their employees healthy.

Employees, especially millennials, see these moves toward a workplace with a work/life balance, but also as a place that cares about their wellbeing. Gone are the days of death by a thousand papercuts during the workweek. Today’s workforce knows what they’re after and it’s up to companies to decide if they’re willing to play ball to make that work.

Progress is everything in business and if companies are looking to continue to lead trends or upend the status quo, they can’t have their brightest and best looking toward the horizon wondering what else is out there. Perks most definitely matter.

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Robert Dean is the Content Marketing Manager at Student Loan Genius as well as a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Tina

    February 26, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Great article! Human Resource Departments need to look at hiring creative “employee happiness coordinators” who aren’t corporate ingrains, who can feel the pulse of the workers. As a small start-up, I wish we had the funds to pay our employee’s student loan debt. Instead, we try to do what we can, like stock their favorite K-cups (so they don’t stop to buy coffee every morning) and I purchase lunch fixings each week so they don’t spend their money on fast food. I would love to hear from other small business/start-up business owners on what small perks they are offering their employees!

  2. Colin

    March 1, 2018 at 10:27 pm

    Great article! You are definitely correct in saying that the company loyalty of the past is dead. I agree with the comment up above that HR departments need to look into hiring employee happiness coordinators who can feel the pulse of the workers. Often HR is out of tune with what employees really want for their work perks, and hiring somebody who can focus on that is a great idea.

    I think one idea that can help give companies the edge is in their reward and recognition program. It may seem small, but the way you reward employees can have a huge impact on retaining and attracting the best talent for the company. Companies like Bucketlist are breaking through to give employees experiential rewards instead of gift cards, and something as small as that can have a huge impact on company culture and attracting the right talent.

  3. Jeddie Busch

    March 3, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Employee perks are great but they often change early on especially for start ups. I would recommend only adding in a poerk if you were confident it would be in place for at least a year. Nothing worse than having something “cool” go bye bye.

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Opinion Editorials

What Swedish Death Cleaning your office looks like

(PRODUCTIVITY) If you need any motivation to clear the clutter check out dostadning, aka Swedish Death Cleaning. It won’t kill you but it’ll make you feel super metal while you clean.

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You’ve probably heard of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” as one of many titles focused on keeping your life organized and stress free. However, I bet you’ve never heard of dostadning, or, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.”

Alarmed yet? Don’t be; while it’s exactly as morbid as it sounds, it’s not as morose as you would think.

Dostadning, sometimes called “death cleaning” is a Swedish term referring to a process of permanent cleaning conducted throughout your Golden Girl years, usually starting around age 50. The goal of the process is to alleviate the burden of tidying up from your surviving family once you pass away.

It is currently having a day in the sun thanks to Margareta Magnusson, who is publishing a book on this topic.

The process is rooted in common de-cluttering mantras; only hold onto things that you actually use and actually bring you joy. Nothing you can’t find in your other “simplify your life” bestsellers. However, the spectre of the end of life does hang over the process, and that results in a few unique elements.

First of all, talk of death cleaning is highly encouraged amongst family and friends. Not only does this create accountability, but it also reduces the stigma around the process of passing on.

There’s also the idea of giving things you don’t want away as gifts to friends. It’s a way of creating happy memories for others, little pieces of yourself that can stick around.

In addition to creating these new memories, dostadning encourages personal reflections on your old memories. Clearing out clutter means making more space in your life for things that truly matter; anything negative or neutral gets the metaphorical boot.

That simplicity and self-reflection is a form of self-care, bolstered by the fact that, post-cleaning, you are supposed to treat yourself to something you like.

Because of the focus on long-term organization, dostadning stands out as a more long-term solution, as opposed to the temporary fix of “tidying up.” No matter where you are in life, it’s important to remember to make time to address the cause of clutter, rather than addressing clutter as a symptom that needs a band-aid.

Perhaps you could dostadn your desk? You’ve probably got a few receipts from lunch last month you don’t need anymore or maybe you’re a water bottle collector — you know the ones that get a water bottle and don’t finish it but then get a new one anyways and then somehow wind up with a collection of bottles on and around your desk? Maybe you’ve kept every single stapler you’ve ever been given but let’s be real, do you need 5 staplers?

Maybe your clutter isn’t on your desk, but it’s in your drawers. Or maybe, just maybe it’s in the break room. Wherever your clutter lie beginning to simplify and purge things will make you (and your co-workers) happy.

By focusing on changing the way you organize things as a whole, you may find your efforts to reap longer-lasting returns.

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Opinion Editorials

Disrupting the idea that tech is the disrupter of modern business

(OPINION EDITORIAL) In a world of streaming, apps and have-it-now, it is easy to think of technology as a disrupter. But is that the issue or the symptom of a bigger issue?

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Customers matter

Amazon didn’t kill the retail industry, they did it to themselves with bad customer service. Netflix did not kill Blockbuster, they did it to themselves with ridiculous late fees. Uber did not kill the taxi business, they did it to themselves by limiting the number of taxis and with fare control. Apple did not kill the music industry, they did it to themselves by forcing people to buy full-length albums. AirBNB did not kill the hotel industry, they did it to themselves by limited availability and pricing options. Technology by itself is not the real disrupter.

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Being non-customer-centric is the biggest threat to any business. Not my words, they’re rad. That’s Davis Masten, making an elegant and effective argument for the disruption business model. Let’s get less concise.

User experience

Mr. Masten absolutely isn’t wrong. Every success story he lists got its customers based on a smooth, convenient user experience, and I’ll wager everybody reading this has a hilarious horror story about at least one of the failures.

