6 Employee Perks That Matter (and 2 That Don't)

Christina DesMarais

Beyond the basics, a handful of benefits can make the difference between a company that attracts top talent and those people going elsewhere.

There are several core perks that employees expect, even at a startup: medical and dental insurance, vacation and paid time off, performance bonuses, and a retirement plan. But a handful of other benefits can make the difference between a company that attracts top talent and those people going elsewhere. That's according to Steve Elliott, founder and CEO of AgileCraft, a company helping hundreds of organizations--including 20 of the Fortune 1000 and two of the Fortune 10--scale Agile software development to the enterprise. He's qualified to give advice on the subject--the company was named the best small workplace in the U.S. by Fortune magazine last year. Here are his words about the perks that matter and the ones that don't.

Perks That Matter

1. Flexibility and working remotely

AgileCraft employees are spread over three countries, 14 U.S. states, and six time zones. More than 80 percent of the company works remotely, because people are hired on the basis of talent, not location. If they are the best at what they do, if they fit our mold of "hungry, humble, and smart," it doesn't matter where they physically sit. We don't have set hours, and if you need to leave to take your kids to a softball game--go. Meet a friend for lunch--we encourage it. These breaks and flexibility help to remove the stress from our day-to-day lives and make the team more productive. If the work gets done and a company provides the tools necessary to achieve employee goals, it all works.

2. Paid sabbatical

Working five years in a startup can be challenging. Once AgileCraft team members hit their five-year anniversaries, we give them a one-month paid sabbatical to honor their loyalty. They can use the time however they choose. It gives them the opportunity to clear their minds, engage with hobbies and families, and come back inspired for the next chapter.

3. Employee development

Employees are the assets who drive the success of a business. When a company invests in its employees, these individuals are better suited to invest in their work.

4. Wellness program

This extends beyond the gym, and can include healthy snacks, stand-up desks, and management's encouraging and role-modeling the taking of breaks and exercising. Sitting too much is bad for health. An active and healthy work force is a more productive one.

5. Celebrations

This can be anything from birthdays and anniversaries to customer wins and product releases. No matter how fast we grow, I email the entire company to highlight each one.

6. Giving back to the community

This one is important because it creates camaraderie within teams while keeping employees humble about helping others. It can be in the form of financial donations, mentoring, guest lecturing, or bringing the entire company together to volunteer on a community project.

Perks That Are a Waste of Time and Money

1. Ping-Pong or pool tables

While they can be fun, if you are investing more in office furniture and less in people, your focus is off. People make the culture cool, not objects.

2. Sales-only incentive trips

Yes, revenue is key to growing a business. However, what about the others in the company who helped blow away the revenue plan? Recognizing a small group--when everyone plays a role--is demotivating. Instead, celebrate the entire company's success by including everyone in the trip.

In the end, perks are great, but culture is what truly drives success.