In the dot com/bomb heyday, kooky perks became the icon of much that was wrong with start-ups, as they blew through investment money and got little to nothing in return. And that is unfortunate. When competition for talent is tight and so is money, being smart about how you show appreciation for employees can be a great way to retain people. Here are some of the more innovative and interesting perks companies are using:
S.C. Johnson offers employees a concierge service that can take care of tasks from picking up dry cleaning to returning library books. Sound over the top? Hardly. Consider that the more running around people must do in their lives, the less time they can spend at the office. How much would it cost to hire additional people to cover the lost time? Probably plenty.
Bonus by Co-Worker
Some companies let employees determine bonus levels for each other. For example, San Francisco-based online labor marketplace Coffee & Power gives its 15 workers 1,200 stock options to award to colleagues:
“It lets me reward people that management may not always recognize,” says Becky Neil, who works in marketing and product management. “This person who has a big title—maybe he didn’t actually contribute that much.”
There are potential drawbacks. People might start trading favors with each other. However, if the awards are made anonymously, then there is less pressure to trade information about the amounts. The big gain is that such a plan helps level the playing field and lets the people who actually see how work gets done reward those who do it, which should improve morale.
At one point in its history, management consulting firm Deloitte found it was losing talented female employees because a rigid corporate ladder meant everyone had to move in lock step. So when conditions changed, people could either go along or find another job. But losing experienced people and recruiting new ones had a heavy cost. So Deloitte moved to a lattice structure in which people could, in conjunction with their managers, “dial up” or “dial down” responsibilities, move to new roles, and otherwise create a work-life balance that made sense. Moving sideways is just as possible as moving up, and a pay cut may or may not be involved. But why lose people you really want if you don’t have to?
No Set Vacation Days
Sound a little bit like something only a “new age” company would do? Turns out not bothering to count vacation days is something more businesses are doing, including Netflix and… IBM. Yes, even one of the oldest and most productive companies in the world has found that trusting employees to act like adults can work. (Assuming you hire responsible people, and if not, why aren’t you?) Netflix doesn’t even track how many days people are out of the office. Of course, you have to measure productivity and ensure that necessary work is getting done. But if it is, can you imagine how much more productivity you would get by giving up on time sheets?
Erik Sherman‘s work has appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal,New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He is a blogger for CBS MoneyWatch and InsideInvestorRelations.com. @ErikSherman
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