Free healthy meals at work, discounted travel, opportunities for personal development and study, flexible working, and paid time off for volunteering – these are just some of the compelling employee benefits that leading company’s offer.

And while it’s easy to see why these benefits help attract top talent, it’s not so clear whether employee benefit programs can really help to retain employees, too. After all, will a gym membership stop you from leaving a job (or manager) that you hate? Here we’ll examine the role of employee benefits in attracting and retaining employees.

What are employee benefits?

Simply put, employee benefits are the non-wage benefits that make up your employee’s compensation package. But they are so much more than a way to compensate employees. Employee benefits actually reflect your company’s culture and how you value your employees.

How do employee benefits programs attract employees?

Job seekers do their research in advance and take employee benefits into account when weighing up similar opportunities. The only right way is to offer choice and take the time to find out so you spend your company’s benefit dollars wisely. There are no right or wrong answers. It all depends on what your employee groups value.

For example, if you have a large number of younger Millennials on staff, offering financial literacy help and support to pay off student loans may be a winner while older Millennials may be more compelled by on-site child care or help with child care fees. Whereas, older employees may value scheduling flexibility, or help with financial and retirement planning.

How do employee benefits programs aid staff retention?

While employee benefits can certainly help with staff retention, you can’t mask poor workplace culture by offering a few employee benefits in place of creating positive workplace culture.

Benefits only work when employees are motivated and appropriately challenged by the work they do, and feel that their work is valued. Through professional development for instance, employee benefits can underpin an employee’s tenure in your business.

If this increases their stay in your company from two years to four, that’s not only good for the business, it’s great for your clients and for other employees. By increasing retention rates, you reduce the often considerable time, effort and costs required to replace outgoing staff.

How are companies using employee benefits?

Companies that invest in employees by offering a wide range of employee benefits see the positive effects on the bottom line in terms of increased productivity, improved morale, and greater engagement.

So, even though research conducted by Survey Sampling International (SSI) for SEEK shows 59% of Australians favour flexible working arrangements as themost desired employee benefit, leading companies continue to raise the bar. Recognised as the very best place to work in Australia in LinkedIn’s annual survey, PwC offers employee benefits aplenty. These include flexible working, 18 weeks’ parental leave, no dress code, free coffee with full-time baristas on site, health and fitness perks, and professional memberships among many other perks.

The professional services firm also encourages employees to personalise their working style. As their website says, “From meetings on treadmills, to connecting remotely using Google Hangouts, or simply playing with Lego on a much-needed mental health break, you’ll completely re-invent the way your work, for the better!”

Elsewhere, employee benefits programs offered by big firms feature an endlessly innovative line up of special treats. Qantas offers staff up to 90% off flights, Salesforce employees receive six days of paid volunteer time off a year, as well as $1,000 a year to donate to a charity of their choice.

Among its many employee benefits, Google also has its gourmet cafes offering multiple free meals every week and world class baristas on site who pour coffee just the way employees like it. Meanwhile, Deloitte offers generous sabbatical programs. Employees can take an unpaid, one-month sabbatical for any reason, or they can take a paid three- to six-month sabbatical to pursue personal or professional growth opportunities. The list goes on.

So, why do these successful companies go way beyond simply offering flexible working and invest in highly compelling employee benefits? It’s all about helping to keep staff happy and productive, and in doing so creating an environment where employees want to work. One that recognises people don’t just come to work to make money. They need purpose and meaning. They need to feel valued.

Use employee benefits to support a strong workplace culture, not to create one

You can’t supplement a poor work culture with employee benefits. But you can use employee benefits to reinforce your company culture and show your employees that they truly matter.