Keep the Food; I'll Take the Cash

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Sarah Ewing Sarah Ewing
Incentives. Few single words possess such great power. For prospective employees, incentives in an offer letter serve the same purpose as a child in an advertisement: The target is instantly attracted to it. Prospective employees drool for Fortune Magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For. Why? Benefits.

Yet, as Spiderman's Uncle Ben says, "with great power comes great responsibility." Perks are only good if both employees and companies understand and benefit from its value. For example, recently, when I received two job offers from two amazing organizations with the same salary, I was torn between job responsibility and corporate perks. The strategic-marketing position provided a standard incentives package: health, dental, 401K and education compensation. However, here is a sample of the tactical-marketing position's benefits: health, vision, dental, 401K, education compensation, complimentary gym, free beverages, referral bonuses and volunteer days. I won't lie. I wanted the gym. I really wanted the gym. I came from the Google world: a world where you had more perks than you could ever use. However, that world also taught me that companies use benefits to substitute for salary, especially in economic hard times. Just like one works for salary, one also works for incentives. They are part of your compensation, not an added bonus (literally and figuratively). If we are going to be compensated via perks, I only want useful perks or the cash. My now-supervisor recognized that. She told me that although she couldn't build me a gym, she could increase my compensation. Although not all employees would benefit from a gym, she understands that benefit's value. I took the strategic position (and the cash).

Yes, free food is amazing (and no longer working for a company with a bazillion cafes still makes me heave a hungrily longing sigh). Yes, a free gym is a great incentive to stay fit (and burn off the calories from said bazillion cafes and reduce health care). And yes, transportation subsidies decrease my commute and increase my productivity. I have worked for one of the top companies on Fortune's list. However, not everybody is drawn to those incentives or those incentives have catches (cafes open between pre-work and post-work hours without to-go boxes). Although you may think your benefits will draw young advertising professionals to you like a moth to a flame, I recommend that you segment your employees and reprioritize your benefits list to suit each employee segment. And if not everybody will or can eat on campus, provide your employees with cookbook compensation.