interesting perks and random kindness

In last Friday’s open thread, commenter Mike C. asked about the coolest perks people have seen companies offer. The answers are fascinating and all worth a read — including six-month unpaid sabbaticals, $1 dry cleaning,  free apples, twice-monthly housecleaning, 10% of the annual savings of any implemented idea (up to $10,000), $1,200 to use to pay for a vacation (and you still get to use PTO when you take it!), free toilet paper, and more.

But I especially loved this one from Arvil:

Not sure if it’s a “perk” per se, but one of the things I like most about my retail job is that staff are encouraged to carry out random acts of kindness.

Throughout the year, every staff member can choose one customer per week to give any product to – telling them upfront it’s a gift or just slipping it into their bag to discover at home (along with a note explaining why they have this extra item!). It’s a really nice thing to be able to do, when you’ve established a rapport with a customer or you get the sense they’re on a really tight budget or never treat themselves and so on and so forth.

In December, the frequency increases to one random act of kindness per staff member per day. Everyone starts to feel very Christmassy when they know they can do a little something extra to make a deserving customer feel a bit special.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

    1. KJR*

      I think I might have! I was having a particularly rough day with my (then) 5 year old son, and was near tears. The guy who rang me up saw this, and as I was getting ready to leave gave me a bouquet of flowers (it was a specialty grocery store.) It turned my day around. I will never forget that young man and his compassion. I often wondered how he was allowed to do this –maybe it’s the same store, or one with a similar program. Wonderful!!

  1. Marmite*

    That’s really cool!

    We are offered a certain amount of paid time off per year (works out at two hours per week) to volunteer with a project/charity of our choosing. It’s non-mandatory and no publicity is involved.

    1. ali*

      My company also has a “volunteer for vacation” program where you can earn vacation days for volunteering with a nonprofit (of your choosing, but all our customers are nonprofits). Even if you do it on your own time, but also if you do it for company-sponsored volunteering (Habitat For Humanity build, etc).

    2. A Jane*

      My old company lets you use one day for any volunteer activity. Once you have your volunteer day, you had to write up an article for the internal company blog so people could see what you did. It was kinda neat to see how people are engaged locally

    3. Kelly O*

      There is a company in my area that I would LOVE to work for – one of their perks is PTO for volunteer opportunities.

      There is something about a company that recognizes the value of giving back to the community in a way that speaks to you that just makes me want to work there even more. Things seem so focused on profit, edging out competitors, and squeezing every ounce of energy from employees on your behalf as a company… the idea that you could allow a person to step away from the job for a day (or a few hours) here and there to do something good is absolutely refreshing.

      1. Marmite*

        I especially like that my workplace allows you to use the time in a chunk (for example to volunteer at a residential program for a week), or spread it out over the year. The latter allows for regular volunteering, a lot of my colleagues choose to do 2 hours a week with a local literacy program.

      2. Jake*

        At least in my industry, that seems to be a semi-common perk. Probably 40% of the companies I would consider applying to offer something like one week of PTO for X hours of volunteering on company approved stuff.

    4. Joey*

      Isn’t it a little um disingenuous on your part to be paid and consider it volunteering. You’re really not volunteering at all.

      1. Marmite*

        I guess that depends on how you look at it. Personally, I volunteer on my own time as well as on the time allowed under my workplace’s scheme. The fact that my workplace allows me time off to do additional volunteering means I am able to offer more time to a cause I believe in at no cost to that cause. I wouldn’t be able to offer that time if I didn’t have that flexibility. I also, as a single mother in a relatively low paying job, would not be able to afford to take anywhere near the same amount of time off unpaid.

        I guess I subscribe more to the definition of volunteering as “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task” – freely as in without coercion, not as in without compensation of any kind. Many charities offer their volunteers perks (free tickets to events, discounted public transit passes, school credit, etc.). I see it as my workplace offering the perk in this case.

        1. Joey*

          I’m not trying to be a Scrooge, but to me it doesn’t sound a whole lot different than a supervisor saying “today, you can keep making widgets or you can help the food pantry load up the groceries we bought for them. Any takers?”

