As pay raises shrink, many companies emphasize perks to keep workers happy

February 22, 1993|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- On Fridays, when Rhea A. Nagle doesn't have a business appointment, she wears jeans, a sweat shirt and sneakers to work.

"Dress-down time" every Friday is one of the perks of her job as information specialist for the College Placement Council Inc., in Bethlehem, Pa.

"The informality and being comfortable improve morale," said Ms. Nagle, whose employer also sponsors a book club for its workers.

A relaxed dress code one day a week and a reading group aren't cataclysmic events in any workplace, but to employees, such perks make a difference.

One of the most important things to remember about perks is how they differ from salaries and benefits.

Salaries and benefits are clearly defined by employers at the time of hiring and in corporate handbooks as part of your total wage package.

Benefits include such things as health, vision, dental and life insurance; pension, profit-sharing, adoption-assistance and employee-assistance programs; family leave; flexible hours and job sharing; and child and elder care.

Perks often are less formal. "The Human Resources Glossary," published by the American Management Association in 1991, describes perks as "something beyond benefits or salary . . . perquisites, incentives that involve special privileges and considerations."

Perks are the icing on the cake, and therefore all the sweeter. And, often, they're more fun.

At a time when 1993 salary increases remain the same or below those of 1992 and U.S. firms are worried about the mounting costs of benefits, employers are offering perks to "keep employees happy and to attract new hires," according to the 1992-'93 CPC Annual, a publication of the College Placement Council.

Its study of what 624 businesses and hiring organizations are offering to attract the best and brightest college seniors describes the perks as "eclectic," going well beyond free parking, country club memberships, Christmas bonuses and credit unions.

Free company products or discounts on products are among the most popular perks. For instance, employees at Ben & Jerry's, the Boston-based ice cream maker, may eat up to three pints of the company's product at no cost every working day. New employees at Apple Computer Inc., in Cupertino, Calif., get a free personal computer.

The College Placement Council's study uncovered the following perks:

* Employees at Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y., get free breakfasts every day.

* Brown & Root Braun, an oil engineering firm in Alhambra, Calif., offers a 4 1/2 -day work week.

* Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash., computer software company, has no dress code.

* Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., sponsors 100 clubs for employees, with focuses on everything from computers to karate.

Also known for their perks are companies such as McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis, which offers employees company-sponsored recreation programs, and Abbott Laboratories, in North Chicago, Ill., which connects workers with volunteer programs in the community.

And Union Planters Bank of Nashville offers up to five days off to employees who are active in company-sponsored community programs.

Leo Burnett Co., a Chicago-based advertising agency, is known for itsfriendly employee benefits. Its perks, too, are noteworthy.

Once a year, Burnett employees get a gift of $1 for each year the company, which was founded in 1935, has been in business. This year, each employee will get $58.

Burnett also has an annual all-day outing to end all-day outings: Employees go to a suburban resort area and have a choice of sports they want to participate in during the day, followed by a party and dinner-dance in the evening.

"Perks are good because they help increase loyalty among employees," said Elizabeth M. Hintch, managing editor of Human Resource Management News, a national weekly newsletter for human resource professionals.

"Many of the perks that are offered are not terribly expensive and do not have to be permanent --which more health care and higher salaries would be," said Ms. Hintch. "Perks have a personal bent to them, and that's important because turnover is so expensive. Even if you're not totally happy with the work you're doing, you might decide to stay because you like a certain perk."

Human Resource Management News is based in Chicago and has a branch office in New York. The Chicago staff has eight people.

"If we work late one day, we can leave early the next day without making a formal request -- as long as the work is done," said Ms. Hintch. "It's a matter of trust."

Dress is informal and "sometimes the boss takes us all out to lunch," Ms. Hintch said.

And, perks work: "They're a fantastic addition to what employers offer employees besides salary and benefits," she said.

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