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5 Employee Benefits That Actually Improve Morale

Laurah MwirichiaLast updated on January 2, 2024
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Gone are the days when every employee stuck around long enough to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Today’s top talent has their pick of options when it comes to places to work — and they know it. So how do you attract the best when you’re competing against a crowd of other employers ?

Well, sometimes it really does come down to having a killer benefits package.

Many (if not most) employers offer popular employee benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, gym memberships, dental and vision, commuter benefits, paid time off, and even tuition reimbursement.

But going above and beyond by offering unexpected benefits and perks can help you gain that competitive edge and achieve what any business would be happy to have: A happy and productive workforce.

Here are some productive options for popular perks that will give your employees real value, instead of just sounding good on paper:

1. Popular: Unlimited Vacation

As much as the concept of unlimited vacation sounds amazing, it often has unintended consequences. More than half of employees already don’t use the allotted time off when it’s measured.

What’s worse, evidence suggests people actually take less time when offered the option of unlimited vacation (often because the rules surrounding unlimited time off are so vague that many employees, especially newer ones, feel unsure about taking the time off).

Productive: Generous Vacation

Rather than unlimited vacation, having a generous, but defined, vacation policy and employees who are encouraged to use it can be more beneficial. Studies show that people work better if they’ve had a break to reset. Allowing people to take much needed paid leave will result in less employee churn, saving you costs of onboarding and training new hires just because all your employees keep burning out.

2. Popular: No Set Office Hours

The 40-hour workweek (might) officially be dead and replaced with innovative companies harboring creative solutions.

However, our current levels of communication and technology can make things more complicated than we bargained for. Without set hours, employees start to find that all hours become work hours. From checking email on the train, to reading Slack messages on vacation, the gray area quickly becomes one big calendar invite.

There is no ‘closing time’ where you know you’re done. Constantly having to be ‘on’ is exhausting. Long and unpredictable work schedules and can cause burnout even in the most dedicated and hard working employee.

Productive: Flexible Schedules

One way that many employers are combating this negative productivity spiral, is by adding flexible work schedules as part of their employee benefits. So while office hours are still set, employees have the freedom to work around them as needed.

Many companies have also included the option to work from home. Giving people the option to take a few days a month and work where they’re comfortable gives them the flexibility to do things that they need to get done, so they can give work their full attention when they’re back online.


3. Popular: Office Happy Hours

There’s nothing better than grabbing a drink from the beer fridge at the office at 4pm on a Friday…or is there? While office happy hours are a nice way to offer employees a way to let loose and bond after work hours, it isn’t the only way to make your office a great place to work.

“Fun doesn’t always mean wine and finger foods.”

Many people have family obligations, enriching hobbies, or kids to pick up after school. Many others would simply prefer to spend their after work time…well, not at work. Socializing that only happens in the office after hours can cause a lot of stress to people who are juggling a complicated work-life balance.

So while happy hour is nice, encourage employees to socialize in other ways that aren’t just booze in the office. Fun doesn’t always mean wine and finger foods. Better yet, invite people to socialize during work hours since they’re already there. Encouraging teams to go out to a team lunch or have breakfast together can be a way to bring people together, and foster the sense of connection that they may be missing.

Productive: Learning Opportunities

Rather than focusing your energy on providing alcohol to employees and hoping for the best, aim for things that actively help them improve their skills. Having professional development opportunities for people can be a great way to help them grow and develop in their positions. A study by The Association of Talent Development showed that career development programs are among the leading factors encouraging new talent to join a company.

If a company can afford it, offering subsidies or reimbursements for attending school or getting a certification is a great choice. If that’s a bit out of your price range, there are many online options like Coursera and Lynda that can help people learn a new skill that they can bring back to work with them. When people are invested in professional growth, especially within their workplace, they’re more likely to stay there.

4. Popular: Ping Pong Table

Not saying that having a ping-pong table isn’t cool, because it is. Studies show that stepping out of your work area and taking a break helps with creativity, productivity, and even motivation. The problem with the ping-pong tables is that it’s often a band-aid to a much bigger structural issue. Instead of being a good way to take a short break, it is more often than not an attempt to fix a lack of engagement, enthusiasm and passion.

What people really want is not necessarily flashy and expensive gaming equipment, but rather to feel purpose and passion for the work they do. Without tapping into the ‘why’ of the problem, the ping pong table is just another unnecessary cost, and needless office accessory.

Productive: Activity/Volunteer Days

Volunteer days off are becoming more and more popular in workplaces, instituted by companies small and large. Encouraging employees to take time during their work day to work on a volunteer project is a great way to encourage people to help the community. Having teams go out to do a volunteer project together, even for half a day, encourages team bonding while working on something fulfilling together outside of their direct work environment.

5. Popular: Junk Food and Snacks

As delicious as it is, we all know mindless snacking, especially on junk food, isn’t that great for your health. It also is counterproductive to any fitness initiatives or workplace wellness program that an employer might already be paying for. Which is why this is a popular and beloved perk that essentially doesn’t do much for employee morale.

Having available snacks encourages a habit of eating at the desk, or worse, not leaving the office. Studies show that taking a break from the desk is productive for workers, even if it’s a short 15 minute walk for some fresh air. It’s great for mental health at work, and allows people come back refreshed and ready to work.

Productive: Team Meals

Treating employees to a set meal once a week or so can be a lot healthier of an option than encouraging snacking on junk food in the office. Not only is it more likely to align with the health and wellness initiatives you might have, but it also encourages people to get up from their desk and interact with their coworkers.

It’s easy to feel disconnected from others in an office, even if it is an ‘open concept’ work environment. Provide an opportunity for everyone to gather and have some shared conversations during the day over some free food. It will help break up the day and offer much needed social interaction and productive conversation.


At the end of the day, benefits and perks exist to make your employees feel valued, and to help pull in new talent from the competitive hiring field out there. Listening to employee feedback about what is really important to them when it comes to what they want will help you come up with ideas that actually improve morale and attract good people. This way you can focus on providing the best workplace benefits that you can, and stop wasting time and money on ‘solutions’ that are may not be as helpful as they appear.

Published on February 13, 2019.

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