Beyond Friday beer pong: What perks do employees crave?

Affording associates a flexible work schedule conveys respect. Freedom breeds responsibility—in those staffers worth keeping—and the culture they build will foment productivity and results.

Lots of companies are proud of their culture.

They talk about perks like “beer Fridays” and company events that get everyone together for fun and camaraderie. From the outside, these perks can seem like great ways to keep team members happy and make your company a fun place to work.

In many cases, this does have the desired effect. There are plenty of companies that use food, events and other structured perks to create a great company culture.

Too often, however, I see these things overshadow the perks that team members actually want, and, in some cases, such imposed happenings can damage your company culture.

Structured events and pressure to conform to cultural expectations can undermine the intended effect. Too often organizations take a “top down” cultural approach rather than a “grass roots” approach. I can’t really blame them. After all, how many times have we been told that we have to overtly create a company culture? (Hint: a lot.)

To a lot of employees a top-down cultural approach seems forced. Not everyone loves to go to baseball games or drink beer on Fridays or play pingpong. Some people love those things, of course. However, when they are rammed into the company culture in a way that pressures people into participating it can be detrimental to their happiness.

Too many organizations make employees work long hours and then try to make up for it with mandatory “fun” events and outings or happy hours. That doesn’t make up for the overwork. All it does is keep employees away from their families and friends for that much longer.

So, what do employees actually want? What truly makes them happy with their jobs?

Sincere respect

One hugely important “perk” you can give team members is respect. Respect means conducting regular performance reviews, asking them what they think and listening to their ideas.

It seems super basic, but many CEOs (including me sometimes) fall short in this area. They charge full steam ahead with their ideas and plans, forgetting to involve their team members in decisions.

Though I’m not perfect, I try to think about how every decision I make will affect my team. I ask them for opinions. I listen to what they think. Team members value feeling respected a lot more than they value free beer.


This one makes most CEOs’ heads explode. The best perk you can offer your team is freedom. That means opting not to impose a work schedule on them, letting them work wherever they want and throwing PTO limits out the window in favor of letting them use their own judgment about time off.

Most companies require people to work in the office during business hours, and they track time off against a bank of PTO hours.

Just recently I heard that someone had asked his boss whether he could leave at 4:30 p.m. one day a week to attend a church-related function; his boss said “no.”

Unfortunately, that is the norm, and it makes my heart sink.

If your team members are getting their work done and meeting their goals, it doesn’t matter when they work, nor where. If they are keeping your customers happy, it doesn’t matter how much time off they take.

Many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around how this can work, but we’ve been doing it at SpinWeb for years. If you tell your team members when and where to work, you are failing to acknowledge that they are responsible adults with common sense.

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If you trust your employees to make good decisions that keep the company’s best interests in mind, you won’t have to worry about schedules and PTO. Your team members will manage themselves. And if you don’t trust them with this kind of responsibility, then they probably should not be working for you.

Employees value freedom, trust and being treated like adults more than just about any other cultural perk you can think of.

Supporting their priorities

Your team members need to know that you understand and share their priorities. Most people want more time with their families.

If your culture relies on happy hours and outside work events, you may be in conflict with what your team members really want. They want to go to their kids’ basketball games. They want to run personal errands during the day (see previous section: “Freedom”). They want to take their kids to the doctor without having to ask permission and feel guilty about it. They want to take a reasonable amount of time off when a baby arrives.

It’s OK to expect that team members are loyal, work hard and make the company’s success a priority, but it’s also important to know where to draw the line.

Your employees have priorities just as you do, and their families come first—as it should be. One primo “perk” you can give them is demonstrating that you support their priorities. Asking them to put the company first (even inadvertently) is unrealistic and disrespectful.

Empowering a grassroots culture

If you focus on the things that team members truly value, you won’t have to worry about “creating” a great culture from the top down. Your team will cultivate your company culture.

When team members feel respected, have complete freedom to work the way they want to work and feel that the company shares their personal priorities, they will flourish in ways you never would have thought possible. They will innovate and produce like never before.

Let go of the top-down culture mentality, and focus instead on creating an environment in which your team feels safe developing their own culture together. That is the path to true employee happiness and loyalty.

Michael Reynolds is president and CEO of SpinWeb. This article originally appeared on the Michael Reynolds blog.

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