Free healthy snacks. Masseuse Wednesdays. Bring-your-pooch-to-work. Such are the perks that are offered to potential employees by companies that want to hire the best of the best. The businesses know that dangling interesting and unusual benefits before candidates can sometimes woo top-notch performers. But workers beware: Perks are not necessarily an indication of company culture, which may be significantly flawed.

Think of it like this: You see a picture of a house on Zillow. It looks absolutely amazing. Not only is it in the perfect neighborhood, but it has curb appeal out the wazoo. There’s a heated swimming pool and a spa in the gated backyard. The lawn is meticulously groomed. The decks are begging for summer parties. And the price? It’s right in your sweet spot range.

You move right in, thinking all is well, and then you discover that there’s a pig farm down the road, the house doesn’t heat or cool efficiently, and – by the way – it’s haunted by a nasty poltergeist. Suddenly the perks don’t seem so… perky.

The issue wasn’t that the house was terrible, but that you didn’t consider all the really important things. You were blown away by bells and whistles, and forgot to peel back the proverbial layers of the onion. Many employers whose corporate cultures are subpar are hoping you do the same thing when you apply for a job. They’re betting on the fact that their corporate perks will impress you enough to overlook other, more substantive, aspects of their workplaces. It’s the old magician’s trick of misdirection.

So what’s a candidate to do when confronted with awesome advantages that make a possible employer seem irresistible? Ideally, he or she must get to the bottom of what goes on at the company at a deeper level than the onsite fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment and bottomless supply of vegan doggy biscuits.

Tip #1: Talk to Employees

Current employees are an interviewee’s best friend. When interviewing anywhere, you should always ask to talk with current workers, and if you’re not given the chance, run away… quickly. Don’t just ask them what they like about working there – ask them what they would change. Find out how long they’ve been there. Interview several of them. You might just discover that no one seems to stick around longer than a year or so; that’s a red flag that all the perks aren’t adding up to a workplace that encourages longevity.

Tip #2: Do Some Research

The web is a fabulous place to start investigating the culture at any company. Do more than just a cursory search on what the business does, and see if you can dig up any dirt on them. Disgruntled employees – current or former – often talk online. You shouldn’t believe everything you read online, of course, but it should be taken into consideration.

Tip #3: If Perks Are All That Interest You, Run Away

Let’s say you interview with a company and you don’t love the business, but you have fallen in love with the perks you’ve been offered. This is a sign that it’s not the right place for you to lay down any lasting roots. Sure, the perks may be wonderful, but they won’t be able to keep you satisfied or motivated in the long term. You need – and deserve – a team atmosphere.

Hints for Companies Who Want to Hire Great Workers:

  • Focus your interviews on the type of corporate culture you’ve developed, not on the amazing benefits you offer. Discuss with candidates how they will play a part of the team, and how they will contribute to the company.
  • Be careful about the types of perks you’re offering. Make sure they aren’t going to strap the business financially, or detract from getting work done on time for internal and external clients.
  • If you’re experiencing a higher-than-expected turnover despite your fabulous perks, start digging deeper. Chances are good that the corporate culture is decaying, no matter how many days you allow your employees to work from home.

In the end, the perks are a great method of keeping workers happy, but they can’t replace old-fashioned bonding. That happens over time, and with the support of an organization devoted to giving workers a voice, forging ahead through the rough spots and planning to succeed. In other words, if the perks disappeared tomorrow, the workers would probably stay because they believe strongly in the mission.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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