The right benefits make all the difference.

By John Ruhlin, founder of The Ruhlin Group.

Employers have long sought workers who can follow instructions and get a job done. That’s not enough anymore. Many bosses are now looking for employees who exhibit creativity, passion, energy and the ability to solve problems.

Fostering these qualities within the workplace can be difficult if workers are distracted by stressors in their personal lives, so many employers are turning to innovative and unusual perks to reduce those stressors, such as free lunches, on-site massage therapists and flexible work hours, just to name a few.

The list of perks employers have experimented with is long, but even those that sound amazing don’t always benefit employees in the long run.

When Perks Don’t Work

I’ve been offered a variety of workplace benefits in my career, and some haven’t worked out as intended. The perk I’ve found most unhelpful? Unlimited vacation.

On the surface, unlimited paid time off sounds like a perk employees would love. But when your vacation isn’t a set block of time, it can feel so vague that it just never materializes. And in a Justworks study, only 21 percent of surveyed employees with unlimited paid time off felt that the perk had a positive impact on their teams.

If benefits like unlimited paid time off aren’t helping keep employees happy and engaged, what’s an employer to do?

Offering Effective Benefits

As an employer looking to stay competitive in the job market and keep my creative employees engaged, I’ve learned to tailor perks to be useful and appreciated. Here are three ideas that have worked for me:

Give great gifts.

A gift is something chosen and given specifically with the recipient in mind. That rules out anything promotional, like a jacket with your company logo printed on the back. Bosses often try to blend gifts with promotional items, but it just doesn’t work. Your employees are smart; they can tell the difference. Try giving your staff members something useful, valuable and truly meant for them. I love to send my employees handcrafted cutlery that’s engraved with their names and those of spouses or partners. A nice kitchen knife is always useful, and the personalization turns the item into a treasured piece with long-term value.

Improve employees’ lives.

Ideally, all of an employee’s benefits should improve her life in some way. Adequate healthcare means she doesn’t have to worry when she or a family member gets sick, for example. But sometimes it’s nice to improve an employee’s life directly. One of the most effective benefits my company offers employees is free home cleaning every other week. It’s not cheap, but the impact outweighs the cost. Our employees feel less stressed and don’t feel guilty about not having adequate time to clean their houses after a busy workday. Instead, they get to spend time with their families and friends, knowing their employer has their backs.

Encourage balance.

Most employers these days have a lot to say about work-life balance, but talk means nothing if there’s no action behind it. Benefits like flexible work hours mean employees can take time off for important appointments or stay home with sick children without feeling guilty. By offering this perk, I always make sure my employees can take care of themselves and their families without worrying about work. If your employees feel that you value their ability to manage their home life and don’t shame them for prioritizing what is important to them, you can be assured they’ll make up for the missed time exactly when you need them to — and then some.

A perk that truly benefits employees can make all the difference between happy workers who perform well and unsatisfied workers always looking for a new job opportunity. Want to be the job people want to have? Offer perks that employees will appreciate and value, and you’ll see engagement and productivity skyrocket.

John Ruhlin and his firm THE RUHLIN GROUP are considered to be the foremost experts on developing relationships with key executives and the topic of “Appreciative Leadership.”