December 25

Why perks no longer cut it for workers



I remember the day I left my organisation without a job offer lined up. My director was having an exit interview with me. On one of the questions on the exit survey form, it asked why I left.

“Because people weren’t paid fairly here.”

When he saw the reply, he started sharing about all the things that the organisation had done to increase the pay of other workers. He spoke about how there was a performance bonus instituted this year. Or how the management had fought for the annual wage supplement for workers.

But what he didn’t mention was how people had left in greater numbers this year. Last year, 5 left. This year, in the span of 10 months, there were 8 resignations. Looks like the perks he gave didn’t mean much.

Why don’t perks work? It seems ironic, doesn’t it? After all, you’re paying someone more money. You’re giving your staff more things. He should want to stay more.

Enough said. The perks and benefits don't work, if people aren't being managed well (Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2019)
Enough said. The perks and benefits don’t work, if people aren’t being managed well (Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2019)

Why do people still leave despite perks?

Money isn’t everything

According to Dan Pink’s book, Drive, which studied the reasons behind people’s motivation, there are three factors why people are motivated.

Mastery. Purpose. Autonomy.

Dan Pink argues that Mastery, Purpose and Autonomy are key to motivating people

See how money isn’t listed there? Whilst money does buy us many things, it doesn’t drive intrinsic motivation. Money is like a surface level plaster to a deeper level wound. You can throw more money at someone, but they may feel that they are not growing at the job. Or that the job has little meaning to them. Or that they aren’t allowed to be flexible in the ways they work.

That’s why they leave.

People don’t receive the message you’re giving

I’m giving them more money!

More benefits!

Why aren’t they staying?

How ungrateful!

People aren’t receiving the message you’re giving. According to Gary Chapman, the author behind the 5 Love Languages, people have different love languages.

This means that they may give love differently from how they would prefer to receive love. For example, you may prefer to receive a gift of money. But other employees may have preferred that you spent quality time with them understanding them.

Even though I got a bonus this year, I didn’t feel cared for. There weren’t any celebratory events planned that reminded us that actually, we mattered more than the work we did.

What you’re giving may not be the message people are receiving.

So what counts?

Maybe today, you’re a boss who’s wondering how to reengage your staff. You’re wondering how to get them to stay, beyond throwing more money at them. Especially when COVID may have affected your business, and resulted in less money being available to adjust people’s pay packages.

Have ‘stay’ interviews

You know how people have interviews before they enter a company? Why not have an interview before someone leaves the company? In the interview ask:

  1. What’s keeping you at the job?
  2. What’s making it challenging for you?
  3. What may be pushing you out of the job?
  4. If there was a miracle that happened overnight, how would you know that it happened? What would look different in the next day?

These stay interviews have the advantage of reminding people why they are staying at a company. They remind people that actually, you do care about them and you want to help them to improve their experience.

Have a development plan with your staff

People leave when they no longer feel like they’re growing. Intentionally sit down with your staff and help them to think through:

  1. Where are you now?
  2. Where do you want to be?
  3. How can we help you to get there?
Try this exercise. In this exercise, you can look at where you want to go, and how you can get there.
Try this exercise. In this exercise, you can look at where you want to go, and how you can get there.

In my organisation, these conversations never happened except during appraisal. After the appraisal, these conversations never carried on.

After all, there’s always more to do. Thinking about your staff’s development can feel like a waste of time.

Do the small things for your staff that help them feel cared for

I remember the time a colleague gave me a card, together with a tea bag, and a chocolate. It wasn’t much. But it meant something. It reminded me that someone still saw what I did. The small things matter.

Much more than you think.

It can be helpful to ask,

How are you?

How are you really?

This helps the staff to feel that someone is looking out for them. That someone genuinely has their back, and is not just out to get their back.

Be intentional about building camaraderie

When I asked my operations manager if we were going to have a team-bonding exercise, she said,

I don’t believe in online team bonding activities.

Well… that’s why the company continued to bleed people.

Sure, online activities cannot compare to how physical gatherings bring people together. After all, you never know if the person is really interested in what’s happening over Zoom, or actually looking at something else online.

As people go through COVID, working from home can make them feel like a freelancer that happens to have a company that’s paying their salary.

They may not feel the sense of camaraderie that used to come from the coffees they had with colleagues at work. Or the water cooler chats that allowed them to know who was in trouble with the boss.

Rebuilding that sense of camaraderie starts with being intentional. It starts with not taking it for granted that the camaraderie will last. Because it doesn’t.

The Great Resignation, with people increasingly leaving their jobs, has shown that people are no longer happy with their jobs. The period at home may have given them the time to think,

Is this really what I want to do? What’s my passion?

What if my boss disrespects me?

Wow, my boss really doesn’t know anything.

Being intentional about camaraderie continues with recognising that building mutual trust and friendship can only come with spending time together. But how can you do that, when everyone is working from home?

Here are some things you can try.

1. Plan weekly meals together

Be intentional. I’ve seen workplaces where colleagues intentionally plan meals together (with safe distancing and adhering to rules around group sizes) every week.

Weekly! This helps them to share the burden of work, and to have a place where they can unwind.

2. Have daily check-ins, with a weekly emotive check-in personally

In my previous workplace, there was a daily check-in. I hated it, because it meant that I had to roll out of bed and get dressed.

But there’s value in doing something like this. It allowed us to know what was going on. When we were able to give feedback about certain policies, it helped us to feel that our feedback mattered.

Gallup's 12 elements of engagement show what matters in engaging employees today. At Q07, feeling like your opinion matters does push people forward.
Gallup’s 12 elements of engagement show what matters in engaging employees today. At Q07, feeling like your opinion matters does push people forward.

But it’s not the daily check-in that matters. It also matters that you’re able to have people talk about their emotions. There was usually an awkward silence when our boss started asking us,

How are you?

No one talked deeply about how they really felt. There wasn’t that safe space built, nor the rapport that existed in the group.

But I’ve seen groups where people are able to share deeply about what they truly feel. What’s the difference in those teams? The leader starts. He shares about how difficult things are, but more crucially, how he has managed it.

It’s one thing to feel authentic. It’s another thing to make your coworkers feel drained and hopeless from what you’ve shared. They may end up feeling that they have nothing they can do to improve the situation, if even their boss is facing so many difficulties. As the leader, you’re supposed to inspire hope. Not build desperation that things are not going to change.

What can help is a deliberate attempt to unwind over a structured conversation in a smaller group, rather than a group call with 12 others.

Start with a small one to one.

Connect with relationship through strong 1-1s

I remembered the day an offer was given to me to leave my company. I was on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), struggling at my job, and really wanted to quit. But why didn’t I? Because I had a strong relationship with my boss.

Bruce Tulgan, the workplace expert, argues that today, there is an undermanagement epidemic, which is the

the human element of management: managers providing direct reports with the guidance, direction, support and coaching that they need to succeed.

Bruce Tulgan, The Undermanagement Epidemic 2019

The key is to improve the quality of the direct relationship between yourself and your coworker. There’s no way around it than having highly structured and substantive 1-1s.

Bruce Tulgan recommends that you ask good questions such as:

  1. What do you need from me?
  2. What is your plan? What steps will you follow?
  3. How long will each step take?

This 15 minute 1-1 can end up building a process of continuous improvement, helping your worker to feel that he is being supported.


Perks aren’t the answer to better engagement of people at work. If your people are leaving, there is a reason. Throwing more money might work, but it’s not the lasting solution.

What works?

Return to relationship. It is your relationship with your colleagues that will stop them from leaving. People don’t work for something.

They work with someone. And they work because of someone.


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