• Today’s workforce has changing needs
  • Perks need to keep up with the times
  • Low cost, high return on happiness perks are best
You’ve probably heard of or read about the crazy perks at some of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies. And coming from a more traditional company that’s not in the dot com world, it’s easy to get real envious.

Here’s a quick run-down of the more notable perks at Google:
  • Free gourmet food all day
  • Flexible working hours
  • Three weeks vacation for new employees
  • Three months leave of absence
  • 50% matching 401k
  • Beer and wine on Fridays
  • Bring your dog to work
  • Napping pods
  • On-site gym
  • On-site daycare
  • On-site massage
  • On-site laundry and dry cleaning services
  • On-site medical staff
  • Free bus shuttle to/from work
  • 80% work and 20% creative projects
That’s some crazy awesome perks, right? If you actually work at Google in Mountain View, California, we’re all very envious of your killer work perks.

For the rest of the 99.99% of us, we’ll bring ourselves back down to more earthly realities.

According to the most recent US labor and employment census, the overwhelming majority of us work for companies with less than 500 employees. And we’re pretty sure that none of us have the kind of perks that Google offers.

It would be unrealistic to expect our current employers to step up and match the same kind of perks that Googlers have, but we do have our thoughts on what kinds of perks that most employers should offer.

And, some don’t require big-dollar budgets either. So, we’re here to share our thoughts.

The Workforce Is Changing And So Are Its Needs

Gone are the days of lucrative pension plans and lifetime employment. In today’s world, the environment has changed a lot.

Fewer people want to stay with one company for their entire careers. In fact, it’s quite common now to switch careers (not just jobs) several times during a lifetime.

Not surprisingly, this is a reflection of the overall demographics of today’s workforce that has changed dramatically in recent years.

It’s gotten older, mainly driven by the boomers who continue to work well past retirement age and the huge wave of millennials entering their prime working years at the other end of the age spectrum.

It’s gotten more diverse due to open immigration policies that started in the 1960’s, women entering the workforce full-time in the 70’s and 80’s and growing acceptance of mixed ethnicities, religions and sexual preferences and identities in the past decade.

And, it’s also more educated than ever before as more kids attend college and as working adults continue their education mid-career in anticipation of switching careers or enhancing current ones.

With all these changes taking place, it’s no surprise that dot coms have reacted quickly to accommodate the changing needs of the workforce. Reacting and moving quickly is all part of their DNA.

The benefit that we get from all the attention that the media places on dot com perks is that more companies are now recognizing the need to adapt their old stodgy ways to keep up with the times to attract and retain talent.

So, to that end, we’re offering up our ideas on how companies can adopt changes, both big and small, for a happier workforce and positive returns on productivity.

Free Perks That Don’t Cost The Company Any Money

We’re realists here. We know that only a very small fraction of companies have the resources and budget to offer dot com style perks. In fact, many companies, particularly smaller ones with less than 50 employees, often struggle with offering basic health benefits.

So, in recognition of that, we’ve narrowed down a long wish list to a much smaller subset of cost-free perks that we think are very doable, even for the smallest of employers.

We think these are pretty kick-ass perks that are realistic for most companies to offer.

1) Flexible Alternative Schedule

This is unquestionably our top pick and request. With the exception of shift work or manufacturing jobs at plants, there really isn’t a need for people to be at the office by 8am-9am and then put in their eight hours.

Instead, allow for a flexible format.

For those that need more personal time in the mornings (i.e. - child care logistics or sleeping in longer), allow for a later start, say 10am, with a later end time of 7pm.

Or alternatively, for those that want to avoid rush hour traffic and can get into the office by 7am, allow for them to leave at 3pm.

As long as most of the people are in the office during the core hours of 10am-3pm, this will allow for required face-to-face meetings and interactions. The added benefit is that this provides more uninterrupted meeting-free time for heads-down work outside of the core hours.

2) Compressed Workweek 

This is somewhat similar to the flex-time schedule above. Rather than requiring eight hours a day of work, why not allow employees to crank out their entire forty hours in fewer days? If they can, that is.

By working four 10-hour days, employees can fulfill their forty-hour commitment for the week from Monday through Thursday and then, get every Friday off.

Or perhaps in a bit less intense way, work 9-hour days and get every other Friday off.

For those that can put in the extra time each day, reward them with long three day weekends.

3) Working Remotely

Before the advent of the internet and widespread laptop availability, the primary way to get work done was to physically be in the office. You had to be there.

