The one perk no company can thrive without (and 4 more that make a difference)

Hint: Foosball Isn't One of Them

Finding the best people for your company, and keeping them there, is often described as a "war." For many startup CEOs, especially in Silicon Valley, fighting that war has prompted an arms race of foosball tables, massages, and dry-cleaning services. If you are outside of the boundary and culture of the tech world, that may sound simultaneously like a dream, but also a bit ridiculous. I am with you on the ridiculous part.

It's not that I am against massages and fresh-pressed clothes on principal, but as a CEO I can tell you those kinds of perks are not what attracts the best employees, nor feeds their energy and creativity over time.

Yes, perks are a deal sweetener, but it's having a greater purpose as a company that drives interest, loyalty, and elicits the best work from people - especially if your workforce is filled with millennials.

Think about the grand idea of Google - making the world's information available to everyone. Or Facebook - connecting the world's people. At my prior company, Plum Organics, our mission was to bring healthy, whole food to as many children as possible. At Habit, our mission is to unlock everyone's human potential through the power of personalized nutrition.

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Those are business ambitions that go well beyond making a profit (clearly, that's important too). They are the kind of missions that people can rally around, that are hard, and which require creative approaches and intense thought. The reward of solving these tough, huge problems is immense. Not just from a business standpoint, but also from the vantage point of seeing your work ripple out into the world and have impact.

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Offering that kind of opportunity to potential and current employees - the chance to make a difference - is how you fill your company with the best people. It's ultimately how you win the war for talent. Without that purpose no amount of endless buffets and volleyball tournaments will do you any good.

Is a purpose a perk? Not in the way we are used to thinking about perks, but it is something above and beyond a paycheck that I believe no company can really thrive without.

So if you do have that greater purpose dialed, let's get to the perks that really can make a difference.

Does anyone really play foosball?

Before you start trying to copy what that hot startup across town is offering, take a step back and think about your employee base. Do they really want Nerf guns and gaming consoles? Do they have the time and the temperament for that stuff?

For me the gratuitous ping pong table or foosball game that gathers dust in a corner, is not just a marker of perks gone bad, but a lack of understanding of whom your employees are. It's the CEO that checks some "perks box" once that gaming system is in place rather than taking the time to understand what employees really want that is the problem.

Perks are there to make people's lives easier and to give them back time. Rather than a hail of foam pellets, maybe a ridesharing service is a far more valuable offering. But then again, maybe Nerf battles are just what your people want. We do have a ping pong table in the office, and while it isn't a daily thing, the trash-talking and fun we have during the couple of tournaments we hold every year is absolutely worth having it around.

1.) Don't focus on how much food, focus on healthy food.

We are all about good nutrition at Habit, so we absolutely lean toward healthy snacks in the office. That's who we are, which, again, gets to knowing your audience. We do gather together for the occasional beer-fueled happy hour, but what we don't do is have a keg always on tap. If we did, the beer would go bad. But we go through cases of the green tea, kombucha, and cold-brewed coffee we offer. Feeding people, giving people the opportunity to gather around a cup of coffee, a snack, or a full meal, builds goodwill and a tighter community. Making sure the food you offer is healthy, more than how much, or how often you make it available, makes a clear point that you care about employees.

2.) Make everyone's lives easier

Think about all the chores we have to accomplish in life, and offer services that make it easier for people to knock them off while at work. There are things like dry cleaning pickup and drop-off, or mobile car washing services that can come to your workplace. For new moms that travel, there is a service that will deliver their breast milk overnight to their home. You don't necessarily have to pay for the services, employees can, but making them available gives them back some time to do things they really want to do with their free time. That is where the value lies.

3.) Give employees the time to give back

Everyone has something, a cause or a movement that they believe in. Give your employees the time to act on their beliefs, at least two days a year or half a day per quarter. Consider finding something that the entire company can get behind, a cause that syncs up with your company's mission and that people can put their minds and muscle into. Companies exist in a community, at least they should, both in terms of the physical space we occupy - our neighborhood - but also the broader community of people that share our purpose. Giving back to that community deepens connections, and gives everyone a greater personal sense of purpose.

4.) Promote balance

We all work too much. No argument there. You'll have noticed that all these workplace perks, are really about helping people lead richer, healthier, fuller lives outside of work. Which gets us to PTO. We don't have it at Habit, what we have is unlimited vacation. All credit to Reed Hastings and Netflix who pioneered the idea, but I wouldn't launch a company today without it in place. This isn't about lounging on a beach for weeks or months while nothing gets done, contrary to what you might expect, that doesn't happen. Rather, it's about holding employees accountable for their work goals, and letting them manage them in a way that fits their lives. What that does, is give them control and a sense of freedom that in my experience translates to even better productivity, accountability, and connection to the team.

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