Opinion

The pandemic killed the ping pong table: time to give employees the perks they actually want 

We Are Unity CEO Ben Bars invites a reexamination of the office qualities that really matter post-COVID.

Agencies offices around Australia are sitting empty, stuffed to the brim with free booze, smash cakes, and ping pong tables that nobody ever plays. Similarly tech giants, like Google and Facebook, are world-famous for their lavish offices packed with free cafeterias, laundry rooms and swimming pools, sit empty. 

When the pandemic hit, our obsession with material perks fell apart. Suddenly, meals weren’t free, booze wasn’t free, and we no longer needed the free dry cleaning. Businesses and employees alike are starting to realise that weak ‘perks’ are no substitute for employee value propositions (EVPs) that genuinely meet our physical, mental, financial needs, and even deeper needs.  

Over the past 18 months, Australians have fundamentally changed the way they live. Employees, especially the next generation, are more cynical of companies trying to buy them. They’re more switched on to sustainable, purpose-driven organisations. People are looking for more meaningful benefits that add real value to their life, not short moments of disposable entertainment. 

New research from Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor speaks to this shift. More than half (56.2%) of Australians reported work-life balance as a top-five reason to consider a new employer, while ‘job-interests alignment’ rose two places to eighth in the list of reasons an employee would take a new role. Before the pandemic, it did not appear in the top 10. 

In response, EVPs should be designed to establish a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your organisation’s top talent. These should include benefits that go beyond the business and extend to the employee’s personal life, such as paid parental leave, better paternal leave, and flexible working hours.  

Employers must prove that they care about the health of their people, and show that they’re concerned with their wellbeing outside of the benefit they can bring to the business. Is your value exchange purposeful and meaningful? Or are you just trying to buy people’s commitment? 

The smart, strategic employers in Australia are asking: how do I give my people clarity on their purpose? What do they belong to? What are they contributing to creating? 

Adland must work especially hard to throw off its systemic hustle culture problem – the bigger, uglier brother of entitlement culture. Presenteeism, evening emails, and working voluntary overtime remains a huge issue, stemming from the days when working on a pitch through the night was commonplace.  

Since the pandemic, this culture has shifted to a WFH cocktail of endless virtual meetings and increasingly blurred boundaries between work and life. Things need to change, fast. As an agency, how can you establish better meeting etiquette? When is a meeting required? Should you have a meeting if there’s no decision to be made? Do all meetings have to be staring into a box on a screen?  

These issues will become even more critical as Australia sets its sights on reopening over the next few weeks and months. There’s no doubt that the drinks and doughnuts will be flowing when things reopen. We’ve all been denied celebration for so long that popping some champagne is inevitable and welcomed. But businesses need to look beyond this small window in time and see the bigger picture.  

The relationship between the employer and the employee has fundamentally changed for good. Throwing stuff at people is no longer sustainable. In today’s marketplace, mental, physical, and financial health have taken centre stage.  

Ben Bars is the CEO of We Are Unity. 

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