The Real Price of Pulling Perks and 5 Free Ways to Reward Employees

Good employees are hard to find.  And employers know it.  So, to attract and retain the best talent, employers have implemented benefits and perks in every shape and size.  Wellness Programs

have been lauded as a way to offer employees additional perks at work while, at the same time, producing a healthier, happier, and less expensive workforce.

But wellness programs aren’t the only type of benefit offered in addition to the standard health-care plan. A company car, employer-subsidized day care, and the like are all pitched as benefits that employers hope will attract the best of the best.  But what happens when times are tough and employers need to make cut-backs?  These benefits are often the first in line at the chopping block.  As it turns out, though, this may not be the best plan of attack.

Reneging on an offered benefit is the equivalent of a breach of the employee-loyalty contract; and it can have serious consequences on employee morale.  When an employer eliminates an employee-perk, employees often feel as if they’ve been “tricked.”  Unfairness is another common product of the decision to remove perks that the workforce has come to associate as an integral part of the compensation package. 

But, at the same time, employers know that the modern employee expects these kind of benefits.  They are what has landed Google on Fortune 500’s “Best Places to Work” list for the last two years. Competition for top producing employees requires employers to offer something.  So what to do?  There is a middle ground.  Especially in periods of economic hardship, employers must be creative to ensure that they remain competitive while avoiding the counterproductive effect sure to occur when perks are pulled.

Here are a few examples of benefits that, because of their low-cost, carry a similarly low risk of being cut at the first sign of hard times. 

  1. Peer recognition.  Think of this as an Employee-of-the-Month program with a twist.  Instead of having management nominate an employee for exceptional work, which often results in little more than embarrassment and ostracism for the recipient, have employees do the nominating.  Non-winners take pride in their nominee and the nominee is more likely to value the award when it comes from his peers.
  2. Casual or Dress-down Fridays.  These don’t have to happen every week.  Instead, try once a quarter.  If it is something different, employees are more likely to be excited about it.
  3. Professional Speakers.  Professionals will often come to your organization and present to your employees at little or no cost.  The benefit to the speaker is the potential business and networking opportunities.  Financial advisors, for example, can offer your employees valuable and practical information. 
  4. Placement Incentives.  Offer employees a reward, whether cash or time off, if they refer a job candidate who is hired and stays at the organization for six months.
  5. Teach the Teacher.  When an employee has a particularly notable success, have him share the key processes with others in the group.  He’ll be pleased with the recognition and his peers will appreciate the insight.


The best way to reward employees is one you already know–saying “thank you.”  Showing gratitude regularly is the single best way to develop a positive relationship with your workforce and to build employee engagement.  And that is always free.