He does undersell tech a bit. The music industry didn’t force people to buy full albums. You could buy all the singles you wanted. They were just a pain in the posterior to sort and store. Then, iTunes. If AirBNB is killing hotels it’s doing it darn slowly (which I guess might be worse?) and Netflix coexisted with Blockbuster until the former went streaming.

But that’s a quibble. Even in cases where the new model didn’t disrupt the old one until certain tech was in place, that tech was invariably in the service of a convenient, cost-effective user experience. That’s Mr. Masten’s point. Whoever wins at that, wins. Truth.

The question I really want to address: what then?

What then?

That’s a question the disruption business model has a bad habit of not answering. Well, I mean, there’s the Uber answer, the Uber answer being “behave contemptibly for years on end until your own shareholders kick you out despite you making them money.” Never give the Uber answer.

It is not a good answer.

For folks looking to be Travis Kalanick in 2013 without being Travis Kalanick in 2017, a level of responsibility is called for. As Mr. Masten points out, “disruption” usually means a smoother, simpler user experience beating the tar out of an older, clunkier one. That’s great!

It also comes with collateral damage.

Terms of employment

The ride-sharing model – and this is everybody, I’m not just picking on Uber – depends on drivers being legally self-employed. AirBNB depends on hosts not having to meet hotel regulations, and guests not expecting them. Put differently, if Uber and Lyft had to pay a living wage and offer benefits, or AirBNB hosts had to meet hotel cleanliness standards out of pocket, those services would keel over and die in a week.

That cash-in-hand approach absolutely makes things simpler for the company and the customer.

To be especially callous, it may also encourage a better user experience because workers are broke and terrified of losing their jobs, unlike, for instance, unionized cab drivers.

It’s also precarious in the extreme, and not just for employees. The Uber/Netflix model is a confluence of easy user experience and the technology that empowers it. That being the case, there will be a new “disruption” every time the tech gets measurably better. Conservatively, we’re ten years out from self-driving cars. Executives at Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Grubhub and every other “disrupter” that uses vehicles – so, all of them – would probably like that to be five years. Their drivers probably feel otherwise.

That’s the Uber error (I have now resumed picking on Uber).

They missed that “customer-centric” means more than “convenient.”

It also means “up to the customer’s standards of good business.” They couldn’t manage that even when it came to their own internal culture, and they paid for it with a public scandal, a non-negligible market segment who refuse to use their brand on principle, and “Uber, but for…” becoming a punchline.

Sustainability of disruption

The disruption model, which was synonymous with fast profits from streamlined processes, is rapidly becoming synonymous with fast failure, toxic corporate culture and horror stories of low pay and poor treatment of customers and employees alike. For those of us ancient enough to remember it recalls the change in public perception of the term “dot-com,” and seriously, short of literal Internet access, anything affiliating your business with the dot-com bubble is not your friend.

That’s still reversible, and Mr. Masten provides a superb starting point.

“Disruptive” companies generally do their disrupting by streamlining user interaction, and whether you’re writing an app or running a bank, user interaction is the most important thing.

Customer-centric

But user interaction isn’t limited to purchasing your service, and Econ 101 notwithstanding, customers buy based on more than who offers most for cheapest. In the frighteningly transparent 21st century, being customer-centric means addressing human values along with economic ones, guaranteeing that when you profit, so do your customers and employees. If your standards don’t stand up to the people who buy what you’re selling, you will not be selling it long.

That’s what “customer-centric” means. You can’t disrupt forever. Eventually, you have to build.

#Disrupters

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Opinion Editorials

How to impress people by being stupid (and when not to)

(EDITORIAL) Did you know that admitting you don’t know something can be a respectable business move? But in other situations, you better avoid it.

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You want to impress people, right?

My first job was at my aunt and uncle’s children’s bookstore, long before it was legal for me to work. My aunt drilled into me the best customer service tips I’ve received in my life. By age 13, I could answer the phone like a pro, help an aimless mother compile a bevy of meaningful gifts based on her child’s age, I could operate a register, and knew when to be patient, when to rush, when to jump, and when to sit still.

If I didn’t know the answer to any of her questions or the questions of a customer, “I don’t know” was never an acceptable response. “I don’t know, but I will find out for you right now” sufficed, but “I don’t know” was deemed ignorant, rude, and in some cases, disrespectful.

42Floors.com Founder, Jason Freedman has waxed poetic about the power of the phrase “I don’t know,” noting that when you use the phrase, even if you think you look stupid, it validates everything else you’ve said as honest rather than salesy bullshit, and rather than your just nodding your head in agreement with everything, even when you’re lost. Go read it so the rest of this editorial makes sense…

Contrasting my experience with the phrase with Freedman’s has had my mind in some knots today as I’ve sorted out why I agree with both my aunt and Freedman.

I realized that there is context in which using the phrase is actually appropriate, and advantageous, because looking stupid can actually lend credence to your words, but at some times, it is a lazy response to a request.

So which is better?

So, which is it? Use the phrase liberally, add “but I’ll find out,” or strike it from your vocabulary?

When speaking to a boss or someone that is requesting something from you, take my aunt’s advice and admit that you don’t know but that you will immediately learn the answer. If you are pitching to investors or talking to potential hires or partners, use it liberally to strengthen your other answers. You get the picture.

Freedman is right – there is value in using the phrase, but in some situations, there is value in adding the followup that you’ll find out immediately what the answer is. Both scenarios may make you feel stupid, but they both have a tremendous amount of value and are instant trust builders.

This editorial was originally published in 2014.

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