Forget corporate jets and country club dues. The latest perks at banks are on-site hair salons, dental offices, car washes, and video rentals.

Faced with a tight labor market, banks are suddenly playing the role of hotel concierges, treating employees like valued guests whose free time is too precious to be spent on mundane chores.

Increasingly, stock options and other financial rewards simply are not enough to attract and keep good people.

"We have to look at the whole person," says Anne Szostak, an executive vice president at Fleet Financial Group in Boston.

Unlike the perks of old, which were provided mainly for top managers, the new generation of goodies is aimed squarely at rank-and-file employees. With national unemployment at the lowest rate in nearly 30 years, banks across the country are competing fiercely for mid-level workers.

State Street Corp. in Boston is offering dry cleaning pickup and delivery, discounted tickets to shows and sporting events, an on-site dental office, and tai chi classes. Also for the athletically inclined, State Street offers the chance to join an intramural ski team.

The idea is to make employees' lives less hectic and their workdays more productive, a State Street spokeswoman said.

First Union Corp.'s sprawling, two million-square-foot complex in Charlotte, N.C., includes a hair salon, a car wash, medical and dental offices, a travel agency, and a 400-seat amphitheater for concerts and lectures. And there's a video rental store that delivers to employees' desks.

Perquisites like these can help a bank at least as much as they help employees, experts say.

"To the degree that people feel they are participating and creating the culture of the organization, they feel committed to it," said Kim Cromwell, director of work force effectiveness at BankBoston Corp. "Employees who are committed lead to customers who are committed."

The 9,000 First Union employees who work on the Charlotte campus, performing the bank's critical back-office and support functions, also have access to a two-acre indoor garden complete with a waterfall and outdoor jogging trails near landscaped lakes and streams.

"We wanted to provide a setting where employees wouldn't have to leave work to do errands but could spend their lunch hours instead relaxing and unwinding," said Grady Sherrod, First Union's vice president for corporate real estate.

Many banks categorize these types of perks under a broader heading, "life-work initiatives." Dependent-care resources are often the cornerstone of these policies. Many banks help employees do research on child care, care of the elderly, and health-care issues.

BankAmerica Corp. allows employees two paid hours' absence from work each week to volunteer in public or private schools. Employees need not have children to qualify, a spokeswoman said.

BankAmerica helps link groups of employees who have common interests-the environmentally minded, the recreation oriented, or community activists. It also has a network of retired employees.

Fleet offers a stipend to employees who are adopting children and helps workers search for day care and other dependent- care services. Fleet employees can also use the research service for aid in applying to colleges or graduate schools.

To promote diversity, BankBoston encourages employees to join one of six advocacy groups: for parents, for Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans, for gay and lesbian employees, and for those with disabilities. The bank has promised to donate $20,000 annually to a charity chosen by each group.

Merging banks are looking at best practices to determine which services to keep. Employees at Bank One Corp. will soon have access to programs developed at the former First Chicago NBD Corp. The two companies merged last year.

Services range from discounted movie tickets to work-site mammograms and prenatal classes.

"The bottom line is, happy employees make for good customer service," a Bank One spokesman said. "It's not just altruistic. There's something in it for the bank, too."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.