We’ve all heard of organizations enticing employees with lavish corporate offices and top-tier perks. Perhaps the most well-known example is Google, which provides a breakfast bar, an onsite gym, free massages, a shuttle system, laundry services, and more. It seems that these offerings are starting to become more widespread. For example, in 2018, Amazon’s corporate headquarters will finish constructing a 65,000-square-foot on-site terrarium intended to serve as a natural oasis and jump-start productivity. So why are companies going to such great lengths to enhance their physical space and more fully integrate their employees’ lives into the workplace?

There are probably several answers to this question. One is that these bonuses help attract top talent and can be a defining perk that differentiates one company from another. There is also research to suggest that a company’s culture and values have the biggest impact on employee satisfaction. More broadly, it seems that companies are trying to keep up with the current war for talent and offer benefits that will attract the next generation of leaders who want to feel valued, work in a collaborative environment with purpose, and desire work-life integration.

It may seem like keeping up with the Joneses (e.g., Google) is impossible. However, there are ways you can respond to next-generation employee needs – even in your small-to-midsize organization. For those of you who are just starting a wellness program like us, fear not! There are more realistic alternatives to building an entire forest on site. We’ve offered examples of ways to enhance your work environment from both ends of the spectrum – in other words, a “splurge” or a “steal.”

Forest vs. Office Plants

Splurge: Nature has proven long- and short-term mental and physical health benefits. For instance, a recent study found just 5 minutes of activity in natural areas resulted in improvements in self-esteem and mood. While some organizations splurge on an on-site green space (such as Amazon), this is often not realistic.

Steal: While taking walks in nature is beneficial, several research studies have demonstrated that something as simple as an office plant can have widespread benefits. For instance, a 2013 study at the University of Exeter found that work spaces enhanced by office plants boosted well-being by 47%, enhanced creativity by 45%, and increased productivity by 38%.

Compensation/Time Off for Volunteering vs. An Annual Volunteer Day

Splurge: Next-generation leaders look for a sense of purpose in their workplace. As such, companies like SalesForce grant employees 7 days of paid time off per year to volunteer (VTO).

Steal: At our organization, we are taking a morning to clean up at a local beach. We also dedicate time to philanthropy and community outreach. For example, we recently mentored a local high school student in his efforts to apply for college.

On-site Chef vs. Free Snacks

Splurge: Google rotates seasonal menus (50,000 new ones per year) and hires renowned chefs. Their HQ is also home to an organic food garden that houses vegetables and herbs from different regions of the world.

Steal: Wegmans offers free cakes on birthdays and free hot chocolate to anyone who works outside. At our organization, we like to keep our snacks a bit healthier: we stock up on fruit, nuts, and replaced most of our soda options with carbonated water.

In-Person vs. Virtual Assistant

Splurge: Multitasking and technology have made it imperative for employees to be connected and responsive in order to keep up with the competition. While some organizations splurge on personal assistants for their employees, this is not always practical, particularly for individual contributors or freelancers.

Steal: There are a number of “personal assistant” applications (e.g., 24me, Magic) – many of which are free! Some of them can even get to know your preferences as you use them (i.e., Magic). Making your employees aware of these applications that can help them manage their lives is low-cost/high-reward.

Bowling Alley vs. Walking Outside

Splurge: Research shows that taking breaks throughout the day – specifically spontaneous breaks – helps individuals be more productive at work. Companies like Google have sprung for bowling alleys for employees to take a load off and have some fun during the workday.

Steal: Spontaneous, “mindless” breaks boost productivity. Designating a space at work for these kinds of break activities can be helpful. Also, instituting non-planned activities – for example, suggesting employees take a walk at the 2 pm slump time – encourages “mindlessness.”

However small your organization (or budget), there are simple but effective ways to enhance your office environment. We expect this will become more important for organizations who seek to attract and retain the next generation of balance-seeking leaders. Consequently, many of the same organizations that invest in their office environment and employee well-being find themselves on Fortune 100’s list of “Best Companies to Work For.” It’s not just the splurgers, either – “steal”-practicing Wegmans was no. 2 on the 2017 list!

What is your organization doing to attract top talent? What perks have worked for you?


This post was co-authored by Kelly Levin.