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The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a paradigm shift in the employee-employer relationship. However, leaders need to invest in the perks and benefits that are of actual value and get rid of token gestures.

‘What are the perks and benefits?’ When I hear this early in an interview, and I often do, the hackles on my back go up. Alarm bells ring, ‘Potential trouble on the horizon with this hire’, and I all but quickly shut down the interview. Then I calm down, reminding myself that this is the new working world.

The skills crisis brought us here. Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was an epic fight for talent. Salaries surged, hybrid everything was on offer, workcations, sign-on bonuses, compressed work weeks, reduced hours, bringing your dog, cat, anything, oh and your ‘whole self’ to work. It was reactive, too much and without boundaries.

We all did it. Every manager and leader, like a gun to our heads, for the alternative was potentially no hires and no business. The employer-employee power shift arose, and with it, the dark side to all the perks and benefits.


In the tactical rush to serve our employees, some strategies are being undermined. Any perk and benefit should align with what the organization stands for and help achieve its mission. A business principle of ‘customer obsession’ while offering employees a four-day working week perk, surely impacts your customer? They are no longer your ‘obsession’.

An Unwitting Compromise of Strategy

Ironically, the same employees hold organizations acutely accountable for living corporate values and so we have a dilemma.

We have our corporate values, and ideally, employee values are in sync. That is where the magic lies in any workplace culture. Flexible working is appealing to most employees and acts as a strong lure. Corporately, we say the purpose is to reduce stress and achieve a better work–life balance, but does it?

Really, we are doing it because we don’t have much choice. We haven’t put in place the right structures and policies to support such a monumental shift away from how we used to work. We think we have, but we haven’t. Suddenly, the eight-hour day that was fought hard for post-industrial revolution is out the window. Instead, we work 10-plus hour days for a compressed work week or stretch our job over seven days to fit in with life’s priorities.

Any perk and benefit should align with what the organization stands for and help achieve its mission.

Reports show the United States, Canada and East Asia tied for the highest level of stress at 52 percent, with Australia and New Zealand had the second highest at 47 percent. Now what? Add in the ‘right to disconnect’, and it’s all a bit confusing. How does that work when we connect at all hours?

The Impact on Engagement

Organizationally, we refer to it as employee engagement, but let’s call it what it truly is, happiness at work. For all the perks and benefits, employees are not that happy.

Engagement levels are dropping to their lowest level in more than a decade. In the United States, that translates to nearly five million fewer employees now engaged (or happy) in their work. As for retention, one-third of new employees quit after about six months. Right back where we started, hiring and rehiring, this time let’s think carefully about what we offer.

All the perks and benefits and it’s still not enough. With falling engagement levels and retention rates, productivity is an inevitable fallout. Yet milestones must be achieved, shareholder value created and customer deliverables met. Who carries the workload gap?

Over 50 percent of managers feel burned out, a higher number than our employees.

If you are lucky, it’s your manager. Does their work–life balance, and wellbeing not matter? It should. Over 50 percent of managers feel burned out, a higher number than our employees. Or is your customer the one who is paying? It’s probably both.

Employee motivators are not what they were. In 2018, a Deloitte survey found pay and a positive culture were at the top of the wish list for Millennials and gen Z, with benefits and perks such as flexibility and wellbeing right down the list. Now, so strong are benefits like flexibility that 98 percent of the workforce want it and in Europe, 66 percent believe it should be a legal right.

It might seem it is all about the perks, but that’s up to us to shift the mindset to reengage and motivate. Select the perks and benefits that are of actual value to your employees and get rid of the token gestures. Ensure the benefits work for your organization, fit your culture and serve your customers. Own them. Then, put in place the right structures to support your employees and business.

Roxanne Calder

Contributor Collective Member

Roxanne Calder, author of ‘Employable – 7 Attributes to Assuring Your Working Future’, is the Founder and Managing Director of EST10 – one of Sydney’s most successful recruitment agencies. For more information on how Roxanne can assist with your recruitment needs, visit https://www.est10.com.au

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