The 5 Most Important Company Perks

The current unemployment rate of 7.5% may be a five-year low, but it sure doesn't feel like it compared to the average U.S. unemployment rate of 5.81% between 1948 and 2013. You'd think an environment like this -- in which businesses have been cautious about their hiring -- would have job seekers taking any job they can get with open arms, but that just hasn't been the case. In fact, with more people choosing to go to college now than at any point in the past, prospective employees are being particularly picky and choosy about whom they gain employment with.

Nowadays, employees expect their work environment not only to pay well and offer the basics like health and dental insurance and paid time off, but also to reward their post-secondary educational efforts and skill sets with a plethora of company perks. I know this firsthand because for about a year now I've been highlighting companies that offer incredible perks to their employees.

Earlier this year, job tool website CareerBuilder.com revealed a survey conducted through Harris Interactive that questioned some 3,900 full-time employees. The survey's results detailed that 1 in 4 workers were planning on changing jobs in either 2013 or 2014, and that 39% of all companies surveyed feared they'd lose top talent to a competing company.

More important, CareerBuilder's survey also shed light on the company perks identified by employees as things that would most make their current job more satisfying.   Surprisingly, neither a workplace slide nor a chocolate fountain made the list... Here are the top five.

Half-day Fridays
Topping the list of most important perks with votes from 40% of people surveyed is half-day Fridays. Employees certainly love the prospect of starting their weekend early, and, in some cities, getting an opportunity to actually beat the traffic back home. One company that's embraced this perk is toy maker Mattel (NASDAQ: MAT  ) , which has made a tradition of letting workers at its corporate headquarters head home for the weekend at 1 p.m. on Fridays. Perhaps this stems from the fact that Mattel is attempting to bring out the inner child in all its workers, as half-off Fridays brings back memories of waiting for the school bell to ring on Friday as you enter the weekend.

An on-site fitness center
Make no mistake about it, half-day Fridays was a runaway winner with 40% of the vote, but on-site fitness centers took second place with 20% of those surveyed viewing this as the most desirable perk. The popularity of on-site fitness centers isn't surprising given a trend toward healthier lifestyle habits among Americans, despite what the most recent U.S. obesity statistics might suggest.


Source: U.S. Army, commons.wikimedia.org

The company that stands out here is soup maker Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) . Campbell delivers on its healthy promise for employees by allowing them access to an on-site fitness center at most of its locations as well as subsidizing their meals in the on-site cafeteria and offering cooking lessons at many of their global locations.  

Ability to wear jeans
Trust me on this one, folks: Being able to wear whatever you want to work is one of the most glorious perks imaginable! This is coming from someone who donned a suit for a decade straight and now wears jeans every day. A full 18% of respondents viewed being able to wear jeans as the most important perk their company could offer. How could this category be epitomized by anyone other than the corporate company-perk pot of gold, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) ? Google goes one step further, offering its employees no formal dress code. Instead, it fosters a workplace environment that's like Disneyland with a roof, keeping employees comfortable in whatever they choose to wear to work as long as their tasks get done on time.

Daily catered lunches
I'm not sure what it is about a free lunch that gets people nearly every time, but 17% of survey respondents noted that daily catered lunches would be the most desirable perk for them. Perhaps no company does this with more purpose and caring than DreamWorks Animation (NASDAQ: DWA  ) . When I sat down with DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg earlier this year, he commented to me, "Many of these people here are 29 years old and they're not looking out for their health. It's our job to do that for them, because keeping them healthy is good business." In keeping with that ethos, DreamWorks serves its employees free breakfast and lunch on a daily basis .

Massages
No explanation needed, right? Of those surveyed, 16% responded that access to massages would be an enticing perk . Application delivery solutions provider F5 Networks (NASDAQ: FFIV  ) certainly fits the bill of a company that keeps its employees relaxed from head to toe by providing massages for its employees twice a week. That's just one of the many perks F5 offers employees, but it's clearly one of the most important.

Sending a new message
CareerBuilder's survey certainly won't take away the importance of a good salary, which 88% of respondents pointed out was important to them. However, it does shed new light on the fact that innovative and unique company perks are needed to keep employees happy and healthy.

If anything, what I've learned from studying incredible CEOs and the perks their companies offer over the past year is that there's a direct correlation between increased productivity and profitability based on the happiness of a company's employees. Google is rapidly approaching the $1,000 psychological per-share plateau because it fosters a healthy and fun workplace environment. Similarly, DreamWorks has delivered more winning animations than losers because it remains focused on fostering innovation and giving its employees healthy food choices to get them through their day.

Although the correlation that more perks equals a better-performing stock isn't exactly perfect, it certainly is a defining factor that can tip you off as an investor looking for the next great company.

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