Axe-throwing classes. Onsite barbershops. Free gym memberships and catered lunches. Do they bond workers to a company and boost productivity, or do they blow resources in a very colorful way? To find out, Inc. called on two noted thinkers on the topic, who espouse thought-provoking--and vastly different--answers to the question.

What explains the rise of perk culture?

Jody Thompson: We like to see people in the workplace, so we provide amenities and spend money on making the office nicer. But work isn't somewhere you go. It's something you do.

Phil Libin: There's a tendency for tech companies and startups to look at all aspects of work-life balance, and create programs that increase productivity and retention.

Does it help increase productivity?

Thompson: If you're a prison, you can give people lunch and you can put in a gym--but those things don't change the unwritten rules and norms. What people really want is flexibility--to control their time.

Libin: You can get instant ROI with well-designed benefits. For example, added productivity for good travel benefits, and reduced administration costs for unlimited vacation.

Are they necessary investments for startups?

Thompson: People start with, "I have a business, and now I have to start creating amenities so people will want to work for me." Instead, start with getting crystal clear about what the ultimate outcome is, and who the ultimate customer is.

Libin: The assumption that benefits cost money is not the right assumption. If you have the funding to do it, the ROI is pretty much instant--you're saving money.

Are perks effective for recruitment and retention?

Thompson: Health insurance--people want that. They want retirement benefits. Amenities and perks? If you give people complete autonomy, they'll give up all of that in a heartbeat.

Libin: I wouldn't want to hire someone if the reason they wanted to work with us was the benefits. But every program we tried at Evernote, we basically tied to productivity or retention. The ones that didn't work, we stopped doing.

Advantage: Libin

A tough call--but Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace survey found that 20 to 29 percent of employees would change jobs for benefits like wellness programs and paid gym memberships--and Millennials are much more likely than their elders to change jobs for perks.

From the November 2018 issue of Inc. Magazine