Workplace Perks: Killing Employees With Kindness?

Who doesn’t like a few perks at work? These days, employers seem to be offering just about anything to keep employees happy and more productive.

Some perks tend toward the extravagant. For example, Facebook offers new parents four months of paid leave, reimbursement for day care and adoption fees, and up to $4,000 in "baby cash" after their child is born.

Employees at Salesforce can take six days of paid leave per year for volunteering, and if they use all six days, the company gives them a $1,000 grant to donate to a charity of their choice.

Offerings at other companies include such things as full tuition reimbursement or student loan repayment, catered meals, in-house yoga and on-site massage therapists.

For employers that don’t feel they’re in a position to offer workers the sun and the moon, less luxurious perks are an option. One attractive alternative is free snacks. Employers can supply yummy treats in office kitchens, pantries or lounges; celebrate employee birthdays with cakes, cookies and brownies; or bring in doughnuts and pastries to show their appreciation for employee contributions and accomplishments.

I bet you’re thinking this sounds pretty sweet… perhaps a little too sweet. And that’s the catch, since this type of perk can actually have an adverse impact on employee health. By munching mindlessly at their desks all day, employees may end up decreasing their physical activity and increasing their sugar intake. This can lead to various health issues, such as high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels and an increased risk of heart disease, just to name a few.

Now don’t get discouraged and dismiss the idea entirely. You can go ahead and stock the kitchen or breakroom with snacks, but offer some healthy choices like fresh fruit, nuts and infused waters. You don’t need to eliminate all sweet treats, but consider storing them in opaque containers not at eye level.

And instead of having individual parties for each worker’s birthday, think about holding monthly or quarterly celebrations to honor everyone having a birthday during that period. As for the doughnuts and pastries, there are other things you can bring in to show your appreciation. Flowers and plants are lovely gifts that employees can enjoy at work and then later at home.

In addition, remember to tell your employees how much they mean to you. That’s a pretty sweet treat as well, and it won’t require buying stretchier pants.

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