Scottish beer company Brewdog hit the headlines this week due to their new and unusual staff benefit – one week’s paid leave for all workers who adopt a puppy or rescue dog. Dubbed “pawternity” leave the news quickly spread across various global outlets and earned Brewdog lots of praise and of course free publicity.
Last year a similar story concerning Virgin hit newspapers when Richard Branson announced companies should offer staff unlimited holidays. Discussions around whether this policy would actually work followed. Surely everyone would just take advantage and be off all the time? According to Branson the only constraint would be if the employee caused doubt that he or she was not “up to date on every project and that their absence in any way damaged the business”.
While this practice is already in use in many US companies, it’s relatively unknown in the UK. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings for example is a big proponent of unlimited holidays, and takes at least six weeks a year off himself. LinkedIn, which is owned by tech giant Microsoft, similarly offers unlimited vacations and the culture is a solid representation of what they believe is important, whilst still pushing employees to take responsibility and ownership of their work.
Employees of other companies with UK presence such as Visualsoft, HubSpot and JustPark have praised their employers’ unlimited holiday policies for making an exceptional work-life balance possible. Companies like EventBrite, which is based in San Francisco but has offices in the UK, even go a step further and offer multiple perks including the ”take all the time you need“ PTO policy, free daily lunches and all you can eat snacks with lots of choices.
Tech companies’ popular perks often include healthy eating through free food on offer, gym memberships or monthly event tickets. Not only does this show an intrinsic trust in employees not to abuse the system, but in combination with flexi-time and other perks it proves that a company cares about you and your well-being and doesn’t just see you as a commodity that helps them make cash.
So what unusual benefits can help your company reduce high staff turnover and attract the young hot recruits the tech market has to offer?
No official working hours
Goodbye 9 to 5 and hello flexi-time. At Netflix’s California headquarters holidays and working hours are not tracked. The company only measures the work people get done. As long as they don’t slack and achieve all of their goals, it doesn’t matter how much time they spend in the office. The policy includes clear guidelines which set out that any abuse will lead to immediate dismissal.
Ultimately this policy only works at your own premises, not on client site or for satellite consultants. However for those companies or consultancies offering off-site support and remote data hubs, flexible working hours suit those with children, employees pursuing higher education or people who are night owls.
More time off
Having an unlimited holiday policy is great, but what about sick leave or compassionate leave? Having a “take all the time you need” policy allowing staff to get better or grieve in their own time not only encourages a healthy work-life balance and a more stress-free work environment. Not being forced back to work means there is more time to recover and only come back when at peak performance again, and being allowed to grieve for what is necessary for you personally reduces stress and ultimately increases productivity and staff loyalty.
Unlimited holiday policies can lead to less time off actually taken. Converesly it often encourages staff to take less time off over the course of the year. If there is no cap on holidays, it means no days are lost at the end of the holiday year. We’ve all experienced the rushed 1 or 2 weeks off in April or November/December in order to use up the last of your holiday allowance, or being forced to take time off at unsuitable and off-season times due to these restrictions.
Facebook is a global leader when it comes to family perks, offering things such as fully paid maternity and paternity leave, reimbursement for adoption fees and up to $4,000 in “baby cash” after a child is born to help the new parents set up a nursery and buy necessities such as car seats, prams and nappies.
Having amazing family perks not only takes some of the pressure off for those thinking about starting a family, it also means more young recruits and especially women of child-bearing age will be drawn to your company. Tech companies and consultancies often have problems attracting female recruits in an industry that is not only biased towards the male of the species, it actively favours recruiting men through use of male focused language in job adverts all the way to sub-par maternity/paternity policies and inflexible working hours or mandatory travel. Considering more flexibility could well make your company the employer of choice over a rival that offers little or no benefits for parents and new parents.
Employee enrichment plans are not uncommon in the UK, and many consultancies offer yearly or bi-yearly events for their staff to attend lectures on technology subjects or to learn soft skills. Footwear brand Bucket Feet sponsors a monthly learning series which consists of an hour-long gathering where employees listen to guest speakers and ask questions. Events such as this not only help employees learn how to be better at their jobs or manage stakeholders, they are actively able to socialise and network within their own company. Above all, company sponsored skills events and lectures reinforce a CEO’s vision and values and drive home the fact that staff are cared about.
In the US Starbucks Coffee offer a College Achievement Plan, which is a program that allows eligible American employees a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree through Arizona University’s online programme with full tuition coverage. While four years of tuition fees might be a struggle for smaller UK firms, investment in employees’ development can start with financial assistance towards online further education, tech diplomas and other special interest subjects that are relevant to employment.
Many companies have a tradition of giving gifts or a card signed by the whole office when a colleague gets married. This may even include a bottle of champagne or some cash towards the honeymoon if people are feeling generous. But how many companies offer to pay for the entire wedding? That’s exactly what Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed, did when his company announced that the company will start paying for all full-time employees’ weddings.
“We don’t do free meals, we don’t do $10,000 happy hours, we’re lean all around,” Huang said in an interview with inc.com. “We don’t have extravagant salaries, but we focus on a few fringe benefits.” As a result of this and other policies, the company has seen the turnover of full-time employees plummet to almost zero.
If you think about it, the company is not providing a yearly £20,000 benefit for each employee. A big white wedding is very much a carefully thought out, planned once in a lifetime event.
So why should you encourage a culture that rewards employees?
Consultancies in the tech industry or financial services have often grown from small 5 or 10 people strong teams of close-knit friends and colleagues to large companies now employing 50, 100 or 1000 employees. What once had a culture that supported employees by default through personal involvement, where the founder knew everyone’s name and where exceptions were made due to personal circumstances, has now grown into the typical culture we see in large companies and financial services where people are only rewarded when they do things the company approves of, maybe through small bonus payments or 1% salary increases at the end of an annual review focused on specific markers. Rewards are limited to the usual contractual perks typically seen in the industry, and worryingly sometimes even fall short of that.
The question is: what do you want out of your employees? One year of service from a glorified data monkey, maybe two years until having to give up on their dreams and the stress of working on high-paced projects drives them to quit, go on a lengthy European vacation and return as an independent contractor and very much in charge of their future?
Or do you see the young man or woman who joined after recently graduating with a business or maths degree staying in your company for the next decade, helping you grow the business and rising through the ranks to becoming a team lead, a manager, then a head of, then the practice lead in your new global location?
A company needs to make sure employees feel supported, valued and can live their life to the fullest. Going to the gym, learning a new skill or being able to afford getting married are some of the things that make this possible.
What are some perks you would like to see at your company? Does your company offer unusual perks? Let me know in the comments!