Which Perks and Incentives Are Best for Employee Morale?

Staples surveyed 1,549 Americans on their preferences for perks and incentives in the workplace. Read on to discover the benefits of employee perks.

Employee perks and benefits can be some of the most compelling aspects of the hiring process. Great perks and incentives packages can help attract top-notch talent, maintain employee morale, and improve overall engagement and satisfaction with the company. They can also boost your company’s image, as exemplified by notable tech companies that have become highly desirable places to work due to their perks packages. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the value of perks and benefits more important than ever, especially since some employees are now feeling more burnout and lower morale. The ability to work remotely, previously a desirable but relatively uncommon employee perk, is now a requirement for many workers. But what other types of perks have employers offered to workers to boost morale?

Staples surveyed 1,549 Americans on their preferences for perks and incentives in the workplace. The survey ran on July 17, 2020. Respondents weighed in on the effectiveness of various types of employee perks on their motivation, their preferences for more perks against a higher salary, and more. 

What are employee perks? 

Employee benefits and perks are not interchangeable terms. Typically, an employee benefit is considered to be a non-wage supplement to salaries, such as health insurance, stock options, or 401(k) matches, and it tends to cover more basic needs. An employee perk tends to be offered by the employer to make the job more attractive or the working environment better, such as a company car, office snacks, or flexible hours. 

For ease of use in the survey, Staples broke down popular employee perks into five categories:

  • Lifestyle/entertainment perks such as Netflix/Spotify subscriptions, free coffee and snacks at work, or employee discounts 
  • Continuing education perks such as tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment, or financial support for receiving professional certifications
  • Health and fitness perks such as gym membership reimbursements, on-site fitness facilities, or nutrition classes
  • Workplace flexibility perks such as flexible hours, commuter benefits, or the ability to work remotely on a regular basis
  • Family-focused/childcare perks such as daycare reimbursement or paid family leave

What are the best employee perks for improving employee morale? 

When considering which perks motivate them the most at work, 38% of employees feel that workplace flexibility is the most important. This category includes offering flexible hours, the option to work remotely on an ongoing basis, and commuter benefits. With so much unknown about when people will return to the workplace, this is a trend that is likely to continue in the future. Additionally, workplace flexibility is a particularly important perk for employees who are women (43.1%) and single (47.4%). 

Another important perk for employee motivation is continuing education (22.5%). Employers that offer programs such as tuition reimbursement, professional development programs, or financial assistance with various certifications are likely to foster increased motivation among employees. Lifestyle and entertainment perks weight in at 18.9% of the vote, while health and fitness perks (12.9%), and family-focused and childcare perks (7.7%) are even less important to employees. 

How do employees value different types of perks? 

When evaluating different types of employee perks, it’s clear that some are more relevant than others when it comes to creating a productive work environment. The survey identifies four categories of perks: 

  • Perks that do little to motivate 
  • Perks that are nice to have 
  • Perks that are must-haves
  • Perks that are so motivating that they would convince the employee to stay if they were considering moving on from the workplace. 

The survey asked respondents to rate specific perks based on their importance. Given a list of employer-sponsored perks, respondents ranked them in the above categories in multiple “check all that apply” survey questions. The Staples team then analyzed which perks received the largest amount of votes in each category.

The first question in this category asked employees: if you were considering leaving your job, what would be the one perk that has the potential to convince you to stay? The results indicate that 17.1% of employees view the ability to regularly work remotely as the one perk that would convince them to stay at a company. Runner-ups include employee discounts (11.9%), flexible hours (9.2%), and paid insurance premiums (9.04%). 

What are the major must-have perks, then? Respondents consider them to be flexible hours (40.2%), paid insurance premiums (33.6%), and paid family leave (29.2%). 

Perks that are considered “nice to have” but not essential include employee discounts (42.7%), free coffee and snacks (42.3%), streaming subscriptions (42.2%), and gym membership reimbursements (35.1%). 

Finally, what perks do relatively little to motivate employees? The perks that topped this category include free e-readers (37.1%), time off to volunteer (26.3%), and on-site daycare (25.9%). Managers looking to create their own employee perks programs may find these categories helpful.

How do employees value salary against perks?

Attractive employee perks may not help retain employees when compensation isn’t factored into the equation. In fact, employees are split basically down the middle on which matters more when it comes to employee morale. 

When asked which is the better way to improve employee morale, 50.2% of employees prefer more perks, compared to 49.8% who prefer a higher salary. With such close percentages, what does this mean for employers? What’s best for employee morale may be subjective, but the majority of employees (62.3%) indicate that they would accept a lower salary in exchange for better workplace perks. 

However, this preference depends on the demographic of the respondents.  Single people and people who don’t have children are the least likely to accept a lower salary in exchange for better workplace perks, whereas married people and people with children are more likely to. 

It’s clear that employees prefer a wider range of perks than a higher salary. But are either of these methods the best way to improve employee morale? 

What’s the best way to improve employee morale? 

Improving employee engagement and increasing morale isn’t simply about adding more perks or increasing salary. There are many ways an employer can engage and incentivize their employees, including performance-based raises, recognition from supervisors, team-building initiatives, and more.

As it turns out, when surveyed on the best way to improve employee morale, employees actually show a preference for a higher salary (37.3%). In short, our data show that employees prefer more perks to a higher salary when choosing between the two. However, given a choice between all the options an employer can offer, salary is the main feature employees value in their current role. 

Adding more workplace perks is another popular way to improve employee morale (22.3%), and so is performance-based raises (21.5%). All other methods of boosting morale capture less than 10% of the vote, including recognition from supervisors, team-building initiatives, requesting employee feedback, and giving spontaneous holidays. 

Going forward

When looking to create an employee perks program that is well-rounded, attractive to new employees, and motivating for current employees, keep these insights in mind:

  • 38% of employees feel that workplace flexibility options are the most important employee perk category
  • “Must have” employee perks include flexible hours (40.2%), paid insurance premiums (33.6%), and paid family leave (29.2%)
  • Given the even split between the preference for more perks vs. higher salary, it may be best to survey your own employees about this
  • Perks are critical in attracting talent: 62.3% of employees would accept a lower salary in exchange for better workplace perks