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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.



employee perks

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.

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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  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

How top performers work smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) People at the top of their game work less, but with more focus – learn how to replicate their good habits to get ahead.



working smarter

Practice, practice and more practice will get you to be more competent in what you do, but working smarter isn’t always about competency, at least in business. Productivity expert, Morten T. Hansen’s studies indicate that multitasking is detrimental to working smarter. But it’s only half of the problem.

Hansen discovered that the top performers did not try to do thousands of things at a time. He’s not the only one.

Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist outlines why humans cannot multitask. As he puts it, “our brains… delude us into thinking we can do more.” But this is an illusion. When we interrupt the creative process, it takes time to get refocused to be creative and innovative. It’s better to focus on one project for a set amount of time, take a break, then get started on another project.

Hansen also found in his research that the top performers focused on fewer goals. He recommends cutting everything in the day that isn’t producing value. As a small business owner, you have to look at which tasks bring in the most profit. This might mean that you outsource the bookkeeping that takes you hours or give up being on a committee at the Chamber of Commerce that is taking too much time away from your business.

Taking on less work will help you work smarter, but Hansen found that it goes hand-in-hand with obsessing over what you do have to do.

When you have fewer burning fires, you can dedicate your time to these tasks to create quality work. According to Hansen, this one thing took middle performers at the 50th percentile and put them into the 75th percentile. When someone is competent in writing reports, for example, and can focus their energy into that, the work is much better.

Top performers also take breaks to rest their brains. One of my favorite analogies is the one where a lumberjack is given a stack of wood that needs to be cut down. He starts with a sharp ax, but over time, as the ax gets dull it becomes harder to chop the wood. By taking a break and sharpening the ax, more gets accomplished with less effort.

Your brain is like that ax. It works great when you first get to work. You’re excited to get started. In a couple of hours, your brain needs a break. Go outside and take a walk. Get away from your desk. Do something different for 15 minutes. When you come back, you should feel like you have a second jolt of energy to take on tasks until you break for lunch. Science backs the need for breaks during the day.

By taking breaks, obsessing over what you have to do, and laser focusing on fewer goals, you’ll be outperforming your competitors (and even coworkers). Work smarter, not harder.

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Opinion Editorials

The real key to working smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all heard that we should be working harder, not smarter, but how does one go about doing that aside from a bunch of apps?



working smarter, not working harder

I know you’ve heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” but what does that mean exactly? How do you work smarter?

A new book by Morten T. Hansen attempts to answer the question. “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More” was released at the end of January. Hansen found 7 different behaviors outside of education levels, age and number of hours worked. I’d like to take a look at a couple of the things he recommends. Read the book if you want to know more.

Let’s continue on by addressing the 10,000 Hour Theory of Expertise. Under this principle, it’s thought that if you spend 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill, you’ll become world-class in any field. The Beatles are thought to have used this theory to become one of the greatest bands in history. But it’s not just about practicing until your fingers bleed or you can’t stay awake any longer, it’s really about pushing yourself in an area.

Although it has been argued that this theory doesn’t necessarily apply in business or professions, there’s something to be said about deliberate practice.

When it comes to working smarter, no, you don’t need to spend 10,000 hours in the workplace to get better at your job. But you can put some of the principles of the theory in action:

  • Pick a skill that you need to develop. There’s no way you can work on every skill at the same time. Just choose one to focus on for three months, or six months. Review your performance now. Have a benchmark of where you want to take that skill.
  • Carve out time to work on that skill. Spend 15 minutes a day doing something that helps you get better. You know the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice.” You’re going to have to find ways to practice.
  • Work on specific elements of a skill. Typically, the skills we want to improve involve a lot of smaller things. Take a good presentation. You need connect with people, have a good outline and learn to have diction and tons of other things. Work on one thing at a time. ?I used to have a real problem with looking at people when I was giving a presentation. For quite a few months, I made it a priority to be conscious of making eye contact. No matter who I was talking to, the cashier, a patron at the center where I volunteer and even my neighbors. It’s much easier now for me.
  • Get feedback. You may believe you’re making progress, but others may have a different vantage point. Find a couple of good mentors who can really evaluate your performance and offer constructive criticism.

Repeat until your skill-set grows.

To get better, you need challenge and practice. Believe me, you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. Get up, dust yourself off and keep practicing.

Competence in a particular area goes a long way toward working smarter.

