The Happiness Issue
YOUR CAREER | Perks that work

Perks that work

Free and low-cost ways managers can boost morale.



By Jenny Jedeikin

With the economy in a three-plus year slump, U.S. companies have had to scale back tremendously on the lavish perks they once used to lure employees to work longer and harder. But now that in-cubicle shoulder massages and gourmet meals have been taken off the company ledger, what perks can savvy employers offer in the current fiscal environment to engage and retain a weary workforce without spending all the profits?


“When it comes to the subject of perks, it’s really all about creating an environment where employees feel valued,” says Cindy Ventrice, author of Make Their Day: Employee Recognition that Works. “Whether it’s a perk or simple recognition, people want to feel that their employer cares about them.” And according to Ventrice, there’s a lot managers can do to satisfy that need, without spending a fortune.

Flexibility is cheap

In a recent study conducted by Ventrice, she found that the top priority for all workers across the board among perks is to have some degree of flexibility in terms of their telecommuting and time off. “Time flexibility makes people feel that they are really valued because there’s a trust component that comes along with it,” explains Ventrice. “When you telecommute, the employer trusts that you don’t have to be babysat to do your work.” And with today’s laptops and online office meetings, it’s possible for an employee to work from virtually anywhere.

Flexibility doesn’t just have to be telecommuting, says Ventrice. “Flexibility can also mean an employee gets a certain amount of ‘get out a jail free’ time to attend kid’s sporting events or what have you,” she adds. And unlike other perks, which may appeal to one age group more than another, Ventrice finds that the flex-time perk works across all ages. “When I did my generational study, it didn’t make any difference whether I was talking to a generation Y or a baby boomer, they were all interested in some form of flexibility,” she says.

Do-it-yourself perks

When it comes to designing low-cost perks within the office, Ventrice advises that it’s best to bring the employees in on the decision-making process, so they feel like their needs have been taken into consideration. “In the better companies, they sit down and tell employees their budget and ask what’s important to you,” Ventrice says.

The Happiness Issue
YOUR CAREER | Perks that work

An engineering firm Ventrice recently consulted asked its employees to help design an effective work environment. “The employees really wanted to create work spaces where people could collaborate comfortably together,” says Ventrice. “They came up with these treadmill stations and scattered them throughout the offices. The treadmills had platforms so that people could put their laptops on them and work and work out at the same time.” During certain hours of the day, everyone is in an environment where people around them are working alongside each other rather than being in their cubicle. This means there is conversation and collaboration going on, which was important to that company.

If treadmill stations seem expensive, there are cheaper ways to achieve a comfortable work environment, “where employees can collaborate and bond, such as game rooms,” says Ventrice. She has seen Nerf guns and little Nerf soccer setups sprinkled around offices, for instance. “If employees are allowed to create their work space however they want to,” says Ventrice, “that’s going to make them more comfortable; so they get more work done.”

According to Ventrice, a perk doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. “Yes, perks are going to change for some employers because they just can’t afford them anymore, but during the process, they just need to keep the employees’ interests in the equation,” she says.

Finally, Ventrice says we can’t afford to focus just on rewards and perks. “Making people feel valued is a holistic effort,” she says. “It comes from the way we treat people. The thoughtfulness in determining what kind of benefits people receive ultimately emerges from the day-to-day interactions that managers have with their employees.”

Jenny Jedeikin lives in Northern California and her writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Rolling Stone and In Style, among other publications.

“When it comes to the subject of perks, it’s really all about creating an environment where employees feel valued.”

Cindy Ventrice, author of Make Their Day: Employee Recognition that Works

10 low-cost perks

It may not fit a company’s budget to dole out trips to Hawaii, but for the conscientious boss, there are still some very effective options:

1. Telecommuting. Hands down, offering a flexible work schedule is the surest way to an employee’s heart.

2. Awards. It doesn’t cost anything to nominate someone as “Employee of the month,” and it always makes a person feel appreciated.

3. Game rooms. You don’t have to outfit your game room with state-of-the-art air-hockey tables; sometimes just providing a game of Pictionary is enough for employees to let off some steam.

4. Free passes. Every employee appreciates the opportunity to attend their child’s school play or sporting event. Offering a pass to use at their discretion gives employees a nice break.

5. Surprise low-cost gifts. It doesn’t take much effort to get to know what someone really likes and surprise them with their favorite magazine subscription or coffee card.

6. Lounge rooms. When a conference room is too formal, it’s nice to offer employees a place to meet and discuss ideas while sitting on comfy couches.

7. Dogs in the office. In some workplaces, dogs are easy to accommodate, and it always makes people feel good to have their pets nearby.

8. Nap rooms. For startups and companies where employees work incredibly long hours, it’s nice to be able to take a much-needed break.

9. Flexible start time. Allow employees to start early or late to avoid rush hour traffic.

10. Special-request snacks. Take an informal survey of your employees, and keep the kitchen stocked with their favorite snack foods.




Perks that work


Flexibility is without a doubt the #1 perk. I have been working from home for the past 2 years, and there’s no better perk. No price can be placed on the flexibility.

Join the conversation

Add your comment
Please sign in to post a comment
Login »
Returning users log in
New Users »
Register here


View Archives/Print Issues >
See this month’s cover >


Happiness examined: A four-part feature
- The habits of happy people
- What are the happiest countries?
- Happiness through the years
- Is happiness genetic or a choice?

Perks that work: Free and low-cost ways
managers can boost morale

On the cover: A champion for children
Michael Johnson, MBA/GM ’04

In this issue

Your Career

Alumni Profiles

Charlotte Phillips: A lifetime of self-discovery

Steven Gold: Clearing the way for disabled students

Emily Garcia

Sharon Maloney

The Buzz

Published by alumni


Extra! Extra!

Your University

University news

Campus news

Community relations


Everyone has a story to tell

Alumni Association Benefits

Get connected

Print subscriptions