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Why employee perks aren’t always as generous as they seem

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The never-ending quest for the ultimate work/life balance, coupled with differing generational attitudes to careers in general have put more and more emphasis on employee benefits over recent years. Today, rarely do jobs shout about starting salary alone, but champion all their associated perks too, as a total compensation package. But are all the bells and whistles as amazing as they sound, and do they in fact contribute to the elusive perfect work/life balance at all?

Often stemming from companies with “cool” images in Silicon Valley, countless employee perks that are often no more than gimmicks aimed at the predominantly young workforces of the Googles of the world have been adopted worldwide. Table football, anyone? And while the beanbags of a chillout area or even a nap pod may well attract crucial Gen Z talent for those tech firms, they often mask a lack of genuine benefits. Why? Because those are more expensive. What happens when the younger tech talent reaches their 30’s, has a family and then realises there’s no extended parental leave? How good does that shiny ping-pong table (a fraction of the cost of parental leave) look then?

These gimmicky perks are also subconsciously meant to make you think your job is fun or some kind of lifestyle choice, rather than the fact that you’re actually there to pay the mortgage or rent. As well as being cheap, the other huge upside for the employer is once you think it’s fun, you’re likely to stay there longer per day and longer in your career. Which brings us to the next cynical look at benefits – the ones that are designed to keep you as near to your desk as possible!

Free food, in-house yoga lessons, even the famous nap pods are all there for one reason and it’s not employee health – it’s to stop you leaving the building. The cost of a masseur or fitness instructor visiting the office versus the time spent by employees travelling to and from the gym is a no-brainer, adding up to potentially hundreds of man-hours per year saved. How many employers got so fed up of people not coming back from the pub on a Friday lunchtime that they installed a free beer fridge for Friday afternoons?  

Even the more serious benefits attached to roles often have a darker side that works in favour of the company. Company phones, iPads and laptops all imply that you’re expected to be on call and checking emails when you’re away from your desk. As company property, they can also be monitored, so if you think your location can’t be checked, think again! On the financial side, healthcare and pension providers aren’t chosen by employees, and while there’s a solid logistical reason for that, it’s not like there’s ever an option to not go with the one that works best for the company.

Does all this mean that candidates shouldn’t consider benefits as deal breakers and only look at salary? Not at all. Some benefits may suit an individual perfectly at the right time in their life, and that may sway a decision when choosing between job offers. Besides, it’s not like you can always trust the salary number anyway – there can be deferral amounts in the smaller print, and stock options typically accrue over a number of years – both retention tools to keep you on board for as long as possible!