Employee Benefits

When Perks Backfire: 5 Office “Benefits” that Hurt Employee Happiness

April 17, 2023

Many organizations have enhanced their benefits and perks to meet employee expectations of increased flexibility, improved work-life balance, and a wellness-centered approach to company culture. Although some of these changes are effective in boosting employee satisfaction, it’s important for HR professionals and managers to consider employee feedback to gauge which benefits are actually backfiring. Whether it’s mandated social events, an on-site recreation room sapping productivity, or underutilized PTO leading to burnout, here we’ll explore 5 benefits that could reduce employee happiness, and how to make modifications to improve employee engagement, mental health, and productivity.

Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO)

Offering unlimited PTO to employees is usually a well-intentioned and accommodating move from the employer perspective, creating increased flexibility for employees to take vacation or sick time as needed and without the constraints of a set number of yearly PTO days. 

Ironically, some employers avoid offering unlimited PTO for fear of overutilization. Although this occasionally occurs, it’s much more common for unlimited PTO to be underutilized by employees for fear of risking job security. Especially among businesses that are growing or have a large client base or abundant projects, employees may feel that there isn’t an ideal or appropriate time to utilize their unlimited PTO without disrupting business operations. In other cases, some employees are simply prone to working consistently without realizing that PTO is needed to avoid burnout and lowered productivity.

Ultimately, for some employees, unlimited PTO can feel like a benefit without clear parameters. The ambiguity can actually discourage them from utilizing PTO with peace of mind about job security, the ongoing success of the organization, and their own reputation in the workplace. Regardless of which PTO plan is already in place, employers should solicit candid feedback from employees about which version of PTO they would prefer. 

Alternatively, if unlimited PTO is a popular and effective benefit that most employees are already enjoying, it’s important for HR staff and managers to schedule conversations with select employees about the importance of utilizing their unlimited PTO for personal wellness, while offering reassurance about job security and any other concerns they share.

Mandated Socialization and Company Events

Any team or workforce hosts a range of personalities, temperaments, and preferences when it comes to socializing and what constitutes meaningful connection with coworkers. Sometimes, top-down efforts to cultivate camaraderie via scheduled socialization can feel a bit forced, eliminating more spontaneous and casual opportunities to connect (at a designated retreat or outing, for instance) in exchange for regimented social hours. This is particularly true when events or social periods are scheduled after working hours, or at inconvenient times of day when employees are productive, or simply ready to transition to their own personal lives towards the end of a work day. 

The trick to creating socialization opportunities and events in and out of the workplace is to create breathing room (a range of activities or options) within the event itself and only mandate attendance at high-priority events. As with other benefits and perks we’ll mention, it’s also valuable to openly discuss a slate of options with your employees regarding potential events, outings, or social hours you’re considering to see which are most appealing and sustainable. This is especially important if some of your workforce is hybrid or remote.

Recreation Rooms 

In addition to regularly scheduled social events, some companies have set up recreation rooms at their business locations to grant employees a designated space to socialize, enjoy games, catered food, or even perks like free massages. Although a recreation room as a general perk can be perfect for employees who want to periodically decompress or socialize, turning the recreation room into an entertainment room with a TV as the centerpiece can backfire by adding screentime to the days of employees who would benefit more from time outside or just more active, organic interactions with other team members. Recreation rooms can be great if the space is utilized for more engaging social activities, whether it’s games of ping-pong, birthday parties, or employee recognition events.

Catering and Free Food in the Office  

Another perk with the potential to backfire is free drinks, snacks, food or catering in the office. On the more ambitious end, some companies offer catered lunches on a daily basis in addition to providing free coffee, tea, snacks, and occasional brunches. The downside of offering consistent daily lunches is that it could lead to prolonged dining periods that cut into productivity as employees socialize beyond a reasonable time period. 

Additionally, offering catered lunches on a daily basis establishes high expectations and invites the potential for complaints or grievances about particular dishes, food quality, dietary accommodations, etc., all of which could be more easily addressed by offering catered food as a periodic perk (once a week or every two weeks, for instance). Offering catered food in a more selective way will ensure that the gesture is more deeply appreciated by employees.

Finally, although providing free snacks, caffeinated drinks, etc. may seem like a thoughtful perk, employees could choose unhealthy options (or overindulge), leading to blood sugar “peaks and valleys” and overall energy issues that detract from their well-being and productivity in the office. Again, offering more indulgent options at special events like a birthday or holiday party, is a better way to show employee appreciation without contributing to potentially chronic issues.

On-Site Gym vs. Gym Membership or At-Home Gym Stipend

Some employers have created dedicated on-site gyms to support employees who would like to exercise in a convenient location within their workplace. Meanwhile, other employers offer gym membership for on-site and remote employees, or at-home gym stipends for hybrid or remote employees to buy workout equipment for their home exercise space. 

Although an on-site gym is an appealing and high-visibility perk for some employees and job candidates, for employers, it’s a substantial up-front investment on a space that may or may not be utilized by employees enough to justify the cost. This is especially true if the employees most likely to use the gym have high expectations in terms of the amount of space, the specific equipment/machines that are available, or any additional exercise/sports-related accommodations they require to complete their usual workouts. In many cases, offering an at-home gym stipend or gym membership is a more cost-effective approach.

Design an Optimal Employee Benefits Program with Payday

With so many potential benefits and perks to offer your employees, developing an affordable benefits plan that supports employee well-being and work-life balance can be a challenge without professional guidance. Payday can help your business create an effective benefits program that boosts employee happiness, engagement, and productivity. Our benefits solutions and HR expertise can empower you to develop a program that meets the unique needs and preferences of your employees. Contact us today to start creating a positive workplace culture that supports your employees and drives business success.

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