The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How important are employee perks when first launching your startup?” is written by Jeff Reid, founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative at Georgetown University.
In the earliest days of a startup, perks aren’t high on your priority list. You have a small number of people on the team and are focused on other things—like finding the right product-market fit, coming up with a viable business model, and planning for the culture you want the company to embrace. But once you get beyond the startup phase and begin building a team, you’ll be faced with choosing which perks to offer your employees.
For me, perks are not your basic benefits, like health insurance or retirement accounts. Perks are the “above and beyond” ways that employers can differentiate themselves, from flexible work arrangements to casual dress codes to the stereotypical Ping-Pong tables in the break room. These perks, however small or large, are important for two main reasons:
First, they help keep employees happy. Nothing is more important to a high-growth company than attracting and retaining the talent you need in order to grow. And while many entrepreneurs may argue that their most unique perk is the opportunity to be involved in truly meaningful work with a high-performing team in a fast-paced environment, it’s also true that happy hours, sports outings, and massage chairs can create a fun environment that your employees appreciate and job candidates find attractive.
Second, they can help boost productivity and reinforce company culture. Perks like catered meals or dry cleaning can help employees focus their time on important tasks or collaboration instead of running errands or chasing down lunch. When it’s just you and a co-founder, you probably don’t need “team lunches,” but once you have 20 people all working on their own part of the business, your perks can become strategic ways to reinforce a team-oriented culture while constantly sharing ideas and feedback across units. One entrepreneur I work with touts his weekly “breakfast club,” a catered breakfast where mobile phones and grab-and-go aren’t allowed. It’s a crucial way for him, as a CEO, to build community.
It’s all about company culture. Perks need to reinforce the culture you want your company to embrace. Team lunches, flexible work schedules, and chair massages may be the most popular, but many companies get creative with concepts like sushi-making classes or craft beer tastings. And you don’t have to figure it all out yourself. Companies like Aspire (founded by recent Georgetown McDonough alumni Lily Cua and Neil Shah) help businesses manage their perks and find the best ones for their company culture—and the ones that your employees will actually use and value. Cua tells me that the most successful perks programs have a cohesive strategy, flow from the company culture, and actively seek feedback and input from employees regarding what they truly want and value.
Ultimately, perks aren’t likely to make or break your company, but they are an important way to demonstrate that you value every employee and the contribution they make. You want your team to go above and beyond for you, and perks are a way for you to do the same for them.