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Workers Pick Their Perfect Perquisite

As the nation's economic recovery ekes ahead, employers are looking for perks that help woo young talent, retain high performers and control costs.

January 16, 2012
Related Topics: Top Stories - Frontpage, Flexible Benefit Plans, Benefits

The Rubicon Project, a Los Angeles-based advertising-technology firm, has offered free yoga classes, ice cream and massages as perquisites to cultivate a distinctive culture. But its human resources executives decided that they needed to do more in 2012.

"The truth is, we've never reached every person," says Mallory Maske, director of people and culture, talking about past efforts. "People have individual interests. Some people are lactose intolerant, and not everybody loves morning yoga instruction."

Maske and her team decided to test BetterWorks, a startup that promises to help small- and medium-sized companies offer personalized perks that rival the big guys such as Google Inc. and Facebook.

As the nation's economic recovery ekes ahead, employers are looking for perks that help woo young talent, retain high performers and control costs. One new approach: Using cloud computing services that offer self-selected practical perks such as discounted house cleaning rather than vacations at five-star resorts in far-flung locations that benefit only a select few.

BetterWorks' idea is simple but novel. It negotiates discounts with local businesses ranging from restaurants to mechanics and offers them to nearby companies that pay a monthly subscription fee based on their size.

Their employees log into the BetterWorks platform and select deals, paying through either a monthly allowance provided by their employer or out of their own pockets. BetterWorks recently added a spot-reward feature, which awards "bonus bucks" to employees.

When employees log in, they enter a profile page that looks similar to a Twitter home page with their picture and name at the top. The home page shows the balance of their monthly allowance and bonus bucks, categories in which they can browse for discounts, their recent purchases and a stream of co-worker activity.

BetterWorks CEO Paige Craig says that it would be a pain for smaller companies to negotiate discounts with local restaurants and vendors, remind employees of the discounts, and manage the program. Instead, his firm handles essentially everything.

"I wanted to make it really easy, really simple and really affordable to take care of your people," says Craig, whose co-founders include Sizhao "Zao" Yang, co-creator of the hugely popular online game FarmVille.

Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation Inc. and author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, says employee rewards work best when they can select their own. "One size does not fit all for today's employees," Nelson says, "and I question if it ever really did in the past."

Formed in October 2010, BetterWorks launched its service last February and since has expanded. As of mid-December, 360 companies in California, Texas and New York had subscribed.

BetterWorks has negotiated discounts with more than 3,000 vendors, starting at 10 percent and going as high as 75 percent. In Los Angeles, for instance, options have included 13 percent off dog-walking services and 27 percent off surf lessons.

"We want to give people an opportunity to find what they love, be able to connect it back to the company and realize that we want them to go after what they love," Rubicon's Maske says.

Todd Henneman is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, California. To comment, email

Workforce Management, January 2012, p. 4 -- Subscribe Now!

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