Against the larger backdrop of corporate history, workplace perks and office culture are relatively new concepts. But in the 2010s, these nascent ideas really came into their own — thanks, in equal parts, to the glorification of Silicon Valley and the maturation of job-hopping Millennials.
Suddenly, offices were outfitted with open floor plans, communal espresso machines, break-out spaces, and Ping-Pong tables. Hiring managers touted benefits like unlimited paid time off and flexible work conditions. And founders tried to position themselves as of the people, by the people, for the people by including open pit BBQs, fitness centers, and aquarium nap rooms in their corporate headquarters.
Business leaders made these changes because they thought that this was the way to cultivate a culture that employees could latch on to long term. Unfortunately, cool perks at work do not a positive workplace culture make.
Why Office Culture Doesn’t Equate to Perks
While it’s true that workplace perks can impact employees’ on-the-job satisfaction and engagement, perks alone won’t help you build the positive workplace culture you seek — particularly in a post-pandemic world.
For one thing, when COVID-19 sent everyone home in March 2020, perks like office beer taps and free gym memberships became virtually useless. What’s more, the global pandemic either introduced or exacerbated stressors in employees’ lives. Perks at work — no matter how enticing — simply cannot combat widespread employee burnout, mounting financial stress, or toxic managers.
That’s because office culture isn’t something you can buy at Costco. Rather, it’s a shared and self-perpetuating set of values, emotions, and experiences specific to your company. At the end of the day, your office culture shapes your employees’ behaviors and your managers’ leadership styles — something no amount of free lunches can deliver.
Prioritizing Culture—Aligned Workplace Perks
To get the most out of your workplace perks, think about their alignment with your office culture. How do those perks work in service of your stated mission and values? If your answer is “they don’t” or “I don’t know,” you need to rethink the kind of perks you offer.
For example, if your culture prioritizes work-life balance in support of your team’s mental health yet one of your perks is free dinner at the office if you work late, your perk could be working against your priorities for office culture. Likewise, if your office culture is one of unrelenting grit, nap pods might sit empty because everyone’s too busy (or anxious!) to take a nap mid-day.
When you achieve harmony between workplace perks and culture, even the most baseline “perks” — such as health benefits — will become more impactful. For example, if your organization publicly touts a culture of mental, physical, and financial well-being, then your group health plan needs to reflect that. Yet up to 117 million American adults are underinsured, meaning they technically have coverage but still experience cost barriers and coverage gaps that prevent them from getting the medical care they need.
Of course, there are many reasons someone might be underinsured, many of which are out of your HR department’s hands. However, you can take steps to plug gaps in coverage and help your team afford the care they need through culture-aligned health benefits.
It turns out, companies have a real impetus for doing so: Health benefits and employee retention are closely aligned. According to the Pew Research Center, poor benefits were responsible for 43% of resignations in 2021. By offering a competitive benefits package that’s stacked with options, employees can take what will work for them and will perhaps think twice before taking another job elsewhere.
For instance, do you offer more than one type of health insurance plan? High-deductible health plans are popular, but they don’t work well for everyone. What kind of ancillary benefits do you provide, and more importantly, do your employees have tools at their disposal to pay the out of pocket cost of care?
For example, seeing a dentist regularly is important to your overall health and well-being, but most employer-sponsored health plans only offer biannual visits. If your employee needs dental work beyond their biannual, they’re likely on the hook for the bill. If they don’t have the means to pay, they may skip or delay that visit, which may ultimately lead to worse health outcomes and increased medical expenses long term.
You can help combat these gaps and increase the affordability of care by offering your employees a perk like Paytient’s Health Payment Account. At very little cost to you, Paytient members will be able to tap into a small line of credit to cover out-of-pocket expenses at the time of care, turning their bills into interest-free payment plans. Learn more about Paytient.
To boost employee engagement and retention, organizations need to watch out for the trap that is conflating workplace perks with office culture. Instead, offer perks that underscore the cultural foundation you’ve built, and watch as employees get on board.