Can some perks have unintended consequences for staff?

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• Perks such as workplace sleeping pods or access to treats can be seen as both motivational and unhealthy for staff.

• To have the desired impact, these offerings must fit the culture of the organisation and the sector in which it operates.

• Benefits will never be one size fits all, so their effectiveness will also depend on employee demographics.


Case study: Deloitte’s onsite perks add up

Deloitte’s London campus has a variety of onsite facilities for staff, including a gym, a health suite with doctors and dentists, a beauty therapist, a masseuse, a physiotherapist and a variety of restaurants and coffee bars.

Stevan Rolls, UK head of HR at Deloitte, says: “That package is the kind of thing some people might say is to keep employees in the office and working hard, but I do not see it that way. These are incredibly accessible benefits. I needed some vaccinations done and it was much more convenient to do it at work.”

The onsite restaurants and coffee bars are open early, so staff can come in for breakfast, but close by 5.30pm each day. The gym is most often used early in the morning, at lunchtime and towards the end of the day, but closes by 8.30pm.

“I know a lot of employees will schedule a gym workout in the middle of the afternoon because that is when they have a break in their day,” says Rolls. “If the gym was not there, they would probably use that break to do other work-related things.

“Whether or not these perks are seen as a negative thing is really about the attitude and the culture of the organisation. It is not about telling employees they need to be here all the time. It is just part of what a good employer should offer.


Case study: Law firm D Young maintains work-life balance

D Young recognises the importance of work-life balance. For this reason, it does not provide workplace sleeping pods for staff. Jennifer Mead, HR manager at the law firm, says: “Even though we are a law firm, we would not encourage people to sleep at work. We would rather they go home.”

Mead says there will always be one or two employees who are cynical about the benefits on offer, but it is important to communicate regularly with staff, promoting the benefits available to them in a continuous way.

“We have a very good work-life balance,” she says. “But even with a benefits package that includes a pension, private medical insurance, dental and health assessments, there will always be someone that does not see the benefit.”

D Young also provides seating facilities for employees to use for lunch, but does not offer free meals. Mead adds: “We try to encourage staff to eat away from work. We would not want to bring anything in that went against that.”


Do employers offer perks such as onsite facilities as a convenient way to reward staff, or could they be intended to encourage people to spend longer at work? asks Jennifer Paterson

Perks such as onsite beauty treatments, a concierge service, access to energy drinks or workplace sleeping pods might be considered unusual but practical employee benefits. But, in some cases, they might also be seen as demotivational or even unhealthy, keeping staff at work when they should be going home, or promoting harmful habits and behaviours.

This begs the question: can benefits have unintended consequences for employees or are they simply a reflection of the culture and values of the employer?

At Facebook’s California offices, workers can drop their laundry, dry cleaning and photo processing off at work and have it returned directly to their desk. Online advertising firm Telemetry has kitchens stocked with energy drink Red Bull and gives employees the opportunity to abseil down its office building, London’s Tower 42. Meanwhile, workplace sleeping pods are cropping up at Canary Wharf and City-based law firms and banking groups.

Paul Bartlett, head of reward at Grass Roots, says: “Benefits, in their perception, are really a sum of the organisation’s culture. Law firms providing somewhere to sleep is not an issue, because their culture is exactly what employees expect. Yet if I introduced it into my workplace, where staff do not typically work late hours, it would be perceived as a bad thing because I would be seen to be encouraging my team to stay late.”

When Neil Conway, reader in organisational psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, worked in the civil service, it provided rooms where staff could take a rest. “This could be seen as the organisation attempting to colonise the spaces employees have outside the workplace,” he says. “But the context is quite important. If those things were offered by an organisation in the belief there is an implicit exchange behind it, where it would expect staff to come in early and work late without backing that up with an impressive salary or reward system, I think that would probably go down pretty badly.”

Reflecting employer’s culture

Such benefits should reflect the culture of the employer and add value, says Wilson Wong, senior researcher at the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation. “Reward systems are almost always well intentioned,” he says. “They are never offered in a Machiavellian way. The question is: does it give value for what it does?”

Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Mercer, adds: “Reward and benefits schemes should be consistent with the goals of an organisation, reinforce desired behaviour patterns, and show that the organisation cares about the health of its employees.”

Some employers provide staff with biscuits during the day or access to alcoholic drinks on Friday afternoons. James Malia, head P&MM Employee Benefits, says: “As regards a glass of wine on Fridays, it is something we do here but typically at close of play, so no one is holding back or hanging around for extra time after work.”

But not everyone thinks such treats are appropriate. Seidl adds: “The manager should always say ‘no’, especially with alcohol and travel, because the manager is responsible for the employees. Chocolate should really be replaced with healthy foods that are a lot more attractive than rewarding staff in this sort of wrong way. It makes much more sense to reward people with something like fresh fruit on a Friday.”

It is also important for employers to recognise their reasons for offering such benefits, whether it is catering to a youthful workforce, enticing staff to stay at work, or just fostering interaction. Dawn Nicholson, principal in the HR services practice at Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, says: “Employers can use onsite facilities in a positive way to drive benefits, like using the gym to encourage a healthier workforce while promoting greater camaraderie and engagement among employees.”

So it is not the benefit, but how it is represented symbolically, that is important. The Work Foundation’s Wong says that if an onsite gym has high symbolic value in an organisation, where everyone uses it and staff socialise, then the perk is meaningful because it is part of a community culture.

“Employees unwind at the gym, they work hard, play hard and book the squash courts together,” he says. “The symbolic value is manifest in social reinforcement. But in other organisations, where staff flog themselves to death and cannot go to the gym even if they want to, it makes no difference at all. The same perk has different implications.”

As P&MM’s Malia adds: “It is about knowing each individual employee. Whether it is a bank, a factory or a council, there will always be different demographics and different types of people. I do not think employers can ever get something that gets 100% approval from 100% of employees.”

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