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The perk paradox: How superficial benefits can undermine motivation

By Eve Vlemincx.


Introduction

In today's competitive job market, firms are constantly vying to attract and retain top talent. To achieve this, many organizations have turned to the enticing world of workplace perks. From gourmet snacks and flexible schedules to game rooms and pet-friendly policies, these benefits are often seen as a surefire way to boost associate motivation and engagement.


However, there's a paradox at play. While perks may initially seem like a valuable incentive, they can inadvertently become the enemy of true motivation, creating a superficial façade that masks deeper issues...


The perk mirage

Perks, on the surface, seem like a win-win solution. Associates get to enjoy appealing extras, and firms appear more attractive to potential hires. But this veneer can hide a crucial truth: relying solely on perks to motivate people can have a detrimental impact in the long run.

  1. Short-Term gratification: Perks offer immediate gratification. People might appreciate the in-office yoga classes or the gourmet coffee, but these short-term pleasures do not address the underlying factors that drive motivation over the long haul.

  2. Distraction from intrinsic motivation: Perks can distract people from intrinsic motivations that are far more influential. Factors such as a sense of purpose, professional growth opportunities, and a clear career path are a greater sway over job satisfaction.

  3. The perk honeymoon effect: The initial allure of perks can create a "honeymoon period" where people are excited about the job simply because of the perks. Do you like the job or the perks? It can blindsight them. This perk enthusiasm can quickly wane if deeper motivations and career aspirations are not met.

The Motivation behind motivation


“Do you want your people to be comfortable or to feel alive?”


To understand why perks can be the enemy of motivation, it's crucial to explore what truly motivates people.

  1. Intrinsic motivation: People are most motivated when they find their work inherently meaningful and fulfilling. A sense of purpose, mastery of their craft and autonomy over their tasks are powerful drivers of job satisfaction.

  2. Long-Term engagement: Sustainable engagement is not achieved through superficial benefits. It thrives in an environment that encourages professional development, acknowledges individual contributions, and fosters a sense of belonging.

  3. Compensation vs. Perks: While perks can enhance the overall work experience, fair compensation remains a foundation for motivation. People must feel valued and a fair compensation is inevitably part of that.

The peril of perks


“the answer is the misfortune of the question”


As long as we focus our conversations solely or mainly on the perks we will never be able to increase employee engagement and lower burnout figures.


The peril of overemphasizing perks is twofold:

  1. Perks can mask problems: When organizations focus excessively on perks, they may inadvertently ignore deeper issues within the workplace, such as poor management, inadequate career growth opportunities or a lack of alignment with values and goals.

  2. Short-lived satisfaction: Perks offer a fleeting sense of satisfaction, often dissipating quickly. What initially drew people to a job may not be enough to keep them engaged and motivated over time.

Conclusion

While perks can add some value to the workplace and contribute to a positive experience, they should not be the primary driver of motivation and engagement.


Relying solely on superficial benefits can create a deceptive façade that conceals deeper issues and ultimately leads to a workforce that lacks true motivation.


To cultivate a motivated and engaged workforce, organizations must invest in a more holistic approach, addressing intrinsic motivations, providing opportunities for growth, fostering a sense of purpose, and ensuring fair compensation.


By understanding the limits of perks and embracing a more comprehensive strategy, companies can unlock the full potential of their employees and create a workplace that inspires genuine, long-term motivation.

 

About the Author Eve Vlemincx is a strategic advisor with expertise in a wide array of areas including legal digital transformation, innovation and leadership. She serves as an advisory council member for Harvard Business Review and is a Course Facilitator at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Eve is highly sought after as a keynote speaker and guest lecturer in various professional settings. Notably, she has been honored as a five-time recipient of the Stanford GSB LEAD Award.


Operating at the dynamic intersection of legal and business, Eve holds certifications from esteemed institutions such as Oxford, Harvard, Kellogg and Stanford Graduate School of Business. Additionally, she brings substantial experience as a seasoned lawyer specializing in corporate law and restructurings.


Eve's guiding philosophy is centered on working smarter, not harder, as she helps individuals and organizations navigate the complexities of today's rapidly evolving landscape.


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