          I guess the difference I’m seeing is you’re expecting to be paid unlike a perk.

          1. Marmite*

            Different views, I guess. As I said I also do the same volunteering in my own time, and I think it’s a great perk that my company offers me the chance to do more of that.

            On your point about choice between widgets or food pantry that’s not how it works in my company. It’s not work or volunteer. I still need to complete my work in by my deadline whether or not I choose to volunteer. So I may need to work through lunch to catch up or come in an hour early or whatever. The perk is in the flexibility to take time out of the office during the workday to volunteer and not have to use annual leave to do it.

          2. Verde*

            What it also allows is for someone who maybe can’t afford to take unpaid time off to help elsewhere to be able help out and not lose 20% of their weekly pay. It’s a win for both the organization receiving the badly needed volunteer service, and the person who is able to contribute some time in a meaningful way without having to choose between that and buying groceries that week.

      2. Anonymous*

        You’re volunteering in that the organization, presumably a charity/nonprofit, doesn’t have to use their extremely limited funds to get your help.

        It doesn’t really matter that the volunteers also get something, unless the whole reason you want to volunteer is to point out to people how you did it without getting anything material in return… But then you *are* still getting the sense of self-satisfaction. The point is you get to do something to help a group that you think is doing some good in the world. As others have pointed out, I would do way more of that if I could get the time away from work. The reason I don’t is because I have other higher-priority commitments, not because I don’t think it’s worth my time.

        1. LD*

          Yes, and another lovely thing about an organization offering their employees the opportunity to volunteer during regular working hours is that many volunteers would normally be unable to volunteer because they have to be at their job during those hours. Even if you’re getting paid for the time, the flexibility to be away from the office during the workday and offer your time and services to a worthy cause is still volunteering in my book. The worthy cause isn’t paying for the time.

          1. summercamper*

            This exactly! I recruit volunteers for my local chapter of CASA (court-appointed special advocates). We match a trained volunteer advocate with each child in the foster care system. Much of the work can be done in the evenings, but volunteers are required to attend court every 3 months or so. I get so discouraged when otherwise excellent candidates have to back out because their workplace won’t let them miss an afternoon of work every now and then. I wish more companies would offer flexibility for volunteering.

            1. Amy*

              When I was in an office job, I took vacation/personal day for the court days, but to follow up with schools, doctors, etc., I still had to make phone calls and stuff during the work day (which I could still do by stepping out for lunch, etc.) because you usually can’t reach anyone “after hours” and unfortunately, some aren’t good about responding!

      3. any mouse*

        I temped at an organization that did something like that. People could take a certain number of hours per month to use to volunteer during work hours and still get paid without having to take vacation time.

        It was rather limited in the number of hours and there were forms to fill out and it had to be approved, but it was a way for people to volunteer or mentor when they might not have been able to because of time restraints during work.

        For example one person helped deliver meals for Meals on Wheels in the mornings, without the paid volunteer time off program she either would have been late and used up her leave time or had it unpaid or wouldn’t have been able to participate.

        Other people did mentoring with kids after school and this program allowed them to do that.

        They still had to get their work done but it gave employees the flexibility to do things that are important to them and the community.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ha, that was toilet paper to take home. Presumably no office is charging for its use while at work. Although if they are, I would like to hear about it.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I haven’t finished reading that thread, and I assumed that was the case. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist.

        2. MaryMary*

          I don’t know of anywhere that charges for the use of toilet paper, but I learned the hard way when volunteering that Chicago Public Schools don’t have TP in the stalls, it’s by the sink and paper towels. You can also only tear off one square at a time. I get that they want to discourage TP hijinks from the students, but it would be nice to warn visitors.

          1. Lillie Lane*

            Whoa….what if you’re sick? Or some other scenarios where you legitimately need a bunch of TP? I would be in hell.

          2. Josh S*

            Depends on the school. I sit on a Local School Council (a mini-board for an individual school) in CPS and we just worked with the 8th grade student council to get TP dispensers in the stalls rather than by the doors.

            Especially needed since there are a couple kids in the school with IBS/Chron’s/etc.

