No small business could compete with employee perks such as free housing for interns as offered by Facebook.
But there are plenty of smaller businesses that are offering interesting benefits that really get people talking.
Employee perks for PR gain can be a great tool for small businesses that are first to the post with a new idea. Quirky perks can put a company of any size on the map, showing that it cares about its employees, and helping it get an edge in attracting new talent.
Scottish craft beer company BrewDog hit the headlines earlier this year when it introduced a week's paid leave - catchily dubbed "pawternity leave" - for staff bringing home new puppies or rescue dogs.
This benefit was just one of a much broader - yet perhaps less eye-catching - package offered by BrewDog with huge financial value, including enhanced maternity and paternity pay, a sabbatical programme and 10% of the annual profits split equally among staff. But it was puppy leave that secured press coverage on Mashable, BBC News, CNN, ITV, Huffington Post and many more.
In 2015, several companies, including Twitter, EY and Zillow, began offering nursing mothers who had returned to work free breast milk delivery kits and shipping while away on business trips. It was a move widely, and positively, covered by the media and is certainly not the most expensive perk for small businesses to replicate.
Meanwhile, in recognition that most employees come with an entourage, Manchester-based Peninsula Business Services lays on a Christmas party for employees' children, while LinkedIn hosts an annual Bring In Your Parents Day because it says: "one third of parents don't understand what their children do for work".
Such events have incredible power on social media. Type in LinkedIn's hashtag #BIYP and you'll see it has spawned a global movement of businesses opening their doors to mums and dads. LinkedIn even offers printable resources for other businesses wishing to host their own BIYP events, such as posters, logos and invitations.
What staff actually want
But while the lure of press coverage can be irresistible, employers should note that quirky perks may not be viewed as favourably by staff as they are by the media.
Ask small business employees what benefits are most important to them and pensions still come top - even among 18-34 year olds - followed by private healthcare.
In 2016, Glassdoor reported that 57% of people put benefits and employee perks among their top considerations before accepting a job. And our own recent survey of small business employees found that 70% felt benefits should be offered by employers.
The right staff perks
However, employee perks must be meaningful. It's not good enough to trot out a half-baked idea and expect staff to shout about it from the social media rooftops.
The key to getting it right is to blend benefits and culture, and make offerings relevant to your workforce. Holiday accommodation marketplace Airbnb, for example, offers staff $2,000 to travel and see the world, while ethical brand Body Shop pays staff for five volunteering days per year. You get the idea.
The good news is that smaller businesses have the edge over the global behemoths when it comes to speed of implementation and agility. If start-ups want to offer staff a day off for their birthday, introduce a more relaxed dress code or implement flexible working - which, it's worth noting, is still hugely coveted by employees - it just calls for good internal communication and updating the HR folder.
Small businesses wanting to invest in their people need the right blend of fun, interesting perks and sensible, externally-sourced benefits - which typically cost around £45 per person per month to deliver - plus a pension.
This, combined with the buzz and flexibility of working for a small company, will attract and keep entrepreneurial, ambitious candidates on board.
Five creative employee perks that don't cost the earth
- There's something oddly exciting about a new deck of business cards. But why be generic about it? Let your staff go wild, unleash their inner artist, and pick their own colours and designs.
- Pull the projector screen down, scatter cushions and blankets on the floor, order in pizzas and popcorn and turn your meeting room into a cinema on wintry Friday afternoons.
- Do as the Americans do, and offer staff a personal day or two that can be taken anytime throughout the year without notice. Note, these are not to be confused with sick days or annual leave.
- Cooking lessons are a superb team bonding activity, and you get to eat your hard work at the end. Sign up for something like sushi or bread-making and take plenty of photos for social media and the company blog.
- Give employees £50 each to spend kitting out their desks in keeping with a chosen theme. Offer prizes for the best looking and most inventive desks. Another good photo opportunity for social media.
Sponsored post. Copyright © 2017 Richard Stewart, ceo of Untangl.