How Important Are Lifestyle Perks?

In an effort to make up for not being able to provide expensive benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, startups look for both tangible and intangible ways to entice workers to join their teams. Perks like super flexible work arrangements, pet friendly workspaces, Nerf gun wars and beer on Fridays sound great, but do they work?

To answer that questions, we turned to Courtney Newman, the director of human resources and talent acquisition at SPARC, a Charleston, South Carolina-based small business that rapidly exited its startup phase thanks in part to an impressive company culture that offers a bevy of, you guessed it, lifestyle perks. The software development company, which was founded in 2009, now boasts 260 team members and was acquired by Booz Allen Hamilton last year. Here’s what Newman had to say about lifestyle perks and their role in helping startups find and retain top talent.

Startup Southerner: What are some of the lifestyle benefits offered to SPARC employees? Which of these are most popular and seem to get the biggest positive response?

Newman: We focus on putting people first, first. We have created a flexible workstyle so our team can really achieve that work/life balance. All team members are completely mobile, so they can work from anywhere at any time. We offer core office hours, and team members are empowered to work from home as needed. Beer, dogs in the office and games are all fun and a part of who we are, but what our team appreciates the most is the trust and value we place in our team members.

Startup Southerner: As the director of talent acquisition at SPARC, you must have a good read on how these lifestyle benefits appeal to potential hires. How would you describe the general reaction?

Newman: Today’s talent market is highly competitive and the typical SPARC hire is not going to be wooed by Nerf guns and a cold beer alone. The things that I’ve found to always be the most sought-after benefits are the intangibles: a truly trusting environment offering the ability to work in your own way, the opportunity to work with an extremely intelligent team, a company that invests in its people, inspiring leaders and a culture of open communication. The rest is gravy and, don’t get me wrong, we offer plenty of it: no dress code (jeans and flip flops are the norm), onsite gym, daily happy hours, dogs in office each Friday, and free snacks, sodas, and coffee for team members.

There are plenty of successful companies that don’t offer those types of perks, but our perks play a central role in our culture. However, the perks that recruit people are often different than the perks that retain people though. We may have piqued someone’s interest with Beer30, Dog Fridays and a generous vacation time but what will keep our team members is always the flexible scheduling and flexible office arrangements, the people that they work with and build relationships with, and the opportunity to work on exciting projects.

Startup Southerner: The cliché is that all startups have foosball tables. Obviously, that’s not true, but what would your advice be to a startup that is looking to add lifestyle perks to its workplace environment? How do you decide what to start with? Do you choose lifestyle perks before you even have your first employee, or does it become clear as you hire what perks would be best for your particular company culture?

Newman: Workplace culture evolves over time. Let it be semi-organic. Don’t force culture on people. Most of our best ideas come from our team members who are then empowered to make them a reality. The most important thing is that the leadership supports an active and growing culture and provide the resource to do so. Incorporate things you and your team are passionate about.