We’re living in an era of quirky perks, from company climbing walls to gourmet in-house chefs. It seems everywhere you look, a high profile company is one-upping their competitor not with the number of zeroes in their salary (or even their benefits), but with perks. But what about average, small-to-mid-size companies? What exactly are they offering? We had to know if company fridges out there were stocked with free soda or not, so we tapped into our network of staffing owners, CEOs, and presidents and gleaned some real data – not just hearsay.

The first thing that stood out from the stats was the huge number of employers offering performance-based bonuses (not to be confused with commission, of course). More than 81% of employers offer a financial reward in exchange for an uptick in performance – whether that means setting up a certain number of face-to-face appointments or following up on every referral. Tied for second place are general “freebies” (which include things like company-logo’d hats, water bottles, or maybe even swag like this) and company-sponsored events like happy hours and birthday-cake-based socials. In fact, the overwhelming majority of employers offer either a freebie or a social. Flexible scheduling (and other factors of a healthy work/life balance like day care and remote work) is split down the middle at 52%, which may explain why the debate circling Marissa Mayer’s work-from-home policy smoldered for so long. And still others mentioned some pretty fantastic ideas in the comments section, which are clearly one of a kind:

“If it gets over 80 degrees in the summer here in Seattle we take them boating.”

“We also have a 100-seat theater where we bring in speakers to teach, train, and motivate.”

Strictly defined, perk can mean “unexpected extra,”  “bribe,” or, in the verb sense, “to freshen.” Interestingly, we see all three definitions playing out in the next question: why offer perks in the first place? Staffing firms are experts on recruitment and retention anyway, so it’s no surprise that staffing leaders would offer perks specifically to draw in talent (technically a bribe) as well as to keep it. In fact, retention was the highest scoring answer of all, hovering high between “important” and “very important.”  A close second was “to keep our employees happy,” which actually ties directly into employee retention. Happy employees (AKA "freshened" employees) stay longer, and recruiters are highly cognizant of that. Some of the comments we received ended up echoing each other:

“Without them (the employees) there is no company.”

“I believe the employees are the backbone of our company … without them we are nothing.”

But employers also deem “increased productivity or hours worked” to be important effects of company perks.  In fact, these two reasons are far from mutually exclusive: 87% of employers who said perks are "very important" to increasing productivity also said it was "very important" to have happy staffers. This goes to show that perks tread a balance between squeezing more work out of employees and contributing to their overall happiness. Perks serve several interests at once.

How do they decide what will be attractive to employees? The answer surprised me. If I were a company owner I think it’d be difficult not to copy (or at least feel pressure to copy) those quirky ideas I see so often in business articles. But only 17.9% of employers read about it in a business strategy article, and a paltry 11.9% copied a competitor. In contrast, a whopping 67.2% of employers say they thought it up on their own. (Then how did all of these employers independently come up with similar extras? They must be telepathically in tune with one another.) A sizable number of employers consulted with their employees, or simply kept their ears to the ground and eventually incorporated offhand comments into office realities.

The next question was aimed at understanding why some employers don’t offer perks. But using tricky deduction skills we can surmise by the number of people who didn't respond that almost 75 percent of employers do offer perks. Of the quarter of employers who do not offer them, only 17% don’t think perks would be valuable or important to their company. A larger number of them can’t seem to find room in their budget (43%) and a some (39%) invest those precious dollars into basic benefits.

After a perks program is instated, do employers see their employees (and thus revenue) growing and thriving? Almost half say “very much so,” and over a quarter agree that it’s helped “a little bit.”  What's very interesting is that, upon further inspection, the overwhelming majority of employers who say perks have been successful (68%) consulted with their employees to help design the programs.

Combined, however, the twin responses of “no change” and “I don’t know” total in at over 20%. That means one out of every five employers cannot draw a direct line from perks to growth in business … but they offer them regardless. What’s interesting is how they defend that decision:

“I think we’ve overindulged them and I’m not sure we see the benefit from all that we offer. We still do it anyway. It makes me feel good at a minimum.”

So though the ROI might be sort of murky (along with the reasoning), employers definitely have a sense that perks are important and are willing to overlook the grey area to provide them. Mysterious though they may be, they're definitely popular.

Tags: ROI, Industry, Marissa Mayer, Perk, Work/life balance