Rethinking Work Perks: 5 Things Employees Want More Than ‘Fun’ At Work

UPDATED: June 14, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 24, 2023
man using exercise equipment at home because of wellness perk at work

The days of ping-pong tables and free snacks as the primary perks for attracting top talent are fading. As the modern workplace continues to evolve, it’s becoming increasingly clear that employees’ priorities are shifting from traditional perks at work to more meaningful benefits that foster professional growth, work-life balance and employee well-being.

“Benefits shouldn’t be just a tool for recruitment; they are a way to retain employees and increase the stability/health of an organization,” says Kate Lamb, an account executive for a public relations firm. 

5 perks employees would rather have at work

This sentiment hits the core of why traditional perks at work are no longer appealing: Employees value companies that recognize their employees’ priorities. Here are five ways companies can better serve their employees.

1. Instead of company happy hours, consider flexible work schedules.

It’s no surprise that flexibility is growing in importance. Envoy’s “Return to the Workplace Report” states that “63% of employees say flexibility would make them feel more empowered. Nearly half agree that having the freedom to split time between the workplace and home, and the flexibility to choose which days to come in, are just as important as traditional benefits like matching 401(k)s and paid time off.”

The demand for remote positions is still strong, and remote workers have continued to vocalize their preference for workplace flexibility

“Something that I love is that my workplace operates on a fully distributed model—i.e., everyone is remote, and we have the flexibility to work where we want as long as it doesn’t interfere with client engagement,” Lamb says. “This isn’t necessarily a traditional ‘benefit’ that has a monetary value, but it’s something our workplace offers that enriches our lives on a greater level. It was a distinct value add for me when I was initially approached about my position since I was tired of commuting.”

Flexibility isn’t just the opportunity to work remotely—and a good thing too, as many companies cannot logistically swing that option. It can also look like a compressed schedule. For Kay Kingston, a chemical engineer, the ability to compress her work into longer hours across fewer days has become the top perk for her job, as “once you have permanent 3-4 day weekends every week, it’s almost impossible to go back,” she says. She also shares that having that flexibility allows her to incorporate other tasks, such as doctor’s appointments, that would have required taking a weekday off. 

2. Instead of offering the perk of free lunch at work, consider providing home office stipends.

Penelope Cline, a project manager, HR manager and talent scout, loves the quarterly home office stipend provided by her company, which allows employees to purchase items they get to keep or to use the funds for external workspaces such as WeWork or Selina. 

“Passing along the savings of not having an office to making sure that our employees have an office space that is constantly improving… shows we value the environment of our remote workers,” she explains. “It adds productivity by creating a good environment while also showing value to our team members in that it’s truly a gift; they get to keep it even if they leave the company.”

In contrast, lunch services often require employees to be physically present at the office, making it less appealing for remote or flexible workers. Focusing on a home office stipend shows that a company values the remote work environment and supports employees in creating productive and comfortable spaces. 

3. Instead of obscuring benefit details, consider offering accessible and transparent benefits.

Accessing the full scope of employee benefits may take time, with the details cloaked behind jargon or needing to be fully explained. 

A significant concern for Lamb was her company’s lack of transparency regarding their 401(k) benefit vesting schedule. The benefits guidebook didn’t explain the vesting schedule for employee 401(k)s. It wasn’t until eight months in and after she contacted HR that she found out she wouldn’t be fully vested for six years. 

“Employees want benefits that entice them to stay, not just reel them in during the recruiting stage,” she says. “Benefits with fine print or strings attached—like the extended vesting schedule—might be useful when you’re trying to first recruit and hire a candidate, but the lack of transparency can ultimately discourage them from sticking around.”

Being transparent about benefit details and the conditions attached is essential. This transparency may make employees feel more secure about their long-term financial well-being.

4. Instead of a gym membership perk at work, consider offering a wellness stipend. 

“I think the best employee perks are the ones that give the employees options, because a perk is not one-size-fits-all,” Kingsman explains. “A perk might seem great to one person but be completely useless to another.” 

With wellness being such a personalized experience, having a stipend opens up access to people who might not go to the gym. With a wellness stipend, employees can spend the money on any wellness-related activity or equipment that suits them: a gym membership, yoga classes or home workout equipment. 

It may also be good for business, as wellness programs have the potential to lower healthcare costs for employers.

5. Instead of focusing solely on monetary benefits, consider adopting a holistic approach to employee wellness.

Lamb believes in a holistic approach to employee wellness, where employees are viewed as humans first, not just business assets. Perks like generous paid holidays off, paid time off, professional development and flexible work arrangements recognize that employees need more than just money to thrive. Her beliefs are supported by a 2019 LinkedIn “Workplace Learning Report” that shows “94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.” The 2023 edition of the survey found that “opportunities to learn and develop new skills” were a top priority for 29% of respondents when considering a job opportunity.

Offering opportunities for training, mentorship and career advancement shows employees that the company is invested in their growth, not just their output. 

Benefits aren’t just about attracting top talent; they’re about retaining them.

Kingsman says perks that focus on work-life balance are important because life isn’t all about work. “Being able to maintain our own passions, lifestyles and personal priorities makes us more fulfilled and happier people in general, so in turn, happier at work as well,” Kingsman says. “And even if we aren’t happy at work, at least we have extensive time off to do other things when we’re not at work.”

Incorporating benefits like those listed above may seem like a financial burden, but it can create a world of difference in the long run. By prioritizing wellness, flexibility and work-life balance, businesses can develop a culture of engagement and satisfaction that attracts top talent and ensures long-term success.

“Especially working in America, I feel like so few companies have realized the value of providing a workspace with sustainable work-life balance and how important that balance is to employee retention,” Kingsman adds. 

Ultimately, companies prioritizing employee well-being and a work-life balance have a greater potential to build sustainable organizations and foster happier, more engaged employees.

Photo by antoniodiaz/Shutterstock

Iona Brannon is a freelance journalist based in the U.S. You can read more of her work at