If you’re on the hunt for a new job, your future office life may not be a major consideration at the moment. In the past, many companies have used fun office perks like free video games and catered lunches to woo top talent to join their tricked-out campuses; others have gone as far as free helicopter rides and covering the cost of reproductive egg freezing. By the mid-2010s, companies were giving $4,000 to new parents (Yahoo) and supplying house cleaning service twice a month (Evernote) as well as offering $2,000 to stay in any travel listing around the world (Airbnb) and letting staff use cars (Tesla). We’re working in a world where many large companies, especially in the tech industry, have said staff won’t have to return to the workplace well into 2021. Which begs the question: do fun perks matter anymore?

The answer is yes … and no. According to a recent Salesforce survey, 68% of people say they are concerned about their mental health when thinking about the pandemic and soaring unemployment. And of that group, about a quarter are extremely concerned about their mental well-being. Foosball could help with that — but it’s not what employees are looking for.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to reevaluate and reprioritize in what many have referred to as the “great reset,” both at work and in our personal lives. Between rising anxiety and depression due to unknowns surrounding the virus, anger around race relations, balancing work with parenting, and grappling with an uncertain economy, we’re willing to say “farewell to gummy bear jars” or a game of foosball. Even if some complain they now have to make their own food and can’t expense certain perks while working from home — especially if it means we can trade these things in for better work-life balance and work for a company that shares our values and promises to see us as human beings. 

But let’s be clear: companies started responding to this desire long before the pandemic hit. They’ve added more health-minded offerings — think cayenne ginger juice shots, juice bars, chair massages, gym membership reimbursement — and full-blown wellness programs at places like Google and Zappos. Like so many movements that were slowly building steam over the course of the past decade, the pandemic has put this into hyperdrive.

Practices like yoga and meditation can offer
balance and calm [Photo: Flickr/WeTravel]

In addition to benefits like health insurance and paid vacation time, younger workers want more robust benefits packages, oftentimes including employee-supplied assistance for self care and mindfulness: meditation, therapy, yoga, and more. In fact, 60% of Gen Z and 65% of millennials said they wouldn’t take a job offering plentiful perks, but not superior benefits.

What’s more, where older generations thought discussing mental health issues at work was taboo, millennials and Gen Z are more open about their struggles.

As managing director of a real estate firm CBRE’s global workplace solutions, Karen Ellzey has an inside perspective on this topic.

By taking a stance on mental health and offering robust benefits, employers are able to show they see this as a relevant and central concern, reflecting the values of the prospects they seek to recruit”

Alexa Meyer | co-founder and CEO of Coa

“I was talking to a client at a technology company about this concept of posting codes of conduct,” Ellzey said. “We started brainstorming and said, ‘Why don't we call it codes of caring, so that you're reinforcing the culture?’ That says this is an organization and a culture that cares about you. And we want to care about each other. It’s really important to do that.”


An anxiety crisis

Depression is serious, but with assistance people can
let the light in [Photo: Flickr/Mark Gunn]


Nearly half of workers under 40 say they feel stressed or anxious all or most of the time. All. Of. The. Time. Not just at work, but in their everyday lives. So it comes as no surprise the vast majority of those workers seek out a workplace with mental health benefits in place, according to the American Institute of Stress.

“Outside of having resources available, millennials and Gen Z also expect their workplace to share similar values to their own,” said Alexa Meyer, co-founder and CEO of Coa, an online mental health and emotional fitness studio, which saw a 900% increase in demand for its classes earlier in 2020. “By taking a stance on mental health and offering robust benefits, employers are able to show they see this as a relevant and central concern, reflecting the values of the prospects they seek to recruit.”

Meyer adds that companies should include strategies that support a culture of psychological safety. This means making diversity and inclusion a priority and setting up space where everyone can have their voices heard, valued, and respected.

“These types of codes, when used well, empower managers and leaders to support mental health days, find a therapist, or take time to participate in emotional fitness training,” Meyer said. “With time, this mentality permeates the culture, creating a stronger workforce and work environment.”


Better mental health leads to better productivity

Workers want more wellness benefits included in a
job offer [Photo: Flickr/Jean Henrique Wichinoski]


With so much added stress and anxiety surrounding us daily, even if you don’t personally experience it, it still has an impact on the workplace. Someone from your team may call out sick or take a mental wellness day when experiencing anxiety or depression. That can affect a team project or possibly overall morale. In fact, more than 12 billion days of productivity in the world’s 36 largest countries get lost each year due to depression and anxiety at a cost of $925 billion, according to a 2016 Lancet study.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With company support, people can get access to wellness programs. When that happens and people feel good about themselves, they tend to perform better. A culture of creativity, collaboration, innovation, better decision making, and even resiliency takes root.

“When we show up as our best selves, we’re able to show up more effectively for others,” said Ruslan Tovbulatov, chief marketing officer of Thrive Global, which was founded by Ariana Huffington, a regular guest on Salesforce’s B-Well Together series.

“Self care is the foundation of our ability to show up as our best, most productive and creative selves, each day,” Tovbulatov said. “When we’re operating in a zone of stress and burnout, the message is clear: self-care isn’t a priority or really even possible. In some companies, it’s even frowned upon, synonymous with a lack of ambition or commitment.”

It seems, however, that sentiment is quickly falling away as people coming into the workforce seek out better benefits that fit with their personal needs. That includes managers and even the C-suite. Bottom line? The need for better mental wellness is widespread and it comes from the top down.


Support starts at the top

People have always looked to their managers for support, and that has increased since early 2020; tensions are at an all-time high. A leader’s actions and behaviors can serve as a guide to let team members know it’s OK to speak up and show vulnerabilities. 

“The topic of psychological safety is resonating with a lot of people,” said Lauren Gant, human factors and ergonomics manager for Allsteel.

Following the onset of the pandemic, Gant researched the idea of psychological safety in the workplace. The results show that employees who feel seen, supported, and safe are more likely to talk more openly with a peer or manager without fear of retribution or punishment. During this chaotic time, something seemingly so small is actually quite poignant.

I’ve spoken with founders and leaders who put their weekly therapy appointments in the calendar, visible to employees. Every small effort to increase the dialogue goes a long way”

Alexa Meyer

So just like putting on your oxygen mask first in the case of an airplane emergency, managers also need to make their own mental health a priority, Coa’s Meyer said. That leads to modeling behavior where direct reports can see that their boss is human, too. In addition, leaders need to get engaged in the conversation around mental health to help create a more open environment.

“I’ve spoken with founders and leaders who put their weekly therapy appointments in the calendar, visible to employees,” Meyer adds. “Every small effort to increase the dialogue goes a long way.”

Even more important? Making sure employees know where and how to access their benefits and resources. A vast majority of company health plans include mental health resources, yet only about half of employees know that information. 

With so much at stake, people are seeking ways to feel, well, anything at all — and since we spend so much of our days at work, companies need to start playing a more serious role in helping people. Changes don’t necessarily happen overnight, and they don’t have to. They just have to start moving in the right direction.

“We’re rapidly moving toward a time when companies that don’t take mental health seriously will pay a price in recruiting and retaining employees,” Tovbulatov said.

In other words: perks matter. But the perks employees are looking for have changed — dramatically.

For more on how to get your business up and running in this climate, visit Work.com

Thumbnail [Photo: Flickr/Charles Starrett]