Author Profile Picture

Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

Read more about Jamie Lawrence

The case for and against… soft benefits


There are plenty of contentious issues in HR and the workplace, and we think it’s important to get a balanced discussion going on some of the bigger questions out there. In this series, we’ll be asking HR experts and practitioners to give us opposing viewpoints on a key issue, and we welcome your input too! If you would like to take part in the series, get in touch.

FOR: Soft benefits

By: Lee Martin Seymour, CEO, Xref

At Xref I have experienced a lot of joy from seeing people join the Xref journey, achieve what they want to and gain new experiences. Our team is made up of over 11 nationalities, including full and part time workers and we invest in staff development, something that’s made us an employer of choice.

The most important thing I’ve learnt by observing successful businesses after 18 years in recruitment and now running my own, is that an organisation’s culture must take priority.

A positive and hard-working culture, with people that genuinely enjoy coming into work each day, generates the kind of environment where the work always gets done and sales almost seem to make themselves. When you have the right cultural balance, KPIs become the by-product not the purpose, and loyalty outweighs attrition.

Employees that fit with and contribute to the ethos of an organisation are the most valuable asset for enabling this success.  

One of the ways to build an organisational culture that people want to be part of and keeps them motivated, is through the soft benefits or non-traditional job perks that you offer.

What’s more with the relentless and hyper-competitive war for talent, a unique culture with alluring benefits, can make your company stand out and help you tempt- and keep- the best talent.

As people’s attitudes to their work/life balance have changed so too have the benefits that make one job more desirable than another.

A games’ rooms with pool tables, dart boards, foosball and arcade at work would be anathema to the baby boomer generation but these days it’s hard to come across a creative agency that doesn’t lay on some of these diversions, or a large corporation that does not have a work-from-home policy or give senior executives the opportunity to take paid sabbaticals.

Soft perks come in all forms, from the easy to implement  like travel loans, subsidised gym memberships all the way through to paid training courses,  paid time off for volunteer work, or onsite day care. Some of the most notrorious include Google, where all staff meals, snacks and treats are covered by the company and Airbnb who provide each employee with a $2,000 travel fund each year to stay in the company’s listed properties anywhere in the world.

People appreciate these kinds of benefits because they recognise their contribution to the company in non-financial ways and improve their quality of life.

They can even eliminate an obstacle to returning to work for highly qualified employees who could not otherwise take up roles, such as mothers with young children.

Soft benefits are generally attractive to employers because they add value for the employee (and increase the organisation’s perceived value as an employer) at a greater rate than they increase costs and so have a positive ROI.

Clearly paying senior executives while on sabbatical, for example, may double payroll costs, to cover a replacement employee as well.

But that cost will ultimately be covered by the lower cost of recruitment, a more highly qualified workforce, higher employee morale and better employee engagement etc.

It’s through soft benefits therefore that you can create a culture that people want to be associated with and invest in even though it may be the salary offered that initially lures them to the role. Both are important and combination is the key to success.

But if you’re only differentiator is salary, your competitive advantage will always be temporary.

However if you invest in creating a culture and atmosphere which people envy and take pride in then, that’s something that’s much harder to replicate and one of the keys to successful hiring. 

AGAINST: Soft Benefits

By: David Haines Global Sales Director, Xref

To attract the best talent you have to remunerate them properly. We’ve all heard the expression: pay peanuts, get monkeys.

That’s why soft benefits should always be regarded as supplemental benefits. They are never a suitable replacement for more traditional benefits like healthcare, pension, or paid holiday time. Or salary and other financial incentives.

Salary can be a great tool to attract and screen candidates for interview because you’ll never find the right hire if they don’t apply for the role and top talent expects to be compensated accordingly for the contribution they will make to your company and its revenue and profit.

The more attractive a compensation scheme, the more interest it will generate and the more applicants you will attract. You may even coax experienced employees to leave their current employers to join your company.  

Employees often look for new employment opportunities when they feel they are under-compensated or unappreciated: hard benefits and incentive plans are a way of rewarding top-performing employees and maintaining their loyalty. The advantage to the employer here, is reduced turnover.

Hard benefits will always be the incentivising carrot that piques potential recruits’ interest in your company.

This also results in time and money savings related to recruiting new hires.

Hard benefits and not just soft, can also contribute to creating a great culture when employees work together on team incentive plans. This can establish camaraderie and strengthen bonds between colleagues and managers which will also create a more efficient, pleasant work environment.

Although contributing to creating a great company culture may be genuinely satisfying, it is still the hard as opposed to soft benefits that are the supreme motivators.

This is especially, the case for sales teams where commission and bonus structures are important and when hitting targets translates into individual financial rewards.

This kind of measurable recognition incentives people to go the extra mile and rewards them in tangible and gratifying ways for their achievements.

Boosting productivity through incentive plans also has clear productivity benefits for the employer too who can see their bottom line rise in direct proportion to the sales their employees generate, making these kind of plans self-sustaining.

Hard benefits will always be the incentivising carrot that piques potential recruits’ interest in your company.  The culture and soft benefits may the reasons they stay, but first you must get them through the door.

Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.