But wait, there’s more – the discussion continues in part two of this series, keep reading!

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Opinion Editorials

How I pitched the CEO of Reddit onstage at SXSW with no notice

(EDITORIAL) This is the story of how luck, networking, preparation and being at the right place at the right time got me onstage at SXSW with no notice, to pitch Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of Hipmunk.



daniel senyard pitching the CEO of Reddit

After graduating from Austin’s Capital Factory accelerator earlier this year, Shep, my travel tech startup was in need of our first office. The team had grown to more than seven people, and while coffee shops had sufficed for product meetings when there were only four of us, we’d started getting dirty looks when we began putting tables together and colonizing entire corners. We looked at dedicated offices, office shares, and coworking spaces like WeWork. When it came down to it, at this phase, Capital Factory was the right choice for our company.

We’d already raised our seed round with Capital Factory with several of their partners as major investors, so we decided that, as a startup in Austin, we had to be where the press, investors, and partners were most likely to show up. Past visitors to Capital Factory have included Barack Obama, Apple CEO, Tim Cooke, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and many more. We knew that we might be able to get a space for less, but the community, education, and flow of people through the space optimizes our startup for serendipity.

Fast forward to this year’s SXSW and I was meeting with team members on the fifth floor when I received a text telling me that Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of travel startup Hipmunk, was downstairs and he had just said that creating a travel tech startup is the most difficult thing he’s ever done.

“The CEO of Reddit is talking right now and saying that doing a travel startup is the hardest thing he’s [e]ver done. You should tweet at him.” said the first text. “Baer just told him about Shep,” came the next one, referencing Josh Baer, the founder of Capital Factory, who was conducting the interview downstairs.

So, being in the right place (or at least four floors above) at the right time, I rushed downstairs and made eye contact with Josh before taking a seat in the back of the room. I planned to wait until after the talk and fight the crowd to introduce myself as the person Josh had mentioned and hand Steve a business card.

SXSW had other plans for me.

“So, we only have about three more minutes, and because SXSW is all about doing things on the fly and taking opportunity as it finds you, I’m going to ask Daniel Senyard from Shep, who’s just joined us, to come up and pitch Steve for 90 seconds,” said Josh from the stage before getting up and giving me his seat. I proceeded to tell Steve how Shep allows smaller businesses to set up and track travel policies and team spending on travel websites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Southwest through a free browser extension. My hands were shaking, but I got it all out in about the right amount of time, and he immediately responded by saying, “I love the Premise.”


Steve asked some questions about customers (closed Beta) and target market (companies that spend less than $1M in annual travel) before enquiring whether Shep had to have relationships with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Orbitz or Meta Searches like Kayak. I said no, but that through our strategic investors, I’d spoken to many of them.

“I’m trying to grill you, but I honestly think they would love this,” he said, stating how OTAs and other travel sites lose lots of bookings when companies grow and move from letting their team book on their favorite websites and instead mandate bookings be made on enterprise booking tools like Concur or AmEx Travel. Now Steve knows this world better than almost anyone, having co-founded an OTA that was actually acquired by the very company he says OTAs lose business to, Concur!

After a few more comments, I thanked him and took the opportunity to slip him a business card before heading back to my seat.

Now, to some, this may seem like pure luck but these moments of serendipity take years to create.

While there are several factors at play, it all essentially boils down to just showing up every time. As Josh said to me afterward, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and I’ve been preparing and pitching non-stop (albeit within three different businesses) for seven years. Over those seven years and three companies, I’ve slowly built up a vast network of connected people who will text me when my name is mentioned and will invite me onstage when they see an opportunity.

While I didn’t nail it, I didn’t flub my pitch because I’ve rehearsed various forms and lengths of pitches in mirrors, while driving, and to every family member that can stand it. I’ve taken my bumps and done my reps while probably pitching 200 times. I even won a contest and was sent over to Oslo to represent Texas at Oslo Innovation Week back in 2015. But even after pitching at every chance I’m given, I still get nervous, and my hands are still a little shaky while writing this, an hour after it all happened.

It was an amazing opportunity, and I’m very thankful to Henry for texting me, Josh for inviting me onstage, and John and Henry for recording the whole thing. While cool moments like this are certainly highlights, it’s just a step towards building brand recognition for our solution. Now I need to follow up and see if I can get Steve to join our advisory board…

Also read “Why your being the ‘Uber of’ or ‘Netflix of’ is bad for your business” by Daniel Senyard.

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