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Perks for all workers: remote/metro, small/large firms, etc.

Leveling the playing field for workers' perksI’m on the board of a firm with operations throughout the United States. About half of their workforce and plants are in major metropolitan areas while the other half are in some pretty remote areas.

Leveling the playing field for workers' perks

I’m on the board of a firm with operations throughout the United States. About half of their workforce and plants are in major metropolitan areas while the other half are in some pretty remote areas. Management is challenged to find a collection of benefits that can apply to all employees within the firm. The problem is that the resources available in a major metropolitan market may be non-existent in rural markets. If you haven’t lived in the country, you probably can’t relate to this. Nonetheless, it’s still a business problem.

When I started with the Houston office of Arthur Andersen eons ago, the HR folks gave me this two page sheet of paper that listed all of these nice deals they had negotiated on our behalf. We could get discounts at local car dealerships, Jos. A. Banks for suits, free checking at nearby banks, discounted fees for home mortgages, etc. When you were right out of college, it was great to have these deals already in the bag for you. I hung onto that list for years and took advantage of many of those offers.

Other companies have created their own variations of this but these lists are often a mix of local and a few national deals rolled into one. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the factory worker in a rural outpost plant. When you live near a town that doesn’t have a theater, a single chain restaurant, a Starbucks or even a pizza parlor, discounts at national department stores aren’t very useful.

Last week, I got a call from the folks at Next Jump . You’ve probably never heard of them but 25 million employees (84% of the Fortune 100) have or have used their solution: Corporate Perks. Next Jump leverages the buying power of employees of many firms to offer a range of discounts to employees of their clients.

When they told me this, my consumer protection defenses kicked in. Was this some sort of buyers club, a multi-level marketing scheme, or a way to spam employees with a never-ending stream of worthless sales offers? The answers to all of these, thankfully, were no.

When I saw the demo, I realized that Corporate Perks:

- has moved way beyond the typed two page list I got in 1981. It’s an online offering that is more than a static listing of pricing data. It’s not a catalog. It provides deals, one-time or permanent, to workers that can be initiated and fulfilled electronically. For those remote workers, they get access to the same deals as their big-city brethren.

- understands how to keep the deals and time usage of their system to a minimum. I was worried that businesses would suffer productivity losses with employees doing online shopping during work hours. But, once you see their software, Next Jump’s average shopper spends just five minutes online. They’ve structured the deals, notifications, deal comparisons, deal feedback, etc. in a way that makes it really easy for someone to see if this is something they want at all and whether the pricing is any good. This is one of those things you need to see to fully comprehend.

I also quizzed them about how they can bifurcate their solutions so that the deals that appeal to one demographic of workers (e.g., nurses) are not the same deals presented to another worker demographic group in the same company (e.g., top management). The company private labels these solutions and adds a fair bit of local content to each site variant to accommodate this. Additionally, the company has built into its product, several utilities that allow users to specify what sorts of product categories they are interested in and what types of discounts would/would not appeal to them.

Next Jump’s management showed me a newer twist to their offering that was kind of interesting. They created a points program that encourages employees to make purchases that are good for one’s health and wellness. The points can be redeemed to buy discounted exercise equipment, gym memberships, etc. After the call, I wondered if the same could be done to encourage greener behavior as well.

As perks go, this one’s certainly interesting. It can be a low-cost (or no cost) offering that’s effectively location neutral to all employees. The adoption rate of this perk is over 80% (almost as high as health insurance). And, if your firm isn’t one of those Fortune 500 types, ask yourself if you shouldn’t offer the kinds of deals to your employees that the big firms do? Would doing so help your recruiting and retention efforts?

(oh, and if you're a retailer or manufacturer, shouldn't you be using this network to drive sales, dispose of extra inventory, etc.?)