Talent War - Do workplace perks really sway candidates?

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 22 August 2022
Source: Lisa Keffer via Unsplash

Agencies have expanded their workplace perk offerings in attempts to attract and retain talent, but do they actually work to sway candidates?

All the usual agency perks such as free snacks, a ping-pong table, fresh coffee, pub lunches, drinks and mentoring are no longer exciting for workers; they are a baseline expectation.

In this increasingly competitive market, talent demands more from their employers – beyond perks and benefits – instead, according to industry professionals, meaningful work and belonging to workplace culture are more likely to secure staff.

Simon Hadfield, DMCG Global managing partner, told AdNews: “I don’t believe perks really work to sway candidates, they're nice to have and I guess could sway the final decision.

“But in reality, most people join an agency based on reputation, product offering, clients and their bosses – making culture the main driving factor.”

“Gym memberships, yoga classes etc are certainly draw cards for candidates however I’m not entirely convinced that would sway a decision.

“Training and education I see as the greatest carrot combined with culture - remember, most people leave bosses, not companies.”

Australia has experienced the highest job mobility rate since 2012 with 9.5% or 1.3 million Australian workers changing jobs in the year to February 2021.

Could an inclusive work culture be key to slowing down talent movement?

A successful culture is about a feeling of belonging and feeling valued. Employees feel valued when personal and career circumstances are understood by an employer.

Simon McSorley, talent acquisition leader and founder/owner at Crew Talent Advisory, said: “The thinking around workplace benefits is constantly evolving. The competition for talent has forced companies to use benefits as a talent attraction tool and for some, it works really well.

“Although most knowledgeable workers are intrinsically motivated. By far the most common questions we get asked about clients is about the way work is done, career advancement opportunities and flexible work arrangements.

“When companies can convey these things really well and combine them with some sweet benefits, they’ve probably found a winning formula.”

Colin Jowell, principal at Good Behaviour practice which focuses on analysing the behavioural science within the marketing industry, said: “Of course, incentives work and they can have value that far outsizes cost, which is good news for both employer and employee alike.

“The real questions are where, for whom and for how long.

“Context matters - free yoga classes are pointless if you’re stacking people with the kind of workload that ensures they will never make it there.

“A further challenge comes in getting the balance right between something that feels relevant to the individual and appropriate to the business, yet broad enough to hold value for an increasingly diverse workforce.

“And for better and worse - we are incredibly adaptive creatures - we adjust to both the bad and good over time. Today’s neat perk can often be tomorrow's expectation.

“So there’s big potential for incentives to work, but also potential to backfire or reduce in impact over time.

“Getting it right requires integrity and creativity - finding new and interesting ways to tap into the things that matter way more than they thought it would.

“And never pretending that the perk is anything more than that - perks don't take away from the fundamentals of fair work, fair pay, and the realisation of people’s intrinsic goals and motivations that bring them to work in the first place.”

For a more comprehensive picture, AdNews asked a few agencies what the feedback has been for their workplace perks and which ones employees naturally gravitate to.

Ferrah Dagli, chief people officer at dentsu ANZ, said: “Ultimately, delivering on our purpose and creating a business where our people can build a meaningful career with positive impact, is what we consistently hear from prospective talent as the deciding factor.

“We know that we can’t take a static approach to attracting and retaining talent. It requires creativity and reimagining the experience from all angles including how, where and when we work, and the type of work we do.

“We believe it is critical to offer both a compelling set of benefits and opportunities combined with an aligned and meaningful purpose to believe in and rally behind.

“Our people are telling us that they chose to work at dentsu because they want to work with diverse, like-minded people who are equally passionate about inventing the future and not waiting for it.”

Scott Laird, chief people officer at GroupM, said: “The perks that any employer offers will only ever be one part of the equation for a candidate choosing their next career move.

“The most important thing is always going to be the role and the career development opportunities it provides.

“We have found that GroupM’s vision - to shape the next era of media where advertising works better for people - has resonated with a lot of recent candidates because people are motivated to work for a business that shares their values and believes in being a force for good within our industry.

“As we strive to create a workforce that is representative of the Australian population, we also consider benefits that represent and provide value to the diversity of the population, shifting focus toward high impact policies and perks.

“We’ve seen simple changes like our recently launched flexible public holidays allowance really speak to candidates - it’s just one part of a broader and deeper diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, but is a way to develop shared learnings, awareness, and representation across our cultures.

“Perks and benefits can reinforce a decision someone is making when considering a job offer or sway their mind with two equal opportunities on the table.”

Michelle Hampton, managing partner at independent marketing agency WiredCo, said: “Perks are powerful but they are just the icing on the cake and only one part of why people choose to join Wired.

“Over the last twelve months, we have grown our team by 67% and managed to retain 91% of our team. If you look at industry averages, this is a pretty staggering result, and we owe a lot of this to our culture program.”

“The most overwhelming feedback we get is around how we give everyone full permission to be themselves - their perfectly imperfect selves.