            1. Anonymous*

              It really shouldn’t take medical needs to get something as basic as toilet paper inside bathroom stalls though. As an IBS sufferer I would be mortified to have to speak up about this.

        3. The Clerk*

          Well, one of my jobs doesn’t charge for it, but we’re always out of it, so it kind of amounts to the same. I started carrying a tub of wipes every time I use the bathroom.

        4. Jamie*

          One of the regular posters, golddigger maybe, who had to bring her own toilet paper when working for the peace corps?

          Forgive me of the name and details are wrong, but I remember reading something like that and wondering how one estimates how much to bring and what happens if you need more than you brought?

          But ordinarily, yes, the office toilet paper may not be quality bit it damn sure better be free!

  2. ThursdaysGeek*

    That is most definitely a perk! Having an aspect of your job that makes you enjoy it (and I loved hearing about it) is the very definition of a perk.

  3. Sydney Bristow*

    I love it when employees are empowered to do things! It feels good as the employee to know that you’re trusted to use your judgment. This one is so great since it isn’t tied to fixing a problem. I worked front desk at a hotel once and we were empowered to do anything to help a guest who had a problem with their stay up to and including comp someone’s entire stay if we thought it was necessary to keep them as a guest in the future. It was incredibly nice to know we were trusted to make that call and was a complete 180 from most other places where I had worked before that.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      That’s a really good point — they’re also empowering and trusting their employees to make appropriate decisions on what to give away.

    2. Rayner*

      While I think that it’s a wonderful policy for the good, kind, polite guest who genuinely had a problem, I’ve worked at the other end of the scale, dealing with a company that behaved like that but attracted a LOT of customers who were downright mean, and would take advantage of such policies until there was nothing left to give.

      I would not like to work for a company like that again.

    3. Lindsay J*

      Yes, this so much.

      At my current job I am empowered to do pretty much anything I can to ensure that the guest leaves having a good experience. I love it because I do genuinely love my job and I want all my customers to love us, too.

      At my last job we were expected to make all the guests happy. However, I wasn’t empowered to do anything to make them happy. We had a strict “no refunds” policy, and there wasn’t anything else we could really offer other than an “I really do apologize for your bad experience today.”

      The difference in the customer’s satisfaction (and mine) is night and day.

  4. Diet Coke Addict*

    Last year around Christmastime at the Tim Horton’s drive-through, they handed me my coffee and a note that said “This is on the house! Thanks for being our customer and have a great holiday!” or words to that effect. Later I found out it was the same idea–every employee could comp one order a day during the holiday season (within reason, I’m assuming, not, like, six boxes of doughnuts or something) and it was lovely.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      A local coffee shop here does something similar. They are often open on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and often simply don’t charge for drinks on that day, at least for the regulars. They may also have goodies out that customers have brought in to share with other customers.

    2. Bea W*

      There was a bagel shop on a major route into town right at a miserable traffic light that would occasionally send employees out in traffic during morning rush to hand out bags containing a delicious freshly baked bagel already sliced, container of cream cheese (knife and napkin too) , and a coupon for a free coffee. Made my day!

      1. Grace*

        One day a horrible traffic accident tied up the Bay Bridge (San
        Francisco) and all lanes were backed up for hours going in to San Francisco. An ice cream truck driver was next to me. He got out and walked up and down and gave ice cream treats out to frustrated drivers. I got an ice cream sandwich! Bless him!!!

  5. Camellia*

    Here in Florida one of the DQ’s in town puts this message on their large outdoor sign during the summer: Free bottle of water, just ask”. There are a lot of homeless here, but they will give it to anyone. They tried to give water to us when we asked about the sign the first time we saw it. We had come in for ice cream and told them to keep it for others, but it was uplifting to hear that the manager does this on his own, out of his own pocket. How uplifting!

  6. AdminAnon*

    At one of my previous jobs working as a barista, I used to upgrade peoples’ drinks or offer a free cookie/pastry from time to time (particularly for regulars or people who were being nice–which rarely happened!) and then just add the “freebies” to my tab at the end of each shift. I would’ve LOVED to work for a place that encouraged that type of random kindness from all employees! It’s so easy to make someone’s day with a simple gesture, but it rarely happens anymore.

  7. Rin*

    I’m fine with the upgrades or free drinks, but I would be super creeped out if a store clerk slipped something into my bag (although, now that I’m thinking about it, they’re probably not slinking around the stores). Plus, if it’s something I don’t want I’d be annoyed that I’d have to give it away. But I guess I’m a grinch

    1. Ruthan*

      ! I’d assume that “slipped into bag” means “at checkout”, not “with slight of hand” (though that would certainly make for an interesting entry on the ‘job requirements’ list …)

        1. Arvil*

          amaranth is right, it’s more a case of discreetly not ringing something up and putting it into the customer’s paper bag – I don’t just slip things into people’s handbags! Promise! So, hopefully people don’t find that creepy.
          Also, I think we’re pretty good at matching the customer with a gift they’ll actually enjoy and get use from – your chosen “customer of the day” is usually somebody you’ve spent quite a while helping out, so you do build up a sense of what people will like.

  8. Wubbie*

    OK I guess I am the cynic. The idea is nice, but I just wonder what % of these free items go to actual customers who are not just friends of the employee.

    1. Arvil*

      Well, I imagine every store is different, but in my experience people don’t tend to just give free items to their friends. Another commenter earlier mentioned how empowering it is for employees to be given that autonomy to do something to brighten someones day – I think that people really value this and don’t want to “waste” the nice opportunity, if that makes any sense.

  9. Carrie in Scotland*

    We get nothing. Bah humbug, one & all. The org we share an office floor with get 4 free/extra hours of flexi time to cover christmas parties, going home early on christmas eve etc, which would be nice…

  10. ConstructionHR*

    Many years ago, in a country far, far away: the brewery gave each employee 2 cases of beer each week.

        1. Julie*

          I temped at a beer importing company when I was in college, and the owner gave me a six-pack (bottles) every Friday (I don’t think I was old enough to drink yet, so i gave them away to older friends) . For some reason the company also imported handbags, and he gave me a few purses, too. For me, that was much better than the beer!

    1. PPK*

      My work has free tampons and pads in every ladies restroom. They’re generic, but when you’re in a bind, they’re very handy.

      There was a brief time they were going to stop offering them (we were going through all kinds of absurd cost cutting measures) , but they weren’t going to replace with paid machines. Fortunately, that was nixed by a Person of High Power on site.

      1. RJ*

        We have neither free supplies nor a dispensing machine, so we need to make sure we have our own stuff and a good friend we can ask for help in emergencies!

        1. Nikki B*

          Why not use a menstrual cup. It pays for itself after 6 months and you’re never caught short. Of course I am never able to help any in their emergencies anymore.

          1. TechWriter*

            I was just thinking “menstrual cup” when I saw your response. They may not be that well known, and there is a big learning curve up front, but, boy, what a great way to manage Mother Nature’s Special Gift.

    2. Ashley*

      My office used to have free feminine products in the restrooms, and it was seriously the best perk! It was such a little thing that made a huge difference. But alas, they did away with it to save money…sigh.

      1. Anon*

        We used to do this on our own! Every few days we’d rotate around and bring in products to stick in the the small cabinet in the ladies’ room. We never actually discussed who’s turn it was among ourselves, though—all of us ladies just somehow intuitively KNEW it was our turn in to bring supplies.

    3. Anonymous*

      My friend worked at at OB/GYN convention and ended up with tons of freebies. She had a lifetime worth of sanitary supplies!

  11. Brett*

    This is a perk that is better than it seems at first.

    My employer gave me the green light to represent them in tech meetup groups, even going so far as to let me prepare for and attend these groups during work hours. This is really cool since we are local government and one of my groups is an open data and transparency group that I c0-founded. The CIO actually came to my first meeting to endorse the group.

  12. Anon*

    A Certain Mouse does this and it was one of my favorite memories there. They won’t do it for everyone but when you have Make A Wish children, people from all over the world, people who have saved up for years coming to visit you, you make or break their vacation.

  13. Ann O'Nemity*

    As I teen I worked in a toy store that did something a little bit similar. Employees were urged to open a toy and play with it during their shift. This was great for business – I can’t tell you how many shoppers would inquire about the toy and end up buying one. In the last hour of the shift, we would give the toy to an age-appropriate kid.

    My favorite toy for this? Yo-yo’s.
    Worst toy experience? First-gen Heelys (the rollerskate shoes). All I can say is epic wipe-out.

    1. Zelos*

      I can imagine the worker’s compensation reports from here… XD The WCB manager would not be impressed, I’d imagine (though hopefully no one was ever injured–or injured badly enough–to call those people in).

  14. Seattle Writer Girl*

    I love the positivity that the holidays bring out in people!

    Somewhat off topic–but today at my office, the CFO overheard me telling some co-workers that I was thinking about going to Kmart this weekend to pay off someone’s layaway as a nice holiday gesture and the CFO decided to come and crack a joke about how I was doing it to get someone to pay off MY layaway (which I don’t have).

    I’m thinking he does not really get the concept of “paying it forward”?

    1. Anonymous*

      I thought of doing this but how does one go about it? You go to the layaway counter and say what exactly? I can’t think of what to say.

  15. kbeers0su*

    I don’t know who Avril works for, but I want to know if they have openings! This week has been a particularly hard one at my job (not just for myself- for my colleagues, too) and we rarely get the opportunity to be the good guys. I can’t imagine how great it would be to not only get to do this, but to do it so often and with the company’s blessing.

  16. LD*

    Such a lovely thing to do and to allow your team to do…thanks to Arvil for sharing. It is good to know and I feel like I have benefited from their good works just by hearing about them. Thank you.

  17. Jake*

    That random act of kindness deal is cool. It definitely counts as a perk because it gives you a benefit.

  18. Rebecca*

    I like this idea!

    My company (retail) gives its employees an extra discount for a few days before the holidays. It’s great to have that extra help while holiday shopping. :)

  19. Gene*

    My wife’s dentist bought SCUBA lessons for her whole staff and takes them diving in Hawaii or Bonaire every summer. The office is closed for a week and a service handles all calls for appointments,

    1. Ruffingit*

      Holy crap, that is awesome!! I’m a diver and SCUBA lessons are not cheap plus taking everyone to Hawaii or Bonaire?? I totally want to become a dental hygienist and work in that office. Your wife’s dentist rocks!

  20. Anonymous*

    Arvil’s store sounds so awesome! ^_^ Can Arvil tell us which store it is, or is that something that’s a secret for safety/fairness purposes?

    I’d want to know because if it was a store near me, I’d make an effort to go. (Not because I think I’d get any free items shopping there, but I’d want to support the store and would feel good about shopping there after finding out about this! Kind of like how there’s two stores that I had very good customer service experiences with, and I’m very loyal to them.)

    1. Arvil*

      Hello! I’m afraid I can’t tell you the name of the company – we definitely don’t advertise that we do this, so employees can only talk about it anonymously… I hope you understand :)

  21. Melissa*

    I used to work for a very large law firm in DC that gave employees one half-day off (paid) between Thanksgiving & Christmas specifically to shop! No kidding! Also, my favorite random act of kindness is to go into a Starbucks (that has a drive through) and arrange to pay for the next several orders that come through the drive through … I usually just talk to the manager to arrange it, and give them a not-to-exceed dollar amount AND make it clear that it’s anonymous (one year I was in a Starbucks in PA and the drive-thru attendant specifically pointed me out to the driver of the car (through the window) and told them I had paid for their order … so much for anonymous!) Anyway, the attendant is just instructed to let them know their order has been paid for and to say “Merry Christmas!” When my son was younger, we used to do the same thing, only we’d pay for the orders at McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A for the two cars immediately behind us in the drive-thru line during the month of December and just ask the window clerk to tell them Merry Christmas! This year, we are stationed overseas (on the economy, away from American support) and there are NO establishments with drive-thrus anywhere! I’ll have to get creative this year!

    1. Eunified*

      I love this! I do this all the time at Starbucks because it’s done to me and it is the BEST feeling. I usually pay for my coffee and tell the barista to please charge my card for the person behind me as well. :)

  22. Arvil*

    It was so cool to see my comment highlighted in a post! And yes, I definitely love having this perk – I also love explaining it to new staff, they can never quite believe it. Sometimes customers are so thankful for a random gift, we’ll get a teary phonecall or a batch of cookies brought back in to us. A lot of the time, people are just so grateful for the little bit of thoughtfulness that goes in to giving them just a small little extra.

  23. Amanda*

    That is a really terrific perk!

    I work in museums, and it’s very common as a museum employee to be allowed in to any other museum for free. We do the same – anyone who works for a museum gets free admission. I’ve gone to museums all over the country and sometimes been allowed to bring guests in free with me as well. It’s a nice combination of professional development + fun perk.

    At a previous job, I would have received a 1 month sabbatical after 5 years. I had planned a month long leadership class in historical administration for the sabbatical but ended up taking another job about 3 weeks after my 5 year anniversary.

    1. Verde*

      We used to have “club courtesy” when I worked at a music club – staff of other clubs could get in free and vice versa. I also always joked that there was a $20 bill that got passed from bartender to bartender every night, as the bartenders would always tip each other outrageously.

  24. Eva R*

    My first real job was in a bakery, where I got to take home 2 day old bread on a regular basis. It was awesome because I’d just moved out and I mostly lived on bread and broth and canned veggies.

    A couple of places I’ve worked for offered discounts for my mobile phone plan, which applies at the time you sign your contract until it runs out. I got a smartphone plan for the price of my previous nonsmart plan.

    1. Verde*

      I worked in a restaurant that was closed on Mondays, so if you worked Sunday nights you could take home any leftover soup or bread/pastries. That was always a huge deal, especially as we could feed a lot of roommates and friends with that when we were all broke in our late teens and early twenties.

  25. Rose*

    Wow that is really wonderful!
    One fantastic perk when I worked for the federal government was I could take a one year unpaid sabbatical (you can do this one time in your career). So I did. I left and went and taught English in Korea for a year and then when the year was over I went right back to my job. I had always wanted to live in a different culture. After I broke up with my boyfriend (after 6 years together), I thought there would be no better time in my life to do this.
    Best decision I ever made. I traveled through South East Asia, japan and China during that year too because I was making great money teaching English.

  26. Eunified*

    My job *used* to give free flight perks as we were a financial institution for a major airline. I wasn’t around for those days though.. according to my co-workers, it was awesome. They would decide to leave on Friday to Europe and spend the weekend there. As long as you were back on Monday in time for work, all was well. If you ended up missing days of work, you would get flight perks suspended. They also had access to a big book of hotels that would give super cheap room rates to flight attendants and they were eligible to use them as well.

  27. SA*

    I’ve never worked at a job with “perks” of any kind unless you call stabbing coworkers in the back a perk and getting away with it. I see things realistically and my first thought was that the customer would be accused of stealing! There’s no way the religious cheapskates I worked for would ever do something like that.

    Geez I wish I could get a good job, no a career and actually enjoy myself. I’m sick of just working but where I live there’s no community. It’s the ugly “us against them” mentality I want no part of. Where do these people live? reading about real vacations let alone sabbaticals makes me want to move.

  28. Deborah*

    Every December the owner of my company asks the employees to submit the name of a charity that they support; then he divvies up a predetermined amount of money and gives each employee who submitted a charity the check to present to their charity from them.

  29. Mel*

    At my company, we have an amazing wellness program. Every day, every employee, no matter what position can take an hour to work toward wellness. This can mean anything from meal planning, to joining an exercise class (we have a trainer come in, free for employees), to taking a walk, to catching up on personal stuff for your mental health’s sake. We’ve got showers, water bottles, and laundered towels. Ninety percent of employees see the trainer or go for a walk, but it’s great to know that if you need to make a few personal phone calls, you can. Stress is low, and productivity is sky-high.

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