The office ping-pong table has become something of a cliché amongst the UK startup scene. Like table football and free beer on tap it has come to represent the carefree, creative, fun loving approach that many startups (and their largely millennial workforce) want to convey. Yet there’s evidence to suggest that millennials place less importance on working somewhere fun and quirky than they do on having opportunities to grow and learn, as well as a job that supports their general well being. Moreover, with a productivity crisis reportedly hitting the UK SME sector (93% of London SMEs now admit that productivity is a major issue for their business), savvy employers are beginning to think about offering employee perks that will truly engage and motivate their teams, rather than merely act as a distraction. We work with a range of startups and here are some examples of the best employee perks that we see being introduced. In our view, these all beat a staff ping pong table hands down.

Learning and development opportunities 

Offering learning and development opportunities is an increasingly popular way to engage employees. Not only does it support their personal aspirations and contribute to the team’s collective skill set, but it’s also a great way of supporting their long-term engagement in your business. This needn’t be directly related to their role. Offering a marketing executive an online course in basic coding may satisfy their personal curiosity in technology and also provide your team with a new and unique skill set. There’s been a lot of discussion about future proofing today’s workforce to deal with the threat of technology and Artificial intelligence, for example, so offering learning and development with those challenges in mind can also help tackle some of those wider business issues.

Tickets to sold out events 

Concierge services (providing a dedicated team to assist employees with booking anything from sold out events to the latest travel deals) used to be the preserve of high-flying city execs, but are increasingly being offered as an employee benefit by companies across the board, including by startups and SMEs. Telephone concierge schemes can be quick to set up and cost effective. Experiences are much more memorable than cash and what’s better than giving your team something money can’t buy?   

An in house chiropractor 

We worked with one client who offered a discounted onsite chiropractor as part of their voluntary benefits package. For their desk-based team this was a popular perk that, in addition to dealing with any aches and pains gave them 30 mins during the working day to relax and reflect. Apparently UK millenials have some of the poorest mental wellbeing in the world, with only Japan falling below when it comes to stress and anxiety, so anything that deals with this is likely to be popular. Similar such perks include office yoga, meditation and even lunchtime fitness sessions.

Flexible working

Giving staff the opportunity to work flexible hours, or from home, is quick and easy to implement and becoming increasingly popular. In fact, many employees now demand it. Research from Cass Business School and Cranfield School of Management has suggested that homeworkers and partial homeworkers are happier, more engaged and more likely to work in excess of their contracted hours. Of course, it’s something that needs to be managed carefully. Some of the Silicon Valley giants (including Yahoo) have actually banned it, arguing that lack of face-to-face interaction amongst teams has meant that businesses were losing out as a result. Whilst that has been viewed by many as a little extreme, it does highlight the importance of striking the right balance.

Help with the holidays

Airbnb generated a load of press coverage when they announced that they would be giving employees $2,000 each year to spend on staying in Airbnb properties, anywhere in the world. Equally a number of well-known businesses, including Netflix, are now offering unlimited annual leave, as long as employees are on top of their workload. Whilst it may be difficult to match these types of initiatives, we are seeing an increasing number of SMEs offering perks that make it easier for employers to book and enjoy time away from the office. A great way of doing this is to offer discounts on holiday bookings. 

Holiday, hotel and flight discounts should be included in any basic employee discounts scheme and can include anything from flights, to package holidays and even activities once you have arrived. Many employers are now going a step further than this and as part of their employee concierge service, taking the stress out of booking and organising a holiday by getting someone else to do the dog work. Given work-life balance is a major consideration for employees these days, this is a very popular perk amongst our clients and their employees.

Money off their favourite brands

Employee perks shouldn’t just be about money, but there’s no doubt that giving your employees discounts with their favourite brands is likely to be a popular perk. This used to be something that only big business offered, but it’s now quick, easy and cheap for SMEs to give their team access to a comprehensive employee discounts package Employers can tailor the discounts they offer directly to the needs and wants of their team, from luxury brands, to lifestyle offers. With inflation at a five year high, this is a great way of making their salaries go further.  

Next steps?

It’s easy to offer employee perks without really thinking about their impact. Office ping pong tables look and sound very appealing (and are probably a lot of fun) but do they help to attract, retain and motivate staff as well as other benefits? If it doesn’t do one of those, then in our view it’s probably a waste of time and money!