“Often we get people, in their first few weeks of joining, saying they feel the most at home out of any job they’ve ever had."

Pauly Grant, Publicis Groupe ANZ’s chief talent officer, said: “Yes, our workplace perks do attract candidates, but it’s important to note that it’s not the perks alone that do this.

“We are seeing a trend globally, and within our business toward people increasingly seeking a variety of different perks, rather than a one size fits all approach.

“They are looking for workplace perks that suit their unique lifestyles and experiences – which is considered their purpose and priority.”

“Publicis Groupe’s distinctly collaborative, inclusive culture and our understanding that each person is unique and therefore looking for different things, is important.

“Strong agency leadership and our connected platform model is also a strong factor in ensuring that our people are provided with endless possibilities within Publicis.”

Therefore, while perks can offer a point of difference in swaying candidates, workplace culture has a more pivotal effect on a candidate’s preference.

How do agencies measure the success of their workplace perks?
Data from SEEK shows almost 70% of candidates would be happier if their employer offered more perks and 62% would be more loyal if they received more benefits.

According to psychotherapist Sarah Lee, higher levels of productivity are among the benefits employers reap from providing work perks.

“Individuals who feel valued, respected, and who have the flexibility to take care of themselves are better able to focus on work and if they feel good about themselves are more productive,” Lee said.

“In situations with poor working conditions, morale is often low and people can end up feeling helpless and depressed or demotivated.”

The trickiest element is ensuring employees are happy with the company’s perk programs.

Different generations have varying preferences for workplace perks, according to a global study by Remote.

This found that gen zs and millennials value face-to-face team building and in-person events as their most important perk. Top priority for baby boomer’s is company-sponsored retirement plans.

And since happiness can't be quantifiable, AdNews asked the agencies how they measure the success of their offerings and how they utilise that data to improve their workplaces.

Julie Dormand at The Works said: “We review and measure the success of our programs in our regular staff surveys and the independent survey by WRK+ great places to work where we have been a finalist in for four years in a row (the only advertising agency to do so), most recently ranking 9th.

“For example, we are reviewing our in-office programs (such as yoga and group training) as the flexible working means these do not work anymore. As a result, we have the discounted gym membership for now.”

“We continually assess the industry trends, beyond the advertising industry as well as globally to see how we can provide the best workplace for our team.

“We also workshop the benefits with a team working group to see what matters to them and what they want access to.”

Scott Laird at GroupM said: "Increasingly, it’s not about having a greater volume of perks for everyone, but about making sure the benefits we offer have a meaningful impact on our people.

“We are constantly seeking feedback from our team across GroupM agencies, which shapes how our perks and benefits evolve.

“For example, we recently updated our parental leave benefits to allow both parents access to primary carers leave for the same child, as well as additional support for people going through IVF, plus adoption, surrogacy and fostering, in response to feedback.”

Pauly Grant at Publicis Groupe said: “We are continuously evolving our perks offering to respond to the changings needs and requests from our people.

“We regularly request feedback and suggestions from our people across Publicis Groupe via surveys, focus groups, and our Q&A forum. We also stay very much in tune with insights and behaviours globally.”

Ferrah Dagli at dentsu ANZ said: “We take cues both from an external perspective via market trends but also listening to our people, which is critical to us attracting and retaining talent.

“We’re focusing on building a culture where people are choosing to join dentsu to build a meaningful career with positive impact.

“We strongly believe in the Japanese philosophy of ‘Sanpo Yoshi’ which looks at solving problems and delivering ideas through three distinct lenses: what’s good for clients, what’s good for our people, and what is good for society. 

“Sanpo Yoshi is what we believe sets us apart and delivers a differentiated offering to talent.”

Michelle Hampton at WiredCo said: “We’re way less concerned with what industry trends are and focus on listening to our team and their needs.

“We build our culture program (and therefore its perks) with open dialogue with our team, and that’s exactly how we also measure its success.

“On a ‘formal’ level, our quarterly team happiness surveys give us valuable insights into whether our programs are resonating with our team.

“The success of our programs relies on it being totally fluid and mandible - every individual has different needs and this can change regularly, so our culture program is designed to adapt and change based on the changing needs of our people.

“If something isn’t working for our team, we change it. In our latest team happiness survey, our team said they needed more regular mental health support so in addition to offering unlimited counselling sessions, we also now run group mental health sessions every other month.

“In addition, we took a wider approach to looking after our staff, here are a few highlights:

  • 95% of our team received pay rises over the past 12 months
  • We said ‘no’ to competitive pitching this year, turning down $1.5m in billings as we consciously chose to not to load up our team with more work.
  • We gave 316 additional hours of leave to our team (wiredmas in July, birthday leave, wired rewards, legend of the month).
  • 13% of EBIT spent on staff training alone.

“What we're learning about recruitment is that hiring someone is only the first step. It's challenging to get people in the first place, but then retention becomes incredibly important.”

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