12 unique employee perks that don’t require a big budget

12 unique employee perks that don’t require a big budget

Your employee perks should be valuable to your employees and, by extension, add value to your workplace. This doesn’t mean that they have to cost a lot of money – but they do need to impact employees in a meaningful way.

What are the perks of perks?

If your employees think of your perks as nice-to-haves but not essential, then these aren’t things that add value. Your employees simply won’t care enough, and your efforts will have been for nothing. And perks aren’t about just slapping a few quick ideas together to appease people. The selection of unique workplace perks calls for thoughtful analysis.

How do you know whether the perks that your company provides meet your employees’ needs and make sense for your business? In a CareerBuilder survey released in January 2019, job seekers claimed that benefits and convenience are considered more important than paid compensation. In this study, 75% said that beyond salary, perks are the most important factors they consider when applying to a job.

Those surveyed also indicated that they would choose the following employee perks to make their workplaces more satisfying:

  • 42% said half-day Fridays would make them more willing to join or stay at a company
  • 23% wanted on-site fitness centers
  • 21% desired award trips

So how do you figure out what your employees value so you can offer perks they actually want? We’ll cover this in the next section, along with simple big-business perks you can offer employees without breaking your budget.

Survey your workforce

The best way to understand what your employees consider valuable workplace perks is to ask them directly. Try to figure out what issues they’re facing in their personal or professional life. If you see a trend across many employees, then you can work to address it.

Depending on the size of your workforce, you could interview each person on your team personally, or you could distribute an anonymous online survey. Keep in mind the benefits associated with an anonymous survey:

  • Greater likelihood of receiving more honest, objective feedback
  • Employees have more time to consider their opinions and issue thoughtful responses
  • Possibility of enabling anonymity if desired

How to run Your employee perks survey

  • List the perks your company currently offers (if any), and ask employees how they feel about them. This will help you pinpoint what should be eliminated, continued or changed.
  • Ask each employee to rank, in order of importance, the top three to five perks they’d appreciate most at work. This will prevent the number of options from spinning out of control and will assist you in more quickly grouping and narrowing down the most popular responses.
  • Advertise a prize drawing from among survey participants to encourage participation.

Before putting together your survey, it’s important to quickly recap the difference between benefits and workplace perks.

Understanding employee benefits vs. workplace perks

Both are a crucial part of your comprehensive human capital strategy, but they’re not interchangeable terms. The main difference between benefits and workplace perks is that benefits are what many companies offer to employees as part of their compensation package. On the other hand, perks are company-wide extras that elevate your benefits and compensation package and set it apart.

Benefits packages have become so commonplace that employees expect them, such as:

  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Paid vacation and sick days
  • 401(k) retirement plan
  • Disability insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Paid parental leave

Employee perks demonstrate that your business goes above and beyond to keep employees happy, and that you value them as people with obligations, goals and needs that exist beyond their jobs. These are benefits that are unique to your workplace and help convince others that working for your company is an unmatchable experience.

Some examples of sought-after perks (which vary in cost and complexity) include:

Offering employee perks gives your company a valuable edge. Plus, perks not only help you attract new candidates  but also also help you retain current ones. Sometimes those little “extras” that add to employees’ work-life balance can trump higher salary bids by competitors.

But when you own a small business, you don’t always have the budget to spend on the non-essentials. Don’t sweat it! You don’t have to have a high-octane income statement to offer office perks that will win them over and keep them content for the long haul. Here are some strategies to fit every company’s perks budget.

12 employee perks employees will love

1. Acknowledging national events

Sporting events, holidays and national events can unify your workforce when you acknowledge them collectively. For example, before the any big national championship games, let your employees come to work wearing their favorite team jersey. Occasionally let them dress to show patriotism or support for a certain cause.

These personal expressions help your employees get socially involved at the workplace, giving them common ground on which they may build more productive working relationships. Special days at the office add meaning to the workplace because employees want to be a part of something fun, and they want to be a part of something sincere. It’s not always about getting extra time off.

2. Volunteer hours

Say goodbye to the “me” culture and hello to the “we” culture. In an age when corporate and social responsibility are a top priority, giving your employees time to volunteer has become almost equivalent to giving them time off. Employees today want to belong to something bigger than your company. Particularly for millennials, your company’s charity and volunteer initiatives can influence a job seeker’s decision to accept your offer. Employees are balancing work and life in new ways. On-the-job volunteering is an extension of that.

3. Matching charitable contributions

Today’s employees, more than ever, want to see the organizations they work for supporting causes they believe in. Establishing an employee matching gift program is an easy win in this area. Employees will feel supported in making positive impacts for causes they care about; you will likely play a bigger part in supporting your local community as a result; and employee engagement will rise.

4. Friendly competitions that encourage healthy choices

Encourage a fun competition among your employees that provides incentives for making healthy lifestyle choices. Consider offering discounts on the initial purchase of fitness monitors to those who wish to participate, as well as fun, inexpensive (or cost-free) prizes for winning or meeting goals. You can splurge on cash gift cards and extra PTO days for winners, or keep it simple with a non-Friday casual dress day.

Organize intramural sports teams for after work or encourage an informal lunchtime walk that any employee can choose to participate in, on any given day. Partnering with a local gym to offer employees company-exclusive gym membership discounts or fitness stipends is another relatively inexpensive option.

5. Fun or charitable activities as team-builders

What about adding some collaborative games to your employee break rooms? Jigsaw puzzle, search puzzle and crossword puzzle challenges between departments can encourage teamwork and friendly competition. You might even ask employees for recycled board games to be donated or brought in for a monthly gaming lunch or happy hour.

