Work Perks

by Katy on September 15, 2009 · 35 comments


I work for one of the largest private employers in the state of Oregon, and with this job comes some great benefits. Deals on cell phones, gym memberships, discounts for local businesses and my favorite — a free all-zone adult public transportation pass. To buy this privately, (as many people do) would set me back a whopping $946!

That is one mighty fine work perk.

Although I’ve been in the same job for 14 years, I have enjoyed employment by many different companies throughout the years. I’ve worked everything from retail in Idaho, shoe sales in London, (note to self — DON’T ask customers if they’re planning on wearing their shoes with a skirt or “pants.”) cinemas and restaurants in Portland, Oregon and even as an elf at Macy’s in Herald Square, New York.

Yeah, I moved a lot.

The jobs varied from interesting to tedious, poorly paid to semi-poorly paid. But they all had one thing in common — work perks.

Working retail meant an employee discount on merchandise, which could be quite sizable, other jobs provided handy perks as well:

  • The variety store in Ketchum, Idaho gave a “cost plus 10%” discount, which sometimes translated to 90% off. Got my holiday shopping done early that year!

  • The shoe store in London not only offered a discount on shoes, (the amount of which I’ve forgotten) but customers would occasionally purchase new shoes and leave the old ones in the store. As gross as this may sound, I got a new looking pair of super cool shoes this way, which I held onto for at least ten years.

  • Work in restaurants always provided free food and drinks, and working at a movie theater meant I was able to see free movies at all the theaters in town for myself and a guest. This last job was during my senior year of high school, and my best friend and I took great advantage of the viewing opportunities, often seeing multiple movies in a single day!

  • Oddly, the stint as a Christmas elf at Macy’s was one of the worst employee discounts, as it was for only 15% off products that could be worn on the body. (clothing, jewelry, make-up, etc.) Although, Wearing a head-to-toe sparkly elf costume meant I didn’t have to dress professionally, which I considered to be a huge plus. Not to mention, it was simply a lot of fun!

My current job as a labor and delivery nurse also provides my work wardrobe, (although there is certainly less bling than your average elf costume) which has probably saved me thousands of dollars through the years. Some nurses on other floors have to provide their own scrubs, but ours are provided by the hospital as we circulate through the operating rooms and need to have certifiably clean outfits. Infection control and all.

These work perks can be a huge part not only in making a job worthwhile, but in employee retention. My friend’s husband works in management at AT&T, and got free box seat tickets to take their  daughter and her friends to see a Miley Cyrus concert last night.  (This probably won him the daddy-of-the-year award at his house!)

The main work perk that attracts employees and then keeps them in place are health care benefits. How many of us have stayed in a  job simply because we needed the benefits? Or even left a job we loved because it didn’t provide those essential health care benefits?

Have you ever taken a job because it came with fabulous work perks? Was it an employee discount on merchandise or comprehensive health care coverage? What was your favorite work perk you’ve ever had? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia September 15, 2009 at 6:25 pm

My husband works for a retail drugstore chain. I always tell him that I married him for the discount on toilet paper. (Okay, we get a discount on everything. And I married him because he’s sweet.) But still, you gotta have toilet paper.
Before that, I worked in travel and got discounts on cruises, flights, hotels—man, I loved that. The pay stinks and customers can be so rude, but the perks were worth it.


Julia September 15, 2009 at 6:25 pm

p.s. now as a mom, the perks (hugs and kisses) are the best.


Sam Jones September 15, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I got you beat on the work perks Katy. I worked at a private liberal arts university and all four of my now- grown daughters and me got to go FREE. Tuition rates in the 90’s were about $20k a year. Do the math. My daughters are now set for life and have not a dime of student debt.


WilliamB September 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Free public transportation is one of my favorites. My current employer has a free on-site gym and one’s boss has the option of allowing you to use a few hours per week of worktime to exercise. The gym offers a limited range of classes that are free or very cheap (they keep changing their mind).

As a heavy Container Store user, I’ve joked that I must get a job there the next time I move. It’s consistently rated as one of the top 5 employers US-wide and offer a hefty discount to employees. I know their stock so well that as often as not, I’m giving employees ideas rather than the other way around.


A. Marie September 15, 2009 at 7:01 pm

The huge work perk I enjoy is being able to be “on staff, off site.” That is, I work full time out of my home in upstate NY for a small publishing company in NYC. Before I took this job, I worked a regular 9-to-5 office gig for about two months and was seriously tempted to commit homicide until my present employers stepped in. Needless to say, I regard said employers as princes among men–and the fact that they’re still giving bonuses in the present economic climate doesn’t hurt either!


Kristin @ klingtocash September 15, 2009 at 7:15 pm

My husband took his current job with the state after I was diagnosed with cancer. The health insurance is amazing. We have $10 copays to see the doctor, plus no copays for things like PET scans and certain specialists, like Chiropractors. Our copay for drugs is $5 for generic and $10 for name brand, plus we can get up to 90-days at a time. For us, it’s been completely worth it.