Being in the office allowed for in-person interactions and most importantly, access to and use of big unwieldy tower PCs and communications tools like fax machines and land-line desk phones. Remember when long-distance phone calls were a thing?

Today, everyone’s got email, instant messaging, texting, web video conferencing, etc. We all have mini-supercomputers in the palms of our hands. In fact, we’ve got more processing power and memory in our smartphone than NASA did for their journey to the moon. Crazy, right?

All of the technology is available today to allow anyone to work from anywhere, anytime. So why not allow employees to work remotely a couple of days a week? It not only saves on commuting costs and time but also increases productivity.

Why don’t more companies allow this? We think it’s a lack of trust.

VIDEO: Pretending To Work From Home
YOUTUBE: The Onion
LENGTH: 1:09
Summary points:
  • Working from home is awesome
  • Commuting is only a few steps to your desk
  • Avoiding company bullshit is much easier away from the office

4) Casual Dress Every Day

Back in the day, like the 1950’s and 60’s, it was all strictly business attire, unless it was a factory job. Back in those days, most believed that success was mainly “process-oriented” with specific steps and orderly structure. This mentality carried over into how office people dressed for work. Business with suit-n-tie was part of the formula.

As the 1980’s and 90’s rolled around, casual attire started to take root, thanks to the rise of Silicon Valley and the khaki pants movement.

West coast start-ups couldn’t care less about strict processes but only really cared about results. To them, business suits didn’t equate to success, so out they went.

But stalwart industries in legal, finance and sales back in the east coast still clung on to business formal attire with power suits with shoulder pads.

Today, business casual is more widespread than ever before. And, we love it since it’s far more comfy than wearing a formal suit and tie. But, we can do better while still keeping things respectable.

Allowing employees to wear casual attire every day with jeans and collared t-shirts to work would be a great first step. We’re talking decent jeans, none of the ripped distressed variety.

Daily casual jeans attire that’s neat and comfortable is a solution that doesn’t cost anything but provides a huge intangible benefit. The bottom line, a more comfortable employee is a happier employee.

5) Napping & Quiet Meditation Rooms

Have you ever looked at the meeting room calendars during lunch time?

Yeah, they’re all empty and unscheduled for the most part. Maybe, in a rare once in awhile, there’ll be a lunch meeting scheduled but for the most part, they’re all unoccupied during lunch.

Why not dedicate one of the meeting rooms to be a lunchtime meditation or napping room for employees? There’s no added incremental costs or increased risk of liability.

Just block out the lunch hour for one meeting room every day.

Providing a quiet space for some quiet mental downtime can be just the thing frazzled folks need to dial down stress levels or to take a power nap to catch up on some sleep.

Either of these lunchtime activities can really help to boost employee productivity in the afternoons.

Our “Wish List” Perks Subsidized Or Paid By The Company

We realize that most companies don’t have the deep financial pockets or the progressive and supportive approaches to employee well-being like Google, Facebook and other dot coms.

But that doesn’t mean that companies can’t step up for their employees in small and big ways. There are countless things employers can do to bring a bit of joy, happiness or convenience to their workforce.

Here are our top five picks of work perks that we would love to have. We’ve ranked them here in order of cost from lowest to highest. It’s not a scientific calculation, just our best guesstimate. 

1) Good Coffee

This one should almost be mandatory because it won’t break the bank in terms of costs. In the grand scheme of company budgets, this is a tiny expense that has a huge positive impact.

The usual free cheap coffee grinds, or even worse, freeze-dried instant coffee, that is in most break rooms tastes like shit.

Plus, the powdered creamers just makes things worse - hydrogenated vegetable oil with sodium caseinate milk derivative? Yeah, that sounds really tasty - not.

How about buying good stuff instead?

It doesn’t have to be single origin, fair trade, child-labor free, animal cruelty free, LGBTQ approved, carbon-neutral beans or anything. Just something that tastes better - like Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peet’s, hell...even Dunkin’ Donuts coffee can work.

Or, here’s an even better idea - how about sourcing ground coffee beans from a local roaster from within the town, city or state? Not only will it taste better than the normal break room swill, but the company will also support a fellow local business too.

If both of those are too much effort, then at the very least, have a Keurig coffee machine and stock it up with a variety of K-cup coffee pods.

Any of those coffee improvements would be a welcomed upgrade.

