Words change their meaning depending on circumstances. Bonus, says the dictionary, is something given, paid, or received above what is due or expected. Yet in India, we have a Payment of Bonus Act which makes it practically statutory that a bonus be paid to workers earning below a certain level.
The question is whether you can then consider bonus a perk or something that is part of your regular salary, says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. Without getting too technical about it, the moment you start thinking of a bonus as a sum assured and start planning your budget on that basis, it ceases to be a perk.
In todays environment, however, some definitions are changing. Several perks that employees, particularly in newgen industries such as IT, had assumed were part of their salary are being withdrawn. This is one of the easiest areas for companies to cut costs. And the axe is being wielded with a vengeance.
This is an issue these columns have visited before. And an observation, made earlier, continues to be relevant. Says a Dataquest article: Interestingly, what was considered revolutionary till about two years back has been relegated to what are commonly referred to as hygiene factors today. And these hygiene factors (read multi-cuisine cafeterias, gymnasiums, meditation sessions and so on) are necessary but are no longer sufficient conditions for satisfaction among employees. Infosys, for example, offers recreation facilities run by an employee welfare trust. On offer are gymnasiums, swimming pools, aerobics, yoga and meditation centres, etc.
But times have changed since that article was written. With the IT sector in slowdown mode, the hygiene factors are fast vanishing or becoming paid-for services. And their withdrawal is causing a great deal of dissatisfaction.
The folks in HR have begun looking at these perks through a different prism. At the bottom of the pyramid — largely for shopfloor workers and people living in corporate townships — are the need-based perks. This could include items like subsidised rations, free lunch, accommodation and schooling for children. It is difficult to touch these perks. Their value is built into the income and expenditure patterns of the employees. Imagine the problems that would occur if you suddenly ask them to pay for their free housing in company quarters.
At the second level is what can be called comfort perks. It is not necessary that someone should take your dog for a walk, but it helps if your company handles the chore. In India, firms like Les Concierges and Superseva, who have clients such as Hindustan Unilever, Wipro, Infosys, Kotak Bank, IBM and Microsoft, offer this and much more. Now, however, their services are not so much in demand.
Its in the comfort zone that most of the perks (see box) are being removed, says Rao. You cant get rid of a gymnasium or a swimming pool overnight. But companies are asking their employees to pay a small fee for their use. One particularly beleaguered IT company is even allowing outsiders to use their health club now.
At the third level are the status perks — the golf club membership, the corporate jet, the keyman insurance and the annual foreign holiday for the top brass. Thats where one can really cut costs, says Rao. But thats where the least is being done. Citibank is buying a $60 million executive jet despite making huge losses and standing in the dole queue before the US government.
Rao has a spot of advice for humbler folk. Dont worry about such excesses, she says. These days, dont compare your perks with others. Just accept what you get. The good times will return. The Citibankers may have jets; they dont have lives.
ICING ON THE CAKE
Perquisites at different levels
Free tea / coffee
Free tickets for shows
Unlimited expense account