Can perks have unintended effects?

Author: Jeff Haden

Before you offer your financial director that VIP parking space, check why rewarding with a perk can often have the opposite effect.

I started out in a new job…

I started a new job and was given a reserved parking spot right by the main entrance. Pretty cool.

Three days into the job, I got out of my car during a pouring rain. Two ladies hustled by me in heels, their feet already soaked as they  failed to avoid puddles. Even though they were in a hurry to get out of the rain they still had time to glance at me. Their faces were expressionless but I definitely got the message.

Why did I need a reserved spot? What made me so special?

Nothing, actually. The next day I started parking on the side of the plant where all the other manufacturing employees parked.

The problem with most perks is that they may be intended as rewards, but all they really do is create artificial distinctions based on arbitrary and often self-serving criteria.

That’s why dropping most perks ” either yours or those extended to certain others ” is a great way to eliminate real or perceived barriers between you and your employees.

Here are six perks to get rid of immediately:

1. Vendor trips. When I worked in printing, paper suppliers often took key employees (key meaning “people who sign purchase orders”) on fishing trips and to rugby games. Never put yourself in a position of perceived influence or favoritism. Besides, your employees don’t get to go on the trips, so you shouldn’t either. A great vendor provides excellent service and quality products at a great price, not tickets or meals or trips.

Unless: You can keep this perk if you draw a winner for the trip/prize/etc. from a hat that contains every employee’s name; that way everyone has a chance.

2. Reserved parking. You’re “special” in other ways. No boss needs to park close to the front door.

Unless: Creating reserved parking spaces for employees who work late at night and go to their cars alone makes perfect sense. But keep in mind if your parking lot is potentially dangerous you should do more than set up reserved spots to ensure employee safety.

3. Separate lunch and break rooms. You may think the executive dining room is long gone, but in the last year I saw seven. Repurpose that space and eat with everyone else.

Unless:If your facility is large enough, creating multiple lunch or break areas for reasons of convenience makes sense. Just make sure your break area isn’t nicer than any of the others.

4. Doors. No, you don’t need to remove your door; just leave it open except during confidential discussions with employees. Your office is a tool that supports your job function, not a way to hide from employees.

Unless: Sometimes you need quiet; when you do, let people know why you’re closing your door. They’ll understand.

5. Refreshments. Some businesses provide snacks and drinks for management meetings. Seems like the nice thing to do, but don’t be surprised if rank-and-file employees think, “Hey, there go the cookies and cold drinks again… must be nice to go to all those meetings.” If your meetings run so long your team requires sustenance to keep going, your meetings are way too long. (Plus the “let’s all grab a few snacks and drinks before we get started” thing wastes a lot of time.)

Unless: If you hold a meeting with all employees present, providing refreshments is awesome.

6. Popping in and out. You work long hours. You often work into the night. So sometimes you leave work during the day to take care of errands and personal appointments. If your employees can do the same, that’s great. But when others don’t enjoy the same discretion and freedom you show that standards are applied very differently. The average employee doesn’t see all the nights and weekends you work; they just assume you don’t practice the dedication you preach. Remember, it’s all about perception.

Unless: If you only have a few employees and you work closely with those employees, flexing your schedule is okay since your workday is relatively transparent.