They say small business is very different to big business. We agree. Entrepreneurs and business owners are fast, smart thinkers. One thing they know for sure is that a happy, engaged workforce is a high-performing workforce.
So when we hear of companies like software designer SAP, with their indoor putting green, or Google with their indoor more-than-you-can-imagine, we think about our own little team - and wonder how we can keep up with the fireworks on offer elsewhere.
The bells and whistles that big players use to keep their teams agile and engaged come with a big price tag too - and a bucket load of resources as backing. This is what can make these benefits seem out of reach for the small but no-less-mighty businesses we normal folk lead. But with the idea for Gmail being dreamt up by a small group at one of Google’s workplace cafes, it’s important to keep an open mind and dream big. Employee perks shouldn’t just be left to the big guys, when we all want to keep our smartest talents on board.
Smaller businesses are mighty in their ability to react and respond quickly, to think laterally without the red tape and boardroom conversations those bigger players have to engage in. All it really takes is a little creative thinking to show your people that you’re committed to finding agile ways of growing your brand and taking them along for a great ride.
Here’s our take on five out-of-the-box ideas to help you get started on employee perks.
Look at the other businesses in your local area. Could trading your services for theirs benefit all your employees collectively? Whether it’s a hair salon, bakery, dry cleaners or coffee shop, leveraging with each other builds connections and creates small but handy and welcome perks. It’s a great way to support each other - and increases the foot traffic through your door.
Mark Bilbe of Mimecast did just that, using the services of a local catering company. ‘We started catering lunches four days a week to allow employees to take a break, socialise, swap stories and enjoy a lunch on us. Food in general is a great unifier of cultures, functions and personalities.’
Maybe you haven’t got the space for a ping pong table or tennis court, but there are plenty of ways to get your employees away from their desk and talking to each other. Puzzles on the lunch table, pencils and colouring books, board games by the coffee machine – all encourage interaction, and are simple, effective and fun ways to get people talking. It’s certainly not as cool as slippery dip from your mezzanine, but the intention – and the effect - is just the same!
DOGS ON THE JOB
If you're a dog lover, this may work for you. Studies have shown welcoming a dog into the office can improve sense of work-life balance, boost productivity and morale, make employees more trusting of one another, inspire creativity, and lower stress levels.
Shayan Zadeh, CEO of app creator Zoosk says, ‘Like any successful company, we want to foster a happy and productive workforce. In order to promote a stress-free environment, Zoosk has a dog friendly workplace, which helps relieve employee tension.’
AGILITY AND FLEXIBILITY
Play with your working hours. Allow working for longer hours on certain days in exchange for a shorter week. Try job sharing, half-day-Friday, a Christmas shopping day, pro-rata bonuses and days in lieu. Incentives like these offer great flexibility for employees who appreciate the fresh take and the opportunities. And the cream? These offerings shouldn’t affect your cash flow. Just be sure to check the employment standards in your jurisdiction first - complying with relevant laws and legislation is essential.
If your business creates products or services that could be useful to your employees, offer them a discount. Don’t be a Grinch: make sure it’s a discount worth having – you don’t want your altruism questioned for the sake of a few dollars. If you have no products or services to offer, think outside the box. In Australia, a membership to Entertainment is a tangible perk with benefits for the good cause you source it from too. Friends and family movie deals are another option. Get creative! Some crowdfunding startups give employees “bucks” or points to donate to the campaign of their choice on a monthly or quarterly basis.