November 7, 2012
7 Common Perks That Do More Harm Than Good

The idea of receiving perks once seemed really cool. I can’t deny it.

Fortunately I wised up.

I started my first “real job” (meaning finally out of college and trying to build a career) as an entry-level manufacturing employee. Every day I walked across a huge parking lot past parking spots near the entrance reserved for managers.

I wanted one of those spots. Not because I minded walking but because having a reserved spot would mean I was a big dog.

Years later I landed a senior management position at another plant and was assigned a reserved parking spot by the main entrance. I parked in my cool new spot on my first day and thought, “Wait. Why do I need a reserved spot? What makes me more special than anyone elsef?”

The answer, of course, was nothing. I wasn’t special. So I started parking on the side of the plant where other manufacturing employees parked.

And that’s the problem with most perks: Perks may be intended as rewards, but all they really do is create artificial distinctions based on arbitrary and sometimes self-serving criteria.

That’s why dropping silly perks is a great way to break down a few barriers between you and the people you most need to connect with: your employees.

Here are some perks you should eliminate today:

1. Trips and outings with suppliers and vendors.

In many industries the “vendor fishing trip” is a time-honored tradition. Forget tradition and stop accepting. Why put yourself in a position where influence could be implied?

Besides, your employees don’t get to go, so why should you? A great vendor doesn’t provide tickets to a ballgame or a fancy meal; a great vendor provides excellent service and quality products at a great price.

Except: If the vendor agrees, put your employees’ names in a hat and draw lucky winners at random. That’s a pretty cool way to share a vendor’s largesse.

2. Reserved parking spaces.

You don’t need to park close to the front door. A little rain won’t hurt you.

Except: Reserved spaces do make sense when they’re reserved for employees who work late at night and go to their cars alone. (Although if your parking lot is potentially dangerous during off hours you should you do a lot more to make it safe than simply creating some reserved parking spots.)

3. Special lunch or break areas.

Think the executive lunch area is a bygone relic? Nope. In the last year I’ve seen six.

Use the space for another purpose and get out and mingle. And when you do, don’t sit at a table with your peers. Always sit with the rank and file; you spend enough time with the other managers as it is. In fact, your rule should be “No more than one manager or supervisor at a table.”

Except: Maintaining different lunch or break areas based on geography or employee convenience is fine; just make sure your area is no nicer than any other area.

4. Special doors.

Okay, so you have a master key that opens every door. And it’s really convenient to enter the facility through the side door. But if no one else can use that door, you shouldn’t use it either.

Except: If entering through a specific door has a tangible business purpose, like carrying in equipment or supplies, that’s fine.

5. Office doors.

Don’t take the door off its hinges, but do leave it open except during confidential discussions with employees. Your office is just another tool that supports your job function; it should not shield you from employees.

Except: I know sometimes you need peace and quiet to complete a project; just make sure that’s the exception, not the norm.

6. Meeting Refreshments.

Do you customarily provide bagels and beverages for meetings? Fine.

But wait – who pays?

If the company pays, stop. CEOs and managers have a lot more meetings than employees, and you would be surprised by how many employees think, “Okay… once again it’s bagel day… must be nice…”

Besides, if your meetings run so long you need nourishment to keep everyone going, you have an entirely different problem.

Except: If you’re meeting with non-management employees, providing refreshments is very cool.

7. Popping out during the workday.

I know you work long hours and shoulder tons of responsibility. It’s only fair if you run out to a doctor’s appointment during work hours, right?

If your employees can do likewise, without penalty, fine. Otherwise no. When you arrive late or leave early or flit in and out of the building during work hours… and others don’t enjoy the same discretion and freedom… all you do is prove that standards are applied very differently. Remember, perception matters.

Except: No exceptions. Nothing irritates an hourly employee more than watching a supervisor, manager, or CEO “run out for a couple of hours.” Trust me. I’ve been there, felt that.