You can tie corporate recreation to charitable efforts by offering inexpensive arts and crafts supplies for employees to create cards or holiday ornaments for hospital patients.

And if you have the room and budget, adding one or a few recreation tables like pool or ping-pong is an easy-to-implement option.

6. Health and wellness programs

Partner with a local hospital or clinic to offer free on-site health screenings and flu shots. The initial cost of benefits like these can actually help stave off future productivity losses and higher treatment costs incurred by ill employees out on sick leave.

Additionally, have you thought of offering an employee assistance program? Some companies enlist a service providing a network of mental health providers, dependent care specialists or additional wellness support hotlines for employee use. Having access to this kind of instant support is a major plus for busy parents and families.

Other inexpensive ideas include sending out regular email reminders offering healthy recipes, office ergonomic awareness or quick stretching routines that easily fit into a busy workday.

7. Delicious, healthy snacks

You don’t need to have Wolfgang Puck on retainer to please your employees. Pay a nominal yearly fee and stock up on bulk snack foods from big-box stores and club providers. Buying in bulk offers you a discount. And filling containers in your office break rooms with free granola bars, nuts, pretzels or other healthy options is an inexpensive way to put a smile on your team’s faces.

Offer monthly “theme” lunch days around special events like baseball opening day or the start of summer. You can serve a catered meal, or appropriate snacks, and ask employees to dress in accordance with the theme.

Around the holidays, present opportunities for office potlucks where everyone brings in a favorite family dish to share. Other fresh ideas include organizing a department cook-off challenge. Or, make arrangements for a local food truck to park outside your building and offer free or discounted menu items occasionally.

8. Prioritizing work-life balance

With remote work now more commonplace as a result of the pandemic, most employees expect and appreciate greater flexibility in the workplace. If a fully remote workforce isn’t feasible for your business, consider offering hybrid schedules where it makes sense (or at least certain roles that don’t require a physical presence in a specific location).

This allows employees a certain number of weekly work hours that can be spent at home, which can make it easier for them to juggle other responsibilities, such as caring for young children or aging parents. It may be a benefit to your business as well.

One Stanford University study found that over a nine-month period, productivity actually increased by 13% for employees doing the same job at home versus in the office. If your business doesn’t support a more flexible telecommuting option, and you can’t afford to offer additional PTO days, consider occasional half-day Fridays or extended lunch hours. This gives your people a little extra time to relieve stress by socializing or to run personal errands during the workday.

Finally, celebrate the time off that you do offer. Encourage the sharing of photos throughout the office on central bulletin boards or set aside a few minutes at the beginning of Monday meetings to discuss leisure or family activities. Getting to relive the fun with your colleagues can foster tighter bonds and make the good feelings last longer.

9. Learning and professional-development opportunities

Establishing a culture that supports continuous learning can help foster a mindset of growth and professional development among your workforce. You can do this a few ways:

  • Offer learning resources on your employee intranet or through another online library.
  • Host monthly, quarterly or yearly in-house training opportunities either online or in person.
  • Allow employees to attend external learning opportunities with local institutions, industry associations and certification organizations.
  • Encourage self-learning, peer learning and mentorships.

10. Help with student loan repayment or tuition reimbursement

In a competitive job market, one way to attract a younger workforce is to help tackle their (often) biggest debts with a student loan repayment benefit. This can be done on a smaller scale — you could start by offering $50-$100 a month.

Another way to support new-graduate hires or staff working toward more advanced degrees and certifications is through tuition reimbursement. This educational benefit allows employees to be reimbursed up to $5,250 a year in tax-free tuition costs.

Finding ways to relieve the financial burden by helping with these reoccurring, long-term payments may also help with the overall stress of your employees. And as a result, productivity could go up.

11. New parent support

Whether it’s during pregnancy, adoption, infancy, toddler years or beyond, there are helpful and unique ways to support parents and primary caregivers. Time off and flexible scheduling is one of the top perks that employees needing this type of support want to see.

Make sure communication is clear as to the PTO time allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or equivalent laws at the state level.

New parent support can also be implemented in how your employee is transitioned back to work. Consider these low-cost options:

  • Create a plan of action in advance
  • Prioritize flexibility
  • Consider remote or hybrid work
  • Allow for transition time, including potentially part-time work
  • Add facilities on-site that allow for extended breaks for breastfeeding mothers

12. Flexible scheduling

Flexible work schedules reap benefits for both the employee and employer. For example, productivity increases. Not only are employees given more control over how they put their time in, but they’re also provided an environment of autonomy. That autonomy can lead to higher productivity. Some other benefits include:

  • Employees can become less stressed.
  • Absenteeism can decrease.
  • Employees can make decisions resulting in healthier and happier outcomes.
  • It builds trust.

By having healthier and happier employees, the quantity and quality of work performance is better than with unhappy employees. When they feel involved in having autonomy with their work schedule, employees feel more valued.

When given the latitude to attend to common life matters and return to work afterward, employees know they don’t have to compromise their professional life for their personal life. Rather than take time off or call in for work, employees could move hours around to manage events or other appointments. Also, this workplace perk doesn’t cost the employer a dime.

Key takeaway

You don’t need to have a fat wallet or offer more employee perks than your competitors to win over top talent. Talk to your current employees and implement benefits that support their most important concerns, as well as your company’s culture. When you do so, you will attract the right people and keep office morale high. Interested in additional ways to improve your retention strategy?

Download our guide, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business, to learn successful ways to increase productivity and align your people for sustained growth.

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