What are the weirdest perks out there?
It emerged yesterday that some small British firms are helping staff pay for their divorces to take their mind off the split so they can focus more on their work. This is just one of many unusual staff benefits - what are the weirdest perks out there?
One former NatWest banker turned PR says about the perks of his new job: "group gym membership (ie we pay ourselves but get a group discount), BUPA and (allegedly) 15 min massage a week..... the last of which has not been seen yet".
Amid pay cuts or freezes, companies are coming up with more quirky (and cheaper) ways to raise staff morale. One example is providing a dog crèche –employees will feel happier if they know their four-legged companion is not home alone, and having walked their dog at lunchtime they will return to their desks refreshed.
Pet insurance could be another popular benefit, just like dental or medical insurance, especially as growing fraud is pushing up insurance premiums.
Cookery courses, scuba diving classes and singing workshops are sometimes offered to boost morale as well as acting as team-building exercises where people will bond by enjoying the same activity.
"Staff perks have always been important, but never more so than now - when employers are looking for low cost ways to maintain and boost staff morale that don't necessarily add permanently to the salary bill," says Ben Moss, managing director of business psychology firm Robertson Cooper. "Making the effort to make working life enjoyable can contribute enormously to your employer brand, it aids staff retention and helps to ensure that the workforce feels like it is being treated fairly, or even generously."
Bloomberg is famed for supplying free fruit and other snacks in its offices (the Sydney office even used to have a chef on site, apparently) and its lavish outdoor summer parties where everything is free. One party outside London with an around-the-world theme boasted animals from each continent and a rowing lake. In the US, the data and news company usually rents Randall's Island next to Manhattan for the day - employees can bring their families.
Divorce and wedding chapels
Manchester-based law firm Pannone said it had not heard of any cases of employers funding divorces until five years ago. But the number of cases has doubled in the last three years. Some firms pay for initial advice sessions and contribute to legal costs for divorces. But some consider their staff so vital they offer to foot the entire legal bill, running into thousands of pounds.
Over in America, retirement village provider Erickson Living offers staff a chapel where they can get married for free or a nominal fee. And eBay provides prayer and meditation rooms decorated in earth tones with floor mats and cushions so employees can switch off during the day.
Google encourages employees to go green by paying towards the purchase of a hybrid or electric car, and solar panels. Similarly, Marks & Spencer offers its staff free loft or cavity wall insulation.
Giving staff time off to do work for charity or in the local community, such as schools, is seen as another way to boost their wellbeing. Some companies, such as Lloyds Banking Group and Microsoft, match their employees' donations to charity up to a certain limit.
Happiness day and laughter sessions
Robertson Cooper has created a 'happiness day' for its employees – "an extra day's leave to do something you enjoy with £50 to spend on the day" – on condition that they report back to the team on what they got up to. "We have been running happiness days for three years now and they have proved very popular with staff – including managers," says Moss.
Stephanie Roberts, marketing executive at the firm, says she went to the theatre with a friend on her happiness day. "The thing I like about the happiness day is that it challenges me to actually think about what makes me happy, as in this day and age it is very rare that we actually get to take time out and think about the things that make us happy. Plus, the bonus is that the company provides us with the time and money to actually go out and do it."
But for stress relief, nothing can beat laughter sessions – also known as laughter yoga - where employees lie on the floor or stand around and laugh together, as employeebenefits.co.uk reported last year.