Urgent message: Many employers confuse perks with culture. Perks are non-wage benefits offered to employees, while culture refers to the beliefs, behaviors, and interactions of individual employees. While perks may be part of a culture, they are not a substitute or a basis for culture.

The software development industry includes some of the most forward-thinking companies in the world. Not only are they creating technologies that are changing the way we work and play, they are also attracting—and retaining—skilled labor by creating new ways to set themselves apart from other companies in the form of “perks” for the employees who work there. Often, these perks, which might include anything from an onsite massage therapist to allowing pets in the workplace, are used to help convince prospective employees that that the company is a great place to work.

Here’s the issue: just because Fido can sit next to you while you program the next version of Angry Birds does not mean you have great corporate culture! And when it comes to working in a medical facility, sorry, dog lovers: an urgent care center is no place for your beloved pet. The tech industry has made many changes in how perks are offered, but you cannot just appropriate its model and expect success.

It’s not that perks aren’t great; I’ll never turn down a free massage or unlimited free snacks on the job. Those are terrific! But the problem is their purpose. Many companies (medical providers included) believe they can offer perks to their employees and never have to worry about creating a culture that leads to high employee engagement, productivity, and retention. In other words, some owners believe copying the perks offered by well-known companies will lead to an award-winning culture somehow creating itself.

Urgent care is a retail business in both its customer service orientation and how it gains patients through marketing efforts. Unlike a hospital, which depends on referrals to its specialists, people tend to choose an urgent care center based on the same criteria as other retail businesses. A review of urgent care feedback on sites like Google and Yelp reveals that after wait times, a patient’s interaction with the providers and staff determine how likely the patient is to recommend and return to the center for future medical needs.

If you look at the top-performing companies in the world—in terms of revenue growth, profitability, and customer satisfaction—most often those companies are also great places to work. Disney, Google, Apple…all companies that treat their employees well. But they don’t just stop at offering them perks! They have spent countless hours and dollars figuring out how to build teams of people who care for one another and are personally engaged in the company’s long-term success.

So what is an urgent care owner/operator to do? We’ve found out that perks are good, but you can’t just blindly throw them at your employees. Employees work better when they are part of a team and they see themselves as working towards a goal. But how do you get there? And how do perks factor in?

One way to start is to clear your mind of the notion that perks = corporate culture. They are not the same, and they’re not substitutes. Perks should add to the culture or help oil the wheels of culture, but they cannot (and will not) create it. Free food will not stop your turnover rate. Such perks might increase your hiring, but your company culture will determine the “sticking” rate.

One perk you should strongly consider is offsite team-building activities. These can be a bit expensive, but trust me: you’ll get your money back in productivity. When employees get to know each other in non-work environments, it will carry over in the work environment. Urgent care clinics rely on teamwork; why not take a retreat to a camp or somewhere else that offers ropes courses? You’ll need to know your employees, because not everyone will enjoy this, but it is the type of activity that will build teamwork and trust, and thus better culture! And that’s just one example. Think of perks as a way to draw employees together.

Also, make sure that your perks help your employees do their jobs. Let’s go back to the bring-your-pet-to-work example. This is not likely to increase productivity. People will disagree, but chances are that your dog will distract you more than anything else. This does not help productivity! But car washes, oil changes, sending out for dry cleaning, or ordering lunch in…all time-savers that reduce stress and enable employees to stay at work longer. When considering perks, ask yourself, “Will this further employee productivity/relate to their job?” If the answer is “yes” and you can afford it, do it! Perks are great when used to help build culture.

To recap: perks further culture, they don’t create it. Culture only comes from a good work environment, and good coworkers and teamwork. Perks are the icing on top that makes the whole mixture even better!

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Practice Velocity, LLC and is Practice Management Editor of JUCM—The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

Corporate Perks vs Corporate Culture in Urgent Care: They’re Not the Same

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care, LLC and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine
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