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Dave Melville, Bowdoin CEO, Featured in Globe Article “Free beer isn’t enough anymore”

Posted by Lauren Kendall on December 16, 2019

In the battle of the benefits, tactics are shifting.

With an unemployment rate of just 3.4 percent in Boston, companies are vying to stand out to prospective hires, and hold on to the people they’ve already got. But the candy buffets, beer taps, and work-from-home policies that helped companies differentiate themselves a decade ago are today unremarkable. Some employers are now dangling free Hubway bike-rental memberships, pet insurance, birthdays off, a stocked seltzer fridge, paid college coaching for your kids, free onsite gift-wrapping around the holidays, and “dream vacation” bonuses — like $7,000 on your seventh anniversary with Cogo Labs, a startup creation firm in Cambridge.

Executive recruiter David Melville of the Bowdoin Group, a Waltham firm, puts it this way: “Ten years ago, we tried to do things the San Francisco way, with unlimited candy and free lunch and beer kegs and open environments. Now, we’re doing things the Boston way. What’s important in Boston is work-life balance and being healthy.”

Companies are also acknowledging that the same perks that attract millennials might not be as appealing to other age groups, and that offering dazzling benefits just for the sake of grabbing a candidate’s attention might not actually bring the kinds of employees you want.

At Needham-based TripAdvisor, for instance, one of the perks is partial reimbursement for personal vacations — if employees use the travel company’s website and apps to plan their trips. That, explains chief people officer Beth Grous, is a way of “having employees understand how our tools work, and getting out there and experiencing the world as a traveler.”

The big trends in benefits are about offering flexibility, and sanding away some of the stressful edges of working in a demanding job while also keeping family commitments.

“Flexibility has become the most important benefit,” says Audrey Lampert, a human resources consultant who has worked with startups and larger employers like Biogen.

That may mean time off to volunteer with a nonprofit (employees of the Needham software maker PTC get two days a year, on the company’s dime), a concierge service that can find a last-minute baby sitter, or a company-paid ride to work in a bus equipped with Wi-Fi.