The news in late May that the U.S. economy actually contracted slightly during Q1 of 2014 reinforces the notion that the ongoing economic recovery has been neither strong nor steady. And while many employees might not be so fed up with subpar salary raises that they'll leave their jobs, employee dissatisfaction that breeds disengagement can inflict significant damage on an organization's productivity. Furthermore, trying to attract above-average new talent with perfectly ordinary salary offers is not a high-percentage strategy, either.

office perks

Interestingly, many companies recognize this and are taking action by using office perks to drive employee satisfaction and performance. According to an October 2013 employment confidence survey from Glassdoor, 76 percent of responding employees said that their companies offered new perks — which could include remote-working options, flexible hours, casual dress, free food or drink, fitness center, child care, discounts on personal services, and others — in the previous six months.

What's more, companies' efforts to boost the office perks they offer is viewed positively by many employees: In a July 2013 survey by Glassdoor, 21 percent of employees say that office perks are among the most important workplace benefits. Then again, there were some regional differences: In the Midwest and South, the figure was 25 percent; in the West, the figure was 18 percent; in the Northeast, the figure was just 14 percent.

These discrepancies by region speak to a significant factor that middle market companies in particular must account for when considering adding office perks beyond what they presently offer: What is most desirable to your workforce, given its specific demographic and culture? And the consideration immediately following that is how much will a given perk benefit employees, and the firm, versus the cost?

To build the most efficient combination of perks, executives at middle market firms should work with their human-resources personnel to use the following tactics:

  • Survey employees at regular intervals to determine those needs and preferences they have (both professional and personal in nature) that are not presently being fulfilled. Also survey employees on their use of and satisfaction with the perks your firm offers right now. The result of such surveying could be that one perk is added while another is eliminated, bringing net benefit to employees and to the firm at near-zero net cost.
  • When choosing between potential perks your firm might offer based on its survey results, opt for those that boost the "efficiency wage." In an October 2013 article published by, Zakhar Shtulberg and Rebecca Brereton with the Talent and HR Solutions division of Buck Consultants note that an "efficiency wage" comes from perks that serve to keep employees at the office longer, bringing a more direct return on investment. Such perks allow the employer to save employees time and effort — even if not necessarily saving them money — and thus promote engagement, improve performance, and boost retention.
  • Many perks, including those that create an "efficiency wage," can be provided by the firm more cost-effectively in a few ways. First, the firm could use barter, providing its expertise to local vendors in exchange for no-cost or discounted products or services for the firm's employees. Next, firms could host more traditional employee-discount programs for a wide range of products and services via their own corporate intranet. Or they could outsource the management of such employee-discount programs to third-party providers, who negotiate preferred rates for those products and services desired by employees and provide secure online portals for employee use.
  • Communicate to employees the reasons behind any changes to office perks — both on the upside and the downside. For instance, if the "power nap" room is being converted to a conference room, the executive suite should state that despite survey results indicating such a room would be used by employees, this did not turn out to be the case, while a few departments have found it difficult to hold meetings when it's best for them. Such communication shows employees that management actively monitors the benefits of each perk it offers.
  • Stay abreast of practices that help engage and retain employees at other companies, especially at firms similar to yours in size, employee demographic, or culture. Sources for data and intelligence in this area include the Society for Human Resources Management and Incentive magazine.

How are you administering and implementing in-office perks at your company?

Rob Carey is an NCMM contributor and a features writer who has focused on the business-to-business niche since 1992. He spent his first 15 years at Nielsen Business Media, rising from editorial intern to editorial director. Since then, he has been the principal of New York-based Meetings & Hospitality Insight, working with large hospitality brands in addition to various media outlets.