When it comes to compensation priorities of employees across the American workforce, there are three things that top the list. To no one's surprise, these are salary, health insurance, and retirement. Those items typically serve as the bedrock foundation of an offer package and have little nuance apart from dollar amounts. 

But beyond those basics, there is a vast array of perks you can offer to your employees. And compared to "the big three," these tend to be relatively low cost. 

So what kind of perks are we talking about? Can ping pong tables and granola bars really make a difference in the satisfaction and productivity of your team? The answer, unhelpful as it seems, is "it depends." 

Perks can be powerful tools to craft your office culture and show appreciation to your workforce. Without consideration and planning, however, they can also be a frustrating waste of money. Here are three ways to ensure your perks create the impact you set out to achieve.

1. Consider Employee Priorities

The element of surprise is a fantastic thing. It's especially effective if you're planning a birthday party or jumping out of a closet to scare your teenage son. For office perks, however, a complete surprise involves a lot of guesswork and great potential of missing the mark. Installing an Olympic grade swimming pool in the office basement is certainly unexpected, especially if no one wants one. Surprise? Yes. Value? Not so much.

The easiest way to determine what provides value to your workforce is simple, albeit somewhat boring. You can send out a survey on an annual or semiannual basis to gather data on your employees' priorities. If a large percentage of your workers are physically active, you could offer gym membership reimbursements. Alternatively, you could redirect those funds toward greater retirement profit sharing if that category proves to generate more interest.

Another benefit of directly asking for employee input is creating an atmosphere where your employees feel like their feedback is wanted. People who feel valued and included by their employers are more likely to stay longer and work harder. And when it comes to selecting perks, that should be the goal.

2. Transparency is Key

Perks have the potential to create a positive atmosphere of appreciation. Without transparency, however, they also have the potential to create unintended expectations. To combat this, it's important to let employees have necessary context. 

If perks are more generous due to an usually successful year of revenue, make sure they're aware of the correlation. That way, in future years when earnings might be down, they will not be expecting the same level of generosity. Also, it can make them feel more involved if there's a direct relationship between their hard work, company profits, and workplace perks they enjoy.

3. Plan Before Implementing

Once you know the perks that will be of most value to your workforce, it's time to make some decisions. First of all you need to determine your budget and make your selections accordingly. You might need to choose between multiple perks or one more expensive choice. Again, it's generally best to focus on what will provide the most value to the most people.

Another planning aspect that might be overlooked is creating boundaries and protecting yourself from liability. Are there limits on usage? What processes need to be in place to minimize the risk factors for the business?

Sometimes, a workplace perk is permission for a certain activity rather than an item that can be purchased. That doesn't mean you don't need to create plans and procedures for an intangible benefit. 

For example, a company I'm invested in just had an instance where a remote employee in Florida disclosed their side business in photography. The company wants to offer the perk of being flexible about side businesses, but there are protections that have to be in place. Since this side activity is not in competition with our business functions, we updated our company non-compete agreement to allow it. The agreement was changed from a general "no moonlighting" clause to specific language regarding what type of outside employment is limited.

With the updated language, our employees can feel confident disclosing and engaging in non-competing side businesses. We used information from this site to ensure we were compliant with Florida-specific laws due to our remote employee's location. Make sure to use good sources from people practicing law in the state where you are operating rather than some random source. 

Create a Cycle of Appreciation

Providing perks to your employees should be about more than impressing them with the dollar amount you spend. It should be about showing your appreciation for the work they do by providing additional benefits they enjoy and value. 

Using perks to create a cycle of appreciation between employees and employers is a bit of an art. But if you put in the effort and create a viable plan, you'll be amazed at the results.