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Employee Purpose Over Perks

Substance Over Snacks: Why Lunch Alone Doesn’t Retain Top Talent

By Amy Wolcott / April 23, 2018

Surprise, no one: The tech industry arms race to provide bigger, better, more Instagram-worthy work perks is as hot as ever. Within the past decade, free catered lunch has evolved to include aesthetically appealing relaxation rooms, cold brew on tap and laundry service. All added perks that make going into the office more comfortable.

But recruiting, retaining and growing a world-class team requires your executive board do more than prioritize comfort – they must prioritize well-being. Employee perks may ease the day-to-day stresses by mitigating the logistical pain points and challenges of work. But what work perks can’t provide is substance or the intrinsic feeling of being valued for who you are as much as for what you do.

There are tangible ways in which an organization can build a workplace of substance, and perks do play a role. But the first point to understand is the distinct difference between perks and benefits.

Unlike the ephemeral nature of perks, benefits account for the long term, lifelong needs of your employees and their families in and – most importantly, outside of – the office. For example, perks like company-wide retreats complement, but don’t make up for, benefits like a 401K match.

It sounds simple. But so often these distinctions are the differentiators factors in being seen as a fun place to work, or as a mature company that attracts top talent. To truly build and nurture a sustainable environment that’s conducive to producing great work, you need to center your business and compensation packages around benefits and substance – not just perks.

Snacks Recruit, Substance Retains

To be clear, catered breakfasts and onsite yoga classes are not without merit. Perks like these positively impact morale and communicate how much you care about the daily well-being of your employees.

But no perk can take the place of benefits rooted in substance.

What benefits do that free lunch can’t is directly contribute to the long-term betterment of an employee’s (and their family’s) life outside of work. And this is what ultimately increases retention and propels your employer brand forward.

With 58% of employees claiming they’re more likely to take a lower paying job if it comes with a more considerate benefits package, it’s no longer a question: Companies wishing to attract and retain talent at the top levels must offer thoughtful and competitive benefits that lend to a greater sense of well-being.

AT&T found a way to bridge the gap between work and personal well-being by expanding its benefit package to relieve employees struggling to juggle school and work. The multinational conglomerate gives up to $3,500 for approved courses and educational experiences, and up to $25,000 for graduate expenses to employees who have worked at the company for at least a year.

To punctuate the efficacy of benefit offerings like this, look at Facebook. The Silicon Valley leader is known for offering top-tier benefits like 4-month paid maternity and paternity leave—including a $4,000 bonus for new parents. The ROI for Facebook? It currently holds the longest employee retention rate of today’s top tech companies at 2.02 years.

What both AT&T and Facebook did well was to seek a clearer understanding of the livelihood and responsibilities of the people who come to work everyday by asking them what their long-term needs were. It’s the key first step in determining whether your benefits are aligned with your employees’ needs.

Substance = Benefits + Meaning

At this point you may be thinking, “Great – prioritize benefits and we’ll build a workplace of substance.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. A true workplace of substance doesn’t stop at providing great benefits – it works diligently to make sure all employees feel not only the impact of their work on the company, but the impact of the company on their lives outside the office.

Adaptive, employee-centric companies cultivate meaning for employees – no matter where they fall in the company org – which leads to better performance, greater innovation and a more succinct sense of purpose in the work they deliver.

In expanding personal and professional growth efforts, Sprout Social took a holistic approach with the launch of Grow@Sprout—a program comprised of workshops (many employee-led) which include everything from learning American Sign Language to persuasive writing, parenting and public speaking.

It’s an initiative designed to empower our people with the skills to facilitate their own growth by becoming teachers, and to participate in creating a learning community across the organization. It also ensures people feel invested in and seen as individuals with value and purpose outside of the work they do for Sprout.

In order to determine what kind of benefits would add meaning to your employees’ lives, ask yourself some specific questions that are more focused on ‘life’ than on ‘work.’ For instance, is a significant percentage of your employees planning to buy their first home or condo within the next year? How can your benefits package provide them with the tools and resources they need to identify a mortgage option that works best for them? How might we tap the first-hand experience of our employees who have already purchased homes?

Initiatives that directly facilitate growth move people forward in their lives and careers are paramount to developing the sort of experience that quality candidates seek out and great employees stick around for.

Life Doesn’t Stop at Work

Feeling valued, heard and appreciated drives us in life. So why wouldn’t these be the cornerstones that drive us in the workplace?

The phrase “work-life balance” is seared into our psyches. But what it implies is an antiquated notion that life stops when you’re at work and vice versa; that it’s healthy and normal to be one person in the office and another outside it.

So at Sprout we’ve developed a saying that feels more inclusive of the idea that work and life are complementary: “You can’t be fully engaged at work if you can’t be fully yourself.”

If your people find themselves spending business hours fantasizing about how they’ll live their life once they clock out or how one day they’ll have secured enough of a future to do what they really care about, then the proof is in the pudding—something is missing in the workplace.

So invest in your employee community. If you’re looking to attract the best of the best in your industry, kombucha on tap alone won’t do the trick. But if you’ve built a culture that people want to contribute to, and your values make up the foundation of how your company operates, a free lunch is just the cherry on top.

Amy Wolcott

Amy Wolcott

is a Recruitment Manager at Sprout Social, where she oversees the People team for tech, design, marketing and product management roles. Outside the office, Wolcott dedicates time to the Cara Program as Vice President of their Associate Board.
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