Benefits

Employers are pumping up the perks. But which do workers really want?

In this series, we’ll take a closer look at total rewards.
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Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photo: Getty Images

· 4 min read

Bring your dog to work! Drop your toddler off at the company’s on-site daycare. Get mindful with meditation apps and practice your downward-facing dog at daily yoga. Freeze your eggs, or analyze your sperm, before icing in state-of-the-art cryostorage. Get a reprieve from Zoom on Fridays with no scheduled meetings (or just take every Friday off!).

These are just a few of the perks that some job candidates might expect to see in an offer letter in 2022 as companies beef up their total-rewards packages to attract and retain talent. These packages include the monetary and non-monetary benefits and perks an employer offers, including the conventional benefits (like medical benefits), plus “voluntary benefits” (like financial counseling), and perks or extras (like unlimited PTO, career development training, and wellness programs).

Reaping rewards. In the early-2010s, “perk wars”' became widespread across Silicon Valley, as tech companies rapidly expanded their total-rewards packages to recruit the best and brightest. Some companies offered unique perks: Genentech helped employees find a babysitter in a pinch; Evernote offered house-cleaning services; Facebook boasted an on-site barbershop, and Google opened an office dog park dubbed “the Doogleplex.”

For years, the perks offered in other sectors of the economy remained comparatively basic: In 2016, SHRM’s employeee benefits report found that 84% of employers offered free on-site parking, 78% provided free coffee, and 20% kept the break room stocked with free snacks, but only 26% of employers offered paid maternity leave beyond what was legally required (21% offered paternity leave). The perks that made waves in Silicon Valley, like dry-cleaning and on-site haircuts, were infrequently offered by employers in other industries. The gap between tech offerings and those in other industries may be closing, at least in part due to the Great Resignation.

There’s a new emphasis on voluntary benefits, like tuition reimbursement, financial planning, and childcare. That’s according to a spring 2021 survey from consultancy Willis Towers Watson, which found 94% of employers surveyed viewed voluntary benefits as an important part of their “Total Rewards strategy” over the next three years—a nearly 60% increase since WTW asked in 2018.

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Research from SHRM suggests that high turnover as part of a “resignation tsunami” may be a particularly motivating factor in giving total rewards a makeover. In a July 2021 survey, SHRM found 42% of companies plagued by higher turnover in the previous six months increased remote-work options in a bid to retain employees, 32% added or upped employee referral bonuses, and 28% increased merit increase offerings.

But…some are a bust. Multiple surveys suggest that employees would consider voluntary benefits—like remote flexibility, unlimited PTO, and well-being benefits—in rewards packages when considering where to work.

But it could be that there’s daylight between what employers think employees want and what they actually prefer and use. According to a Compt survey at the end of 2020, 91% of C-level executives and vice presidents said they believe their workers are happy with their perks; 31% of their employees said they weren’t. A Gallup survey the same year found that only a quarter of workers surveyed actually participate in wellness programs at their companies, and a mere 12% said such programs help their well-being.

Marymar Martinez, a communications manager at PwC, shared data illustrating a similar disconnect between employers and employees. Martinez told HR Brew the firm experienced an immediate 20% bump in applications when PwC announced the option for employees to work fully remotely forever last fall; however, the majority of current employees (78%) ultimately passed on the new perk, preferring a hybrid work option.

This brings HR Brew to the question: What makes a great reward?

In the months to come, HR Brew will dive into the latest total rewards announcements from employers to understand how HR conceives, sources, and communicates benefits and perks to determine which offerings are a boom and which are more of a bust.

If you have suggestions for perks or benefits we should investigate further, email Susanna Vogel at [email protected]

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.