According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, perks like healthcare and paid days off weren't even a thing until 1925. Today, fewer than 100 years later, employees not only have perks, but what a fantastic array of perks they have: dogs in the office, travel opportunities, covered gender reassignment surgery, unlimited paid vacation time, in-office massages, and all kinds of other amazing things.
It's a big shift from the company cars and box office tickets offered just twenty years ago. In more recent decades, tech giants began making the workplace itself a draw, offering free gourmet lunches and napping pods. These once superlative perks now seem almost humdrum, as companies in every sector reimagine the workplace to win the war for talent, competing for everyone from temporary retail employees to creatives to those in tech, and more.
Here are some of the interesting options companies now offer. Some conditions may apply:
1. Freedom to roam
Some companies, like InVision, let employees work from anywhere, whether that’s their home 20 minutes from the office or 2,000 miles away. Not all positions are travel-available, but those that are give employees the freedom to be digital nomads, discovering the world while covering their shift.
Other companies pay for their employees to take nice vacations. Airbnb, for example, gives employees $2,000 toward an Airbnb location anywhere in the world. And Motley Fool, a financial media company, sends one employee per month on a trip with a $1,500 stipend to spend while traveling. The employee has to take the trip before the next monthly meeting and is forbidden to stay in contact with work while they’re gone. And if you think that’s good, Full Contact pays employees $7,500 a year to go on vacation, also requiring that employees don’t work while they’re away.
[Read also: 15 tips for working across time zones]
2. Gender-based coverage
When people talk about Goldman Sachs these days, it’s generally not in relation to how the company holds itself accountable regarding fair treatment toward people with non-binary perspectives on gender. The company asks job applicants about gender identity when they apply—not to discriminate, but instead to ensure the company is accountable for building an inclusive and accommodating workplace. In fact, Goldman Sachs offers gender reassignment surgery as one of its perks. Listed as a Great Place to Work, employees give Goldman Sachs high marks for autonomy and community contribution, too.
The company asks job applicants about gender identity when they apply - not to discriminate, but instead to ensure the company is accountable for building an inclusive and accommodating workplace.
3. The full hipster package
Clif Bar offers just about every perk an urban liberal could want. We’re talking a dog friendly office, climbing wall, help reducing your carbon footprint at home and on your commute, child care, an employee stock ownership program, massage therapists, chiropractors and an acupuncturist in the office, plus all kinds of insurance including disability insurance, flexible work schedules…. The list goes on and on. The only things missing are double fudge brownie ice cream that reduces your waistline and a soulmate locator service.
4. Student loan repayment
Though many recent grads do it, It’s not easy to head into your future with used furniture, a roommate you can’t stand, and $30,000 or more in student loan debt. That’s why some companies are helping to ease the burden with programs that help pay off student loans. The gold standard for these programs may come from First Republic Bank. While some programs may cover $100 a year, or even monthly up to a limit of $10,000, First Republic pays eligible employees $100 a month the first year, $150 a month the second, and $200 a month thereafter—until the debt is gone.
5. Surf time
Patagonia is a little bit famous for letting employees take time off in the middle of the day to go surfing. Surely that’s a perk that comes with living near the ocean. The company even shares a surf report so that employees know when the waves are particularly good.
The only things missing are double fudge brownie ice cream that reduces your waistline and a soulmate locator service.
6. Egg-freezing and childcare
Apple, Facebook, Google, and Spotify offer female employees the opportunity to freeze their eggs, if they choose, so they can focus on their careers now and have babies later, when the time is right. A growing number of tech companies are also offering several months of maternity leave beyond what the Family Leave Act requires.
And Patagonia—remember surf time?—has a world-class childcare program. “It is run by teachers, some of whom are bilingual and trained in child development. Learning takes place outdoors as much as in. Parents often eat lunch with their kids, take them to the farmer’s market or pick vegetables with them in the ‘secret’ garden. Patagonia buses school-aged kids back to the company’s headquarters, allowing parents to connect with them after school over chocolate milk,” writes Jenny Anderson in Quartz.
[Read also: There’s a fresh dad in the cubicle near you]
7. No set work or vacation hours
At Netflix, employees have no set work hours and can take as many vacation days as they like, as long as the work gets done. This is part of a growing trend among companies and non-profit organizations that lack the money for competitive salaries. It also puts the value on job performance, rather than “face-time” or just being in the office. Companies with such policies often wind up with a better deal, since not having a clear number of vacation days often means employees feel guilty about taking vacation time and actually use fewer vacation days than those with capped vacations. It can create problems though, too. Buzzfeed, a company with an unlimited vacation policy, recently laid off 15 percent of its workforce and had to figure out how to compensate people for vacation days they hadn’t taken.
Companies with [unlimited PTO] policies often wind up with a better deal, since not having a clear number of vacation days often means employees feel guilty about taking vacation time and actually use fewer vacation days than those with capped vacations.
8. The dog days have arrived
Bringing your dog to work is supposed to have health benefits, although it can also create problems. Some companies allow this, while others allow it but offer doggie day care, so pet owners don’t have to leave their furry friends home alone. Pet insurance in another perk for some dog-friendly offices. One Minneapolis marketing company has gone as far as offering "Fur-rternity" leave to allow owners of new pets time to stay home and bond, and to help a puppy adjust to its new home.
[Read also: Don’t be a martyr. Your vacation days miss you]
In-office slides or sliding-scale mental health coverage? How to choose what to offer.
While it’s fun to think up crazy, interesting perks that might make a company a destination workplace, it’s important to recognize that perks are most valuable when they’re in service of making employees’ lives—and work lives—work better. And perks, while cool, need to be fair. As HR Consultant Caroline Valentine noted, if your employee has a sick parent or child and needs time off to care for them, having a special policy only for new parents—whether of the human or canine kind—will create problems, not solve them.
The best way to uncover which workplace perks to offer is to ask employees what they value. Maybe it’s free skydiving… or maybe it’s an insurance policy that covers most dental work. Free food may sound good, but would employees forgo catered lunches and gourmet snacks in favor of more flex time? If anything is certain, it’s that workplace perks are only getting more creative.