Employee Perks Don’t Have to Be a Hassle: Ideas from BetterWorks

April 27, 2012

2:30 pm

What do go kart racing, jiu-jitsu, acupuncture, and dog grooming have in common?

They’re all perks available on BetterWorks, a platform for companies to really reward their employees. Instead of waiting for the end of the year to receive that (inevitably disappointing) bonus check, employees on BetterWorks can sign in daily to check their rewards balance, buy exclusive deals, and even order lunch.

BetterWorks is the brainchild of an impressive roster of founders: Paige Craig, a Marine and angel investor; George Ishii, an early PayPal employee and cofounder of Geni and Yammer; and Sizhao Yang, the co-creator of Zynga’s Farmville. And their customers already include Tesla and Hulu.

I chatted with Varun Krishna (director of product) and Nicole Jordan (director of communications), who tried to dispel the misconceptions that perks are expensive and shouldn’t be a priority. (They’re talking to you, startup founders.)  

Tech Cocktail: Give me your best argument for why companies should offer perks, even though the benefits are intangible. 

Varun Krishna, director of product at BetterWorks

Varun Krishna: It comes down to motivation. Generally speaking, I personally believe – and the research has shown time and time again … there was a very conscious reason that companies like Google are heavily invested in things like perks and benefits and rewards. … They realize that ultimately, the way an employee perceives the things around their workplace affects how they feel and how hard they work and the sense of connection that they have to their actual jobs.

From our perspective, perks – specifically the ability to offer personalized perks that cater to the individual needs of the employee – are a very, very powerful motivator of productivity.

Nicole Jordan: We, frankly, are in a business environment these days where you can’t afford not to. It really is just that simple. … This is about attracting and retaining top talent. That is what it boils down to, and that is what makes or breaks a company. These companies – and especially we see this with startups – they’re finding unique and interesting ways that are going to appeal to 20-somethings, 30-somethings, different people who understand that work-life balance is a joke, but work-life integration is a reality. If you are a company and you can help your employees with that, they’re going to stay there.

Tech Cocktail: For startups with little cash, what can they do to reward employees (besides using BetterWorks)? 

Nicole Jordan, director of communications at BetterWorks

Jordan: I’ve been working with startups for about 14 years, so I’ve seen a lot of stuff that works and a lot of stuff that doesn’t. As a founder of your company, decide what you want your culture to be. That can help focus what kind of perks you might want to invest in. So let’s say you purposely decide that you want to have a culture that’s really dedicated towards health and wellness and that you make your employees’ health a priority. So maybe you will invest in gym memberships or maybe you’ll invest in bikes for the office.

The second one – Paige [Craig, cofounder] says this a lot – is budget for culture. Startups have a finite amount of resources, and when they’re building the product and the business roadmap and the financial roadmap, they allow allocations to invest in various business functions – IT, software. Employees are no different. … Even if it’s $100 a month, as a startup, build it into your DNA to create a budget to actually focus on rewarding your team.

The third thing, too … it’s not always about the big rewards. So it’s not always about the $500 bonus. A lot of times people will think, ‘We don’t make enough money, or we can’t reward people in the way they may want,’ which is usually through big lump sums. But it’s shifting the mindset: what people really want is small, consistent rewards, and they want to have those little wins be celebrated as much as the big.

So if you’re a startup and you have a really aggressive engineering development timeline for that alpha launch that you have to get out the door, and your team has been working overtime, and you look at your budget, and you’re like, ‘You know what? We could take 200 bucks and bring in food.’ And also what that is, is you’re investing not just in your culture, but you’re investing your money in an activity that bonds your team.

Krishna: From my perspective, it comes down to understanding the unique needs of the employees. … Startups need to be obviously very responsible in how they control their burn rate, how they manage their financials, but the most important thing they can do is recognize, at a smaller level, their people matter that much more. And simply listening to them and understanding what their actual needs are and allowing them to have some level of control over [what] gets chosen around perks or rewards or incentives is probably the biggest thing they can do.

Tech Cocktail: Do you have any horror stories from previous jobs that inspired you to join BetterWorks? What is your motivation?

Krishna: We were very frustrated with a lot of the day-to-day experiences that we had that were standing in the way of productivity. If you look at an average company that doesn’t have any kind of a cafeteria service or food service, you could literally do the math and say that for a 100-person company – if, say, 60 of them are going out to eat every day or going out and grabbing takeout and coming back to their offices – that’s like 900 minutes a day of productivity that’s potentially wasted. And there’s no reason for that.

Jordan: What I hear from a lot of employees and myself – I’ve worked in some very dysfunctional work environments, I think we all have – it’s very satisfying and rewarding to come work for a company whose product and ultimate mission is to make work a happy, productive place to be and empower managers to pay attention and take care of their employees and reward them on a consistent basis and recognize them for their efforts. Especially those times when it’s like, ‘Thanks for staying late until midnight to help me get that presentation out the door.’ We spend so much time culturally, every day, at work, so it really matters that you be happy when you’re here … that you’re in an environment where you feel heard and you feel appreciated.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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