With the unemployment rate at its lowest level in decades, companies across the board are highlighting some extreme perks to attract job candidates, from In-N-Out's offer of free burgers to companies promising free flying lessons and access to in-office barbershops. 

Now, perks like these are definitely nice. But here's the thing. I think job seekers know that none of this compensates for a position that's not engaging or for a culture that's not healthy and supportive. Those are the real underpinnings of job satisfaction.    

In building a company of 1,000 people with more than a dozen offices around the world, I've seen that without a solid foundation -- where employees are valued and rewarded -- no company is going to win the talent war.

However, I've also seen how the seemingly small stuff can go a long way in attracting and retaining incredible people. With that in mind, here are a few overlooked, surprisingly simple perks that we've found can really move the needle.

A Culture of Wellness

These days, lots of companies talk a good game about employee wellness and the upsides of keeping teams healthy and active. But it's not just about offering access to a fitness center. It's about creating a culture where employees are actually allowed and encouraged to incorporate fitness into the job. In my experience, it's this "right to sweat" -- to show up at work in skin-hugging bike gear after a 20-kilometer commute or pop into the office kitchen sweaty after a noon crossfit class -- that makes the real difference.

We've worked hard from the beginning to normalize fitness before, after and during the work day. In the beginning, that meant bike rides at lunch and yoga balls in place of chairs. These days, our in-office gym is used at all hours by employees taking advantage of downtime. We bring in a yoga teacher for lunchtime classes and have offered everything from bootcamps to kickboxing. But far more than fancy facilities, what employees really crave is the social license to exercise on the job.  

Opportunities for Career Advancement

Learning, personal development and experimentation are critical for job satisfaction among Millennials and Gen Z. Indeed, a recent Gallup survey showed that the primary reason people leave their jobs isn't a bad boss or subpar pay; instead, it's role stagnation and the lack of career advancement opportunities. In a tight labor market, this goes double.

We recognized this early on. Inspired by Google, we decided to give employees the opportunity to test drive brand new roles, within our organization. The "stretch program" allows top performers to spend 20 percent of their time (or around one day a week) working on an entirely different project with a different team. After 90 days, everyone involved evaluates the results and decides next steps. Some employees join new teams; others return to their original department with brand new skills and perspective.

A Pet-Friendly Office

When the company was just starting, the decision was made to make it a dog-friendly office. There were plenty of naysayers at first. ("What about allergies? What about barking? What about "accidents"?) Ten years on, our main offices in Vancouver have dozens of honorary four-legged employees, from a Great Dane to a French bulldog and everything in-between, who come in each day with their owners.

We have clear policies in place: dogs must all be approved and have to be well socialized. Yes, there might be a bark or two that cuts through the usual office clatter, but on the whole the dogs bring an exceptional calm and cheer to the office. Not only do we attract and retain lots of loyal dog owners, but everyone gets to enjoy the unique inter-species dynamic. (Yes, even the cat people.)  

A Workplace That Embraces Personal Interests 

In my experience, the more that people are acknowledged as individuals with passions and interests that transcend the workplace, the more valued they feel and the longer they stick around. This can take lots of forms, from sponsoring employee-led volunteer initiatives to family-friendly work events. But one unexpectedly powerful way we've discovered to bridge the personal-professional gulf is the old-fashioned "lightning talk."

Once a month or so, after work on Friday, employees are invited on stage to share their passions with the rest of the company. While colleagues unwind and socialize, speakers give five-minute, TED-style talks on anything and everything, from trail-building and socially conscious hip hop to the quest to bake the perfect sourdough loaf.

To be clear, none of these benefits is especially profound or costly to implement. But, coupled with the right culture and company mission, they can help attract, retain and motivate an exceptional team. I've seen it happen again and again.

Published on: Jan 2, 2019