by Bob Sullivan / October 21, 2015

Free dinners at your desk. Free yoga classes in the lunchroom. Free rides home for workers who stay past 8 p.m. Free nanny care for young mothers on a business trip. Frozen eggs for would-be mothers. Even unlimited vacation. New-age-y job perks that once seemed exclusive to hip start-ups are making their way through all kinds of HR departments now. But do companies that offer them have ulterior motives for doing so?

When LinkedIn joined the “unlimited vacation” crowd last week, many observers cheered the move as proof that firms are working harder to keep employees happy.

But unlimited vacation, sometimes called “discretionary time off,” has plenty of detractors. Some firms that have tried it found their workers actually take fewer vacation days when there’s no clear rule about how many paid days off they’re entitled to. The policy is a nifty balance sheet boon for the corporation, however. Banked vacation days are a liability — an average of nearly $1,900 per worker at the start of 2015, according to a U.S. Travel Association report — and the bill comes due when workers with saved days off cash out.

Meanwhile, those free rides home? More incentive to work late. Free dinners? Hey, you never have to leave the office. Free plane tickets for your baby and your nanny? Now you have no reason to turn down that work trip. Frozen eggs? Have a baby later; your time belongs to us, now.

When is a perk not a perk? When it’s a Trojan horse that actually encourages overwork.

“The world of work has very few boundaries left. There’s no boundary between work and life. No boundary between office and home, between night and day,” said Anne Weisberg, senior vice president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonpartisan research organization that studies work-life issues. “I think that the few boundaries left, like vacation time, are worth keeping.”



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