2) Healthy Snacks

The vending machines at typical office break rooms are filled with mostly unhealthy, salty and/or sugary snacks lacking any real nutrition. You might find that rare pack of organic trail mix but beyond that, it’s nothing but chips, candy, cookies, etc.

It’s hard not to cave into these kinds of unhealthy snacks. They do taste yummy and they do give us that sugar rush and of course, the crash afterward.

What we all need are healthier options.

It doesn’t mean that there should be a farmer’s market on-site, but there are companies that do provide healthier options in a more modern vending machine. These machines are typically refrigerated since the snacks are fresh and perishable.

They’re usually stocked with organic yogurts, sliced fruits, veggie sticks and dip, green juice drinks, etc.

These kinds of healthy vending machines do cost more and use more electricity than standard vending machines, but in return, they offer tasty and healthy snacks for those hangry moments at work.

3) Fitness Memberships

Having an on-site gym would be great, but most all companies don’t because of the lack of space and all the associated costs.

Setting up a gym at the office isn’t simply just about buying some exercise equipment, putting it in an empty room and calling it a day. There are a lot of factors to consider including equipment costs, maintenance, repairs, room ventilation, showers, insurance and liability etc.

An ideal work-around solution is to offer employees a free or subsidized membership at a nearby gym or yoga studio. Or, offer to pay in full or part of a membership to the fitness facility of the employee’s choosing.

This method eliminates the capital investment costs and liability risks associated with setting up and running an on-site gym.

And, it’s proven that healthier employees are more productive and have fewer missed days at work due to illness.

4) On-site Or Subsidized Child Daycare 

Obviously, this perk isn’t applicable to all employees. And even those that could benefit from it, only need it for several years until their child is old enough to attend school.

However, those pre-school years are incredibly difficult periods in life for any parent, especially working parents.

Trying to find a decent daycare facility that’s convenient to your home or office that doesn’t take up your entire month’s income is a challenge. If you do find one, trying to sort out the logistics of drop-offs and pick-ups that work around normal business hours is impossible.

The struggle is real.

Having an on-site daycare facility at work would be a godsend - hands down. No more scrambling in the morning to drop off the kid or rushing back after work to avoid late fees. Plus, with an on-site care center, you’re right there in case anything comes up.

We know this is a huge cost and that there’s a lot involved - building and maintaining a facility, legal requirements, licensing, professional labor, insurance liabilities, etc.

So our alternative idea to an on-site child care facility is to offer employees subsidized support to help partially pay for child care services at a facility that’s either close to home or work. This would be more doable in comparison since it doesn’t require all the costs and legalities of on-site services.

In either case, it doesn’t pencil out financially no matter what angle you take, especially when you consider that only new parents would benefit from this. And even then, it’s only for a limited number of years.

But, if a company can provide this, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the company will have an incredibly loyal employee because this perk is #1 for any new parent.

5) Student Loan Repayment Assistance

There are a whole generation of us that are still trying to pay off school loans. Every month, it’s a struggle to make ends meet and impossible to save anything.

The average student loan debt for a college graduate is about $35,000 to $40,000.

But for some, it can be much higher than in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for students that attend private universities and/or take on additional graduate degrees.

For these grads, that could mean that their career start begins with a debt load of nearly a quarter million dollars.


Having a monthly school loan payment for the next ten or twenty years is like having another rent or mortgage payment. And it’s not something you can walk away from. It’s a heavy burden to carry in addition to other mandatory monthly living expenses.

Having a company benefit that mimics 401k matching contributions toward school loan repayments would be absolutely epic. So, for every dollar you pay in school loan repayment, the company would match that up to a given percentage or dollar amount.

We know that this is a real stretch for nearly all companies. It’s a very costly proposition that doesn’t directly contribute to bottom line profitability at all. But, it can be a huge perk that helps to ease financial stress and allow more people to pay off school loans faster.

Work Perks Matter

When we’re searching for our next job, most of us focus on the big things like compensation and whether or not the job is something we’d enjoy doing day-in and day-out. And those are important things to consider, definitely.

But benefits and perks can provide that extra little bonus that keeps employees happy and more committed to the company. And these perks don’t need to be expensive or lavish, although none of us would have a problem with that.

Every company should strive to offer some perks above and beyond the normal standard benefits. Especially, if those perks don’t cost anything or much at all.

So, our message to the employers of the world...what small perks can you offer to make your employees happier? Focus on the ones that provide the biggest ROH - Return On Happiness.

Because ultimately, a happy workforce is a productive workforce. Just ask Google.

Feel Better,

more on cubicle life