Work Perks Are Not The Reward You Think They Are – But We Can Leverage Them

"Watch out for the stick that might just be lurking behind the carrot.”
What kind of benefits do you get at work?
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What kind of benefits do you get at work?

You’re reading Life-Work Balance, a series aiming to redirect our total devotion to work into prioritising our personal lives.

Free snacks, drinks, nap pods, discounts, on-site gym or daycare, bringing pets into the office. These are some of the work perks that make office life a bit better.

And while they are appreciated by employees, these gratuities are not exactly out of the kindness of employers’ hearts – they serve a purpose.

Bosses know how important rewards in the business are – they keep workers happy. A US survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 92% of employees said benefits are important to their job satisfaction. Meanwhile, nearly a third said reward packages among other companies would make them jump ship.

But, crucially, companies offer these amenities in an effort to keep us working. If you have a gym at work, you might come into work earlier, or if you have an on-site creche or can bring your dog in, you don’t need to rush home to take care of them. Other extras also mean you increase the amount of time you spend at work.

And it also means you might be less inclined to leave the job if you genuinely enjoy the perks.

Recently, since the overturning of Roe V Wade in America, many companies have offered to add abortion cover to their benefits package. The likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and more have been lauded for this generous offering.

But, as some on social media have pointed out, covering transport to access abortion is a lot cheaper than paying for maternity leave. While that might not be their intention, we can’t deny that investing in an abortion saves the company a lot more money in the long run.

Another divisive work perk is egg freezing, with the likes of Apple and Facebook offering female employees the chance to freeze their eggs. Some say the perk gives workers more freedom to pursue family planning according to their own timeline. Others say it sends the message that women should postpone parenting in order to get ahead at work.

Such benefits can have a dark side, says Professor Teena Clouston, who works in occupational therapy and wellbeing, from Cardiff University.

“Perhaps the most insidious part of the ‘perks at work’ debate is that staff are treated as a resource to be used as efficiently and effectively as possible. This kind of workplace model is predicated on cultures of power and control, which erodes personal choice and expands working hours and expectations,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“When this happens, perks take on a dark side, founded on keeping staff in the workplace longer rather than supporting wellbeing and work-life balance or adding value, quality or meaning to one’s life.

“So be wary of perks, and before you swallow them hook, line and sinker, watch out for the stick that might just be lurking behind the carrot.”

But HR professional and lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, Gemma Dale, has a more positive view and is hopeful that saving costs on maternity is not the driving force for companies offering abortion packages.

She tells HuffPost UK: ”These are the sorts of benefits that can make a difference to people. I sincerely hope that the driver behind this is not to avoid maternity leave, and the statements I have read from employers introducing these policies don’t suggest this in my view.

“What can retain employees is benefits that employees want and do actually make a difference – and I would put holiday and family leave firmly into this category.”

In the pandemic, flexible working has certainly been shown to be a perk that’s likely to stay. The promise of remote working means employees can happily travel, move to different parts of the company without having to commit to a commute.

In a climate of financial precarity, the cost of living crisis and the pandemic, all while our wages stay stagnant, these small perks can make work just a bit better.

Selfish intentions or not, workers still enjoy gratuities and the option to use them. So, we shouldn’t be mad, says David Spencer, who’s researched labour economics and political economy, from the University of Leeds. Instead, we might use them for their bargaining power and fight for equality of perks.

“I don’t think we should be mad about them,” he tells HuffPost UK. “We should see them for what they are (perks of the jobs). Though we might wonder why all workers don’t get them and how we might turn perks into rights for things like paid time off. Let’s get mad about the lack of rights at work and decent work than the presence or otherwise of work perks.”

If you’re unable to get that promotion, secure a pay rise, or if you’re feeling burnt-out and jaded, you should at least be able to ameliorate your conditions - can you advocate for a self-care day a month? A four-day week? Unlimited paid time off? Whatever will make work more enjoyable and rewarding, instilling a better sense of work-life balance.

Your employers might not have incentive to introduce these changes but there’s power in your collective demands. Use them.

HuffPost UK/ Isabella Carapella

Life-Work Balance questions the status quo of work culture, its mental and physical impacts, and radically reimagines how we can change it to work for us.

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