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Naked team building to pet-ernity leave – the employee perks arms race reviewed

Naked team building to pet-ernity leave – the employee perks arms race reviewed

By Dónall Breen - 31 May 2018

Every month, we take a look at the weird and wonderful employment law news from around the world, with a tongue in cheek assessment of what has kept our fellow workplace lawyers busy.

I recently read an article about a company giving millennials ‘experience budgets’ so they could do things which would otherwise be unaffordable. The idea was to boost morale and have happy, creative workers. It got this author thinking about the new trend of companies (usually tech ones) offering more and more ‘perks’ to employees to attract and retain talent.

Here at GQ|Littler our working conditions are pretty good. Free drinks and coffee, plenty of annual leave and flexible working hours. Now and again we talk about getting an office dog, which is met with a mixed reaction from the managing partners who wonder how many billable hours a corgi could pump out in a year.

With all this in mind, I’ve decided to do a deep dive into the office-perks arms race that has developed between companies around the world to try and find the weird and wonderful that generate good HR, and even better PR.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Really pushing the boat out at iCracked HQ, employees can make full use of the company yacht moored in the jetty opposite the office. Google are famed for the Ben and Jerry’s filled freezers and playgrounds in the office. This author once had the unfortunate experience of being based in an office that overlooked Google’s napping space whilst interning in Dublin. In that case, the grass really was greener on the other side.

More practically useful and progressive are companies like Zillow, a real estate platform, which pays for travelling employees to ship their breast milk. Similarly, Herbert Smith Freehills became the first law firm in the UK to cover the costs of gender reassignment surgery for its transgender employees.

Some companies get quite specific (and bizarre) in their offerings to employees. Staff at a design and marketing company in Newcastle spent a day working together naked after being told it would improve their morale (admittedly, this may or may not be a ‘perk’ depending on your naturalist world views). At the San Francisco based IT company Asana, employees are compensated for seeing a life coach – which may be entirely necessary if you’ve just seen all your co-workers in the nip.

Top Time Perks

Everyone knows that the most valuable thing you can give someone is your time. If that’s the case, then some companies are really digging deep. WWF (the wildlife non-profit, not the wrestling franchise), has Panda Fridays where employees get to take every other Friday off. Sportwear brand REI gives employees two ‘Yay Days’ a year to take part in outdoor activities, whilst Salesforce employees get six days of volunteering per year plus $1,000 towards their charities. Companies like Adobe simply shut down now and again, for one week in December and summer. Some companies go the full hog and offer unlimited annual leave to employees, such as Netflix, LinkedIn and EventBrite.

Sometimes the state steps in on these occasions, such as in Spain where you are entitled to 15 days’ leave after your wedding and a day’s leave to move to a new house. Even more bizarrely, in the UK you get the day off for other people’s weddings, like when William and Kate tied the knot. Megan and Harry didn’t deliver such good news for workers by selfishly getting married on a Saturday.

New Arrivals

Many companies are now providing enhanced maternity and paternity leave to employees. Here in the UK, companies like Aviva are offering up to 6 months fully paid paternity leave for mothers and fathers. Many US companies offer their employees European levels of shared parental leave in a similar vein.

Helping from day-zero are companies such as Apple and Facebook who will pay up to $20,000 to assist employees in freezing their eggs. Some companies even help welcoming new four-legged members of the family. BrewDog and Pets at Home offer a week of pet-ernity leave when employees adopt rescue animals.

Cash Incentive Plans

Occasionally cold, hard cash is what really gets people motivated when the monthly paycheque just isn’t enough. Software-maker Qualtrics gives each employee $1,500 per year to spend on experiences that they wouldn't otherwise do or be able to afford. Facebook gives cash bonuses to those who have children and PWC gives those with student loans in the US a wage boost.

Twilio employees receive an e-book and $30 allowance to spend on books, whilst Airbnb employees can expect $2,000 a year to travel anywhere in the world. 2HB Inc. clearly appreciate a more groomed appearance from their staff, offering them a monthly $50 beauty budget to spend on manicures, pedicures and haircuts. In light of the government’s recent guidance on dress codes in the workplace, this last perk may have to be rethought for UK based employees.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article and have broken out in a cold sweat, you may be an employer or work in HR. True, the costs of providing these perks can really add up meaning most employers simply can’t afford to offer many of these things. But most often it is the small things that can make the biggest difference. Understanding in times of need, a kind word of thanks after a stressful week or a few free drinks after work on a Friday. And remember, if crazy employee perks come knocking on your door, the best way to kill an idea without being identified as the assassin is to suggest that the lawyers take a look at it!