Cisco Start-up Hub: Should your start-up offer employee perks?
“Perks of the job” – a previously throwaway phrase that nowadays has its own dedicated section on the vast majority of job ads.
Booming tech companies have been particularly strongly associated with lavish benefits laid on for staff, but at what cost?
In her latest column for the Start-up Hub, Tech City News editor Emily Spaven investigates whether perks really work – and even manages to track down a start-up that’s disrupting the perks industry itself.
From gym memberships to health insurance, childcare vouchers to free books, and sleep pods to Ibiza holidays, the list of perks being offered to employees in the UK is varied and seemingly endless. But just how important are non-monetary rewards, and how realistic is it for growing tech companies to offer such perks?
Research published last year by Red Letter Days for Business, owned by Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis of Dragon’s Den fame, showed UK productivity was static, standing nearly 20% below the average for G7 countries. It suggested employee engagement could be the main driver to improve this.
Just 36% of those asked how engaged they felt at work said ‘highly’, with 48% responding ‘moderately’, 11% ‘not very’ and 4% ‘not at all.’ Of the highly engaged bunch, 80% said they received some form of reward or recognition for work well done, while just 35% of those who have no engagement at work receive such treats. So there you have it, according to the research, there’s a direct correlation between perks and employee engagement.
Assessing the costs
Employee benefits may be the last thing on the minds of cash-strapped start-up founders, but offering some added extras can be a great, and cost-effective, way of motivating and rewarding employees.
Alexander Grosu, project manager at pre-employment testing firm TestUP, believes even the most bootstrapped start-up can offer employee perks.
“For example, offering employees a basket of fruit every week will not cost much, but it is the kind of gesture that shows you care about their comfort and health.
“There are many examples of the same kind, but the bottom line is this: even the smallest employee benefits will be acknowledged and efficient when creating a dedicated team,” he said.
Grosu went on to say start-ups may not be able to compete with larger companies with their wide and generous bounties of benefits, but they can make up for it by working on creating an organisational culture that promotes healthy lifestyles.
Titus Sharpe is CEO of global customer acquisition firm MVF and has put employee wellbeing at the forefront of his company’s agenda. He believes having a happy and healthy workforce is the key to fast growth and success and so offers benefits such as a training budget of £1,000 a year, free book allowance, fruit and breakfast, sports clubs, trips to Ibiza (when targets are smashed) and even a woodland music festival.
“Offering clubs, parties and sports sessions helps to break down silos and bring people from all over the company together,” said Sharpe.
“Many of the perks we offer are actually for staff development; paying for an employee to take training courses means they learn new skills, they feel you are invested in their growth and they can hopefully share this new expertise with their colleagues,” he added.
Sharpe went on to say small companies don’t have to offer free holidays, something as simple as providing cereal and toast in the morning, or taking staff for a meal once a month to celebrate company success can make all the difference.
“Any money spent on staff perks is ultimately much less costly to your business than losing staff, rehiring and retraining,” he concluded.
Workspaces as perks
Creating a rewarding working environment isn’t necessarily just about throwing free stuff at staff members. Even just thinking carefully about where you work can make a big difference, claims Jonny Rosenblatt, founder of Headspace Group, which runs flexible work and event spaces for London’s tech and creative communities.
“An increasing number of start-ups, particularly those in the tech space, view their workspace as an important and affordable ‘perk’ for potential employees,” he explained.
Rosenblatt said savvy millennials have seen great spaces develop in Silicon Valley and want to work in a similar environment that is inspiring, vibrant and modern, as opposed to some grotty, rough-around-the-edges serviced office.
“Moreover they want more than just an office, but somewhere they can meet, collaborate and socialise with like-minded people,” he added.
One of the key things that resonates with Headspace’s members is aesthetics, said Rosenblatt. There’s a demand for bright, fresh, modern and unique workspaces in which people are proud to host client meetings and feel happy working in day to day.
Perks aren’t always the answer though, and this is something I have first-hand experience of. For a year, I worked for a company renowned for lavishing its employees with list of perks as long as your arm – Google.
Yes, the perks were great – the massages wonderful, the fitness classes invigorating and the food delicious (but far too readily available, just ask my waistline circa 2011) – but I didn’t actually enjoy my job very much.
I’d much rather be in a job where I make a real difference and feel fulfilled by the tasks I complete, but have to buy my own lunch, than one where I have loads of free stuff, but feel like a tiny cog in a massive machine.
I asked for start-ups’ opinions on Twitter and it seemed many agree. One brilliantly-named user, @retiredgrinch, said: “The biggest perk a start-up can offer is hope. Hope of experience and promotion. Hope of reward in shares.”
So it’s not necessary to pile on the perks, just make sure you’re passionate about your company and spread that belief and enthusiasm to your employees.
For Twitter user @paul_btc, “money and learning opportunities” are enough for him – he believes getting paid and being able to improve your knowledge and skill set are ample rewards.
While offering perks isn’t vital, giving some kind of extra reward definitely seems to be becoming more of a norm. London start-up Perkbox launched its digital employee benefits and rewards and recognition platform in late 2014, but now has a staff count of 95 and expects to turnover £15m by the end of this year.
The company has innovated on the traditional employee rewards model, which mostly targets large companies, locking them into lengthy contracts. Instead, Perkbox offers a pay-as-you-go model, with bosses paying a monthly fee for their employees to gain access to a platform of benefits including food vouchers, cinema tickets and mobile phone insurance.
It has over 300,000 paid members, with companies signed up to the platform ranging from the smallest of start-ups to huge businesses like British Gas, Worldpay and Bupa.
Saurav Chopra, CEO and co-founder of Perkbox, said: “Benefits used be something that only large corporates could afford. Today, the playing field has been levelled and it no longer matters how small your business is. You now have access to a suite of tools that can make a real difference to work culture, productivity and employee happiness, without hurting the bottom line.”
It’s always worth exploring what added extras you can provide to your staff – it will be appreciated – and a happy workforce makes for a more efficient and, hopefully, successful business.
Emily Spaven is editor at Tech City News, which covers developments in the UK’s burgeoning technology scene. She was previously managing editor at FinTech publication CoinDesk. Emily has also worked for Google and a FinTech start-up, so has first-hand experience of both ends of the tech company spectrum. Follow Emily on Twitter.
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