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Most companies know that employees need more than health insurance and a 401K to stick around these days, so they’re offering everything from unlimited vacation to acupuncture at corporate headquarters to lure top talent. Nurturing employees goes beyond office freