Must be something about being in the bay area California, vs. over here in MA where the perks for engineers are non-existent. Pack you in cubes, no free meals or any other perks, pay for the onsite gym via payroll deduction. A happy hour once a month if at all and the worst weather on the planet. The engineers I have worked with however have a great work ethic and get the job done always with lots of extra hours for the same paycheck. There is some thing Calvinist about the northeast work ethic and amazes me every time I go to consult at a different company.
I had received a job offer at one company, and was 'taking the tour' of the offices, when they mentioned some of the perks, like free soft drinks. I was just about sold when they showed me my OFFICE! (NOT A CUBE!!!!) Then, we walked into the second line's office, and there on a sideboard was a ten pound block of Ghirardelli dark chocolate which you could stop by just about any time and chop a chunk off with a big two handed knife! Then I was sold!!!!
Appropriate perks, free food, decent Christmas party and a feeling of being valued. All - to my mind - make a bigger (and more tax-efficient) difference to my experience than if the company skimped on them and gave me the extra money. I'd hardly notice the latter (it wouldn't be much, especially after tax) and my life would be tangibly worse.
I always remember this one health plan a company I was at subscribed to. It encouraged employees to eat "five a day" of fruits and vegetables. It wasn't long before the boss was walking by during lunch time and observing what people were eating. As they say, nothing is free, and never look a gift horse in the mouth. "Freebies" that are supposed to give you a fuller life sometimes have hidden strings attached. A reasonable 40-hour week, a solid paycheck, and some vacation time, are all the perks I need.
I worked at a company that gave me free use of the machine shop after hours and during lunch, with the provision that I was not to interfere with production work. That was a great perk. Two other jobs allowed the same privileges. They understood about giving a bit to the employees who were very valuable, and it didn't cost them very much. Another company did provide nice food as a benefit, not every day, but most weeks. It was a lot cheaper than raises. One company did offer cash as a profit sharing plan, which allowed them to stop it when business slowed. Cutting pay is a lot harder.
The big thing is that in most instances the perks come from an understanding that the employees are the valuable asset, and so those places might be better to work at even with no perks, since it is a lot more fun to work at a place where you are treated like a valuable asset, as opposed to being treated like a non-productive piece of baggage. I have been in both kinds of companies.
Companies should give their employees perks to help them feel part of a cohesive, caring group, but these perks should be more symbolic than valuable. Pens or T-shirts with the company logo, muffins with the afternoon coffee, a weekly "happy hour" devoted to non-work topics, thats all it takes.
Free haircuts and exercise are good perks - things that are normally a big hassle to get done during the day. Free dinners, not so much. I don't mind putting in extra time when it's necessary, but if necessity becomes all of the time to the point that I need free dinner, I'd say that's getting into unhealthy territory.
We all owe our employers a day's good solid, quality work each day, but we don't owe them our lives.
On the one side it looks good how importand I am for the company, but on the other side I prefer to manage and design my own life.
I work now for over 30 years in my company, but the things changed and there are a lot of activities beside the job. I do not want to play soccer or running 10-15 miles a week. I prefer to do my own thing.
I live for me not for the company.
If all other things were equal between two job offers (salary, bennies, bonus, etc.) then perhaps these perks would be a decision-maker. However, if it is perks over monetary compensation, I'd go with the money every time. I've got bills to pay...
There are two many things that can go "wrong" with perks - for example, the perk is not appealing, or is applied at a time where one is not available, etc.