Providing Meaningful Perks to Employees: Q&A with Aspire Co-Founder, Lily Cua

You hear about company perks at companies, particularly startups, all the time: from kegs on Fridays (and not just beer kegs)  to unlimited snacks to nap pods.  At exaqueo, we often share with our clients that perks don’t make a culture.  Rather, they should reflect a culture.  

That’s where the company, Aspire, comes in. Aspire helps companies offer “employee perks that matter.” We sat down with Co-founder and COO of Aspire, Lily Cua, for a Q&A to share her perspective on offering meaningful perks to employees.

Lexi Gordon (exaqueo): Why did you start Aspire?

Lily Cua, Aspire (LC): My business partner and I created Aspire to help companies build better workplaces. Over the last decade, the workplace has changed drastically with the influx of Millennials in the workforce and the rise of Silicon Valley (and many other factors, of course). Company perks are quickly becoming an integral part of the workplace equation (even Glassdoor has introduced a new section for company profiles to highlight perks and benefits), and we’ve created a platform that enables companies to design a perks solution that aligns with their culture and business model.

exaqueo: Why do perks matter?

LC: Perks – when done effectively – show your employees that you care about them both in and outside of the workplace. Creating a culture of appreciation and camaraderie makes a huge difference for companies trying to position themselves against their competitors, both when recruiting new talent and retaining top performers.

Perks are also a great way to spark conversations in the office, bring employees together across departments and staff levels, and create unique experiences that are associated with a company’s brand. That kind of a reputation spreads quickly.

exaqueo: What should companies consider when expanding benefits and perks beyond the basics (healthcare, comp etc.)?

LC: One of the first questions we ask companies who are interested in learning more about Aspire is what they would like to accomplish with their perks program. Are they trying to bring their employees together in the office, create a healthier workplace, make their employees’ lives a little easier, attract the younger generation of employees, or something else? The answer to this question will define the structure for a company’s benefits program. It will determine which perks and benefits you should offer, when/how you should get those perks and benefits to employees, and how you track the impact of those perks and benefits.

A lot of companies are starting to spend money on perks and benefits without considering the strategic implications, and as a result are wasting a lot of money and time implementing these programs without capitalizing on the potential impact. We encourage companies to view their perks and benefits as an investment in their people. Considering that perks/benefits is the second biggest line item in most HR budgets, shouldn’t companies manage these expenses like any other investment that you track and adjust over time as you collect feedback on what is or is not working?

exaqueo: That is so true – perks should align with what companies are trying to achieve. Given what you just said, when have you seen perks fail?

LC: Perks fail when they are arbitrarily selected for an entire company without considering the needs of the employees. Many companies host team happy hours, but employees who live far away from the office or have kids may have to go home right after work. Another commonly offered perk is gym memberships. But maybe your employees would prefer to run outside or go to the yoga studio around the corner. Most companies don’t know who is taking advantage of what perks, and so they cannot use that feedback to tweak their offerings to make sure there’s something for everyone.

Another time perks fail is when they are used as a stopgap for larger company problems. Perks should not be a shiny object that companies offer employees to distract them from major issues at the company like layoffs, poor management structures, lost sales, etc. In fact, this tactic can very seriously backfire on a company. Employees will lose trust in leadership because they will feel like they have been tricked.

Perks are a hard thing to do well when you don’t have a Google-sized budget to work with. It takes a lot of time and resources to figure out what all of your employees want, find the best vendors to satisfy those needs, administer the perks once you find a vendor that can work with you, and finally, track if what you ended up picking is working. But, of course, I’m biased since that’s why we started Aspire in the first place.

exaqueo: From your point of view, what else is important to workplace culture?

LC: There are so many factors to consider when evaluating a company’s workplace culture. There’s the leadership team, mission, hourly schedule, vacation policy, performance criteria, and hundreds of other nuances. But at its most basic level, a company’s culture is a representation of its people. So any system or process related to the people is a foundational building block for a company’s culture. Of these systems and processes, I’d say that recruiting and management are the most important. If you don’t or can’t attract and bring in the talent you need to achieve your goals, you’re stuck at step one. And if you can’t create management structures that enable your employees to learn and grow, then you will lose the key talent you had worked so hard to recruit in the first place.

exaqueo: Finally, from all that you've seen, what’s your favorite perk?

LC: I like using the Aspire platform as a way to try out new services that I otherwise would not have been aware of, but often find myself attracted to food and fitness related perks. Some of my favorites are Scratch DC, From the Farmer, [solidcore], and personal training through Fitness That’s Real.

exaqueo: Thank you so much for your time and valuable insights into company perks and how companies can use them to their advantage to reflect a company's culture. 

 Lexi Gordon is a Lead Consultant for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.

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