Kris-ND September 15, 2009 at 7:47 pm

My sil is an L&D nurse as well, and she received the best work perk anyone could ever receive. She worked with her doctor who was willing to listen to her concerns that something was “wrong” and ordered tests for a seemingly healthy 31 yo woman with no family history of breast cancer. Turns out he most likely saved her life. She did indeed have breast cancer that had spread and she was able to get quick treatment, and has already had her first reconstructive surgery. My sil will be around to watch my 4 and 7 yo nephews graduate from high school and get married and dote on grandchildren.

Her work perk was having a professional relationship with her doctor, and because he knew her character and her seriousness about her job, when she said something, he didn’t even question it.

Not sure you could get a better work perk than that. My brother sure doesn’t think there could be any better perk 😉 He gets to keep his beloved wife with him and grow old together sitting in their porch rockers, gumming their jello 50 years from now.


Shymom September 15, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I stayed at a job a few years longer than I really should have because they had a great maternity leave policy. You could take 4 1/2 months off and 2 1/2 were fully paid.


Kris-ND September 15, 2009 at 7:52 pm

My husband is retired military, so many of his work perks have carried over. Healthcare, Commissary, BX, etc.

His current job perks are discounts on the products, and he gets to take his work vehicle home 4 days a week, which saves us quite a bit of money in gas, as we live 20 miles outside of town, and our dental(the only portion of offered medical benefits we need) ROCKS. Full coverage, low co-pays, and there was only a 30 day wait for coverage of more complex dental procedures and ortho, than many of the other plans that require a 1 year waiting period..


Leigh @ compactbydesign September 15, 2009 at 11:15 pm


Grossed out by free shoes? Most people reading this are probably frugal, Compacters or both and have at least considered buying shoes at Goodwill. You just got them for free!

Free is always a great perk and my husband’s often free tickets to amazing concerts has made for a very fun few years. For me, the tan and great physique of swim instructor/lifeguard was a great perk – even if I was only 23 at the time!


Julia Park Tracey September 15, 2009 at 11:28 pm

I am part owner of a weekly community newspaper. We get some interesting perks — some of which are in leiu of payment for advertising. We get a gym membership (in trade for ad), lunch at the office 2xweek (trade — one day is deli and the other is pizza); we get media tickets to all kinds of events, from theatre, concerts, the holiday home tour, museums, etc. Frequently when we cover events, we are given the meal that is being served (awards events, for example, or galas). We get to place ads for free, like advertising my night school classes or a garage sale in the classifieds. Costco membership is paid for, too. Not to mention free stuff that comes as promos: magazines, books, CDs, food and bevs, beauty products, etc. Everyone wants free press so bribery through free samples is the MO, not that it works. But we do enjoy the freebies, even if we don’t write about it. We also used to have trade accounts with a masseuse and a nail parlor — free massages and mani-pedis — but those ended. 🙁


Julius September 16, 2009 at 2:12 am

Running the risk of being controversial, this raises some interesting points for me.

Sure, workplace perks are always nice, but I’d just like to say that I’m glad to live in a country where healthcare is a basic right rather than a perk. It just can’t be good if people are desperately clinging on to a job they’d be better off leaving because it’s the only way they can get health cover.
Same applies to maternity leave: I’d rather live in a country that legally guarantees OVER A YEAR’s maternity (AND paternity) leave than cling on to a job longer than I otherwise would because it gives me 4 months.

Actually I just checked this on Wikipedia – most third-world countries seem to have about 14 weeks’ maternity leave by law. The US has zero.


Kylee September 16, 2009 at 2:26 am

I am in Australia, we have universal health care, so not a perk you need here.

I work for a railway authority and get free train travel to and from work. Saves me about $800 a year. I live quite close to the city. Some of my staff who live further out save about $1500.

We also get 14 weeks paid maternity leave, and up to 2 years unpaid maternity leave (I haven’t got kids, so haven’t used it. But….)


nancy from mass September 16, 2009 at 5:54 am

Since 1994, I have been working for Consumer Goods Companies. (2 different ones, the first closed the office in 2001 when their company was sold to another and now this one for 5 years). One of the best perks…food. Usually stuff that wont be on the market for 6 months or so. Although, we don’t always have the healthiest food (I don’t bring that home) getting free dairy products and healthy food is great. And, since I only work 2.5 miles from home…I get to go home for my 1 hour lunch and prepare a good meal for myself, plus unload the dishwasher or hang laundry, etc while I’m there. Sometimes I just eat and quilt a little before going back.


Dawn September 16, 2009 at 6:08 am

I am also a labor and delivery nurse and enjoy the work scrubs that I do not have to buy!
My full time job is as a school nurse and there are a few work perks that I do enjoy: great benefits, same schedule as my kids, I drive them to school every day (I could not do that if I worked full time in hospital and start at 7am) and summers off! Of course that is when I pick up the bulk of my hours at the hospital since there is no paycheck from the school.
Also as a nurse I may not ever make as much as my friends in the corporate world, but I have job security in job(s) that I love.


