A colleague once remarked that seeing the office juniors descend on leftover lunch meeting sandwiches was akin to watching gannets at a feast.  They’d hover in the background seemingly uninterested and then descend with a swoop, gathering up goodies and chatting all the while.  Amusing though the analogy may be, it is an interesting observation on the way in which the provision of free food can promote a sense of togetherness, helping to break the ice between colleagues from different departments; thereby promoting a sense of engagement.

In our last article we looked at the way in which the statistics which every HR department holds can be leveraged to the benefit of engagement within an organisation.  This week we are looking at the added extras, the ‘perks’ which, if multiple web searches are to be believed, can cure engagement problems at a stroke.

And we’ll start with a warning.  Whilst admittedly perks can make a difference, handled in the wrong way they can actually increase dissatisfaction and make a rod for the backs of management.  To illustrate this we’ll continue with our theme of free food.  On the surface, providing snacks or the odd breakfast or lunch for employees is a no-brainer.  After all, innovative organisations such as Google offer free food all of the time and anyway when we provide lunch we can link it to a training session delivered to a captive audience, can’t we? 

Now let’s examine those statements.  Yes innovative organisations do offer free snacks or meals but attendance isn’t generally compulsory and food availability is delivered in a way which promotes interaction between people from different departments, helping to foster collaboration and innovation.  Throw in a training session and there is no interaction.  Moreover, make attendance compulsory and employees rebel as they see the organisation ‘stealing’ some of their free time. 

How about the provision of healthcare, contributory pensions or company cars?  Well the government has put their spoke in the wheel when it comes to the last two with mandatory pension provision, subject to opt out, and ever higher taxes on company cars and mileage.  But even with healthcare provision, whilst it may be appropriate for some it still carries tax implications and woe betide any organisation which offers care which carries a list of exemptions and upper limits which exclude many potential claims.  Organisations which are looking for added extras to boost engagement may be better advised to offer a ‘pick and mix’ list of services which enable employees to choose those which are most attractive to them.

Even something as simple as ‘it’s a lovely day let’s close up an hour early’ can, if offered on a regular basis, turn from a pleasant bonus into a perceived right; leading to resentment when it isn’t offered unless it is handled in the right way. 

By now you may be getting the impression that we are against ‘perks’ but nothing could be further from the truth.  But we do caution those who believe that offering perks is the way to create engaged employees.  It isn’t. 

Engaged employees are those who are aligned with business strategy, whose beliefs and behaviours reflect the values and vision of the organisation.  The key to engagement success is through the 4Es of education, engaging, empowering and enabling.   Once you have engagement then added extras are seen and accepted as a bonus, as a way of strengthening the bond.  Put the extras before engagement and all you have is expense.