Diane September 16, 2009 at 9:17 am

Hubby’s job is an airline pilot. While wages and benefits have been cut, cut, cut, we are still able to fly for free with our two children. Although the travel is standby (meaning you may or may not get on the flight you want), flexibility on our part has allowed us to visit Washington DC, Seattle, Salt Lake City, North Carolina, and San Diego all over this past summer. Whew! I had to get back to my job as a teacher last month just to get some rest! 🙂


stefcirillo September 16, 2009 at 9:22 am

I work at a hotel and though it’s part of a major hotel chain, we don’t get a lot of perks that way (a nice discount on cell phone contracts, though, so it’s something). But we do have a free employee cafeteria and I have my uniforms provided. That alone saves me so much money because I’m not out buying clothes, I’m not washing them, and I never can get it together to take my lunch on a consistent basis … I know I’d end up in the foodcourt more often than not!


Angela September 16, 2009 at 9:35 am

We’re in a union and have fantastic health care, but I would call that a benefit, not a perk.

My favorite film industry perk is free screenings. They’re always a week or two before a new film comes out, and always in a great theater with great projection. At the holidays, we see all the best new movies, and sometimes there will be some kind of reception with a food and drink spread. We can often invite friends because we each get an invite plus one.

We also get lots of swag (i.e. free stuff) so I’ve gotten all my luggage that way, and my husband has a lot of jackets, t-shirts, and hats.


Deb September 16, 2009 at 9:37 am

Wondering where Julius lives? Who provides the healthcare, and how is it paid for?
As for perks, I’ve had free product, discounts, the chance to “win” tickets to various professional sports games in office lottos, dinners out with clients to some really great restaurants.
Coming soon, having my health insurance premiums paid for by my employer, so no money out of my check each week. That’s a big one I think.


Kim September 16, 2009 at 9:49 am

The summer before my senior year of college I had an internship at one of Portland’s larger breweries in their Sales department. All employees received 2 cases of beer every other week with pay-day. As I had just turned 21, this internship was the envy of most of my friends. I think I brought more beer back to college with me than clothing. It was a lot of fun at the time!


Jessica Wolk-Stanley September 16, 2009 at 10:43 am

I worked at a chocolate shop in London whilst in college. Yup…lots of free and discount chocolate, and as an added bonus, I usually smelled like chocolate.


Lisa September 16, 2009 at 11:46 am

During college I worked for a “major” cosmetics company and of course it was mandatory that you wore their products when you were at the counter so they would provide a $500 “gratis”. They would distribute a form listing all the company’s products and you filled it out with up to $500 worth of merchandise and they’d send it to your home. This happened usually twice a year but sometimes more frequently ~ and their “goody bags” at training meetings were spectacular. (Needless to say my mom loved me having this job too LOL) Naturally it wasn’t the best paying job but it was a great job during college and the highest end cosmetics etc I’ve ever worn/used…while I can afford them now I’m way too cheap to spend that kind of $ now LOL.


Stasie September 16, 2009 at 3:31 pm

My last job was for a magazine publisher. In addition to free magazines, and the occassional vendor taking us out to lunch, one of the fashion titles we published often got free samples of toiletry items, clothes and accessories to review and photograph for the upcoming issues. If no one asked for it back they usually sold it to the employees for a huge discount and the proceeds went to charity. I am talking anything from suave hairspray to MAC makeup for $ 0.25 to $ 1.00. I scored knee high Doc Martens for $ 1.00 and I got another gorgeous pair of boots absolutely free b/c they were kelly green and I wear a size 10 … one else wanted them. I wear them with black dress pants or jeans and I always get tons of compliments. These are the only things I miss about my last job!


Karen September 16, 2009 at 9:03 pm

When I worked as a chef, I got free dinner. All the chefs did. My work now is in editing and education. I supposed one might say that the great schedule is a perk, as I can arrange my hours. I also get free copies of anything I edit, most recently a documentary on art history.

Regarding Julius’ comment about health care, I agree–this should not be a perk, yet it is seen as such in America. We are way behind the curve. Sweden has perhaps the best overall care in the world, with parents able to take off close to a year when they have a newborn, and this includes adoption too. In countries which prioritize caring and not profit, people are much better cared for and they do consider it a right, not a perk. So people do not keep jobs they hate just to keep healthcare.


Angela September 16, 2009 at 10:26 pm

I like the free chocolate best!


thenonconsumeradvocate September 16, 2009 at 10:53 pm

We used to get free stuff from the formula reps, but that practice was thankfully banned.

I had no problem giving that up, as it conflicted with my unit’s pro-breast feeding policy.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Tracy Balazy September 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

When I worked in public relations for the University of Michigan-Dearborn, I got six paid weeks of vacation from day one, along with the week between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2, also paid. Health benefits started immediately upon hire, and employees were vested for their retirement pensions right away, too. I was entitled to take one class a year free, on work time, which was a great motivator. And I loved attending the monthly lectures by professors talking about subjects on which they were experts, which were held at the lovely Henry Ford Estate and included a really tasty lunch. Why did I leave, I frequently ask myself.


Tracy Balazy September 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

And thanks for the link to The Natural Shoe Store, those are my kind of shoes!


Susan September 18, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I get the use of a free gym, 30 free days of time off a year. Free dental and medical care. Free uniforms. I also can get free Tuition. I am in the United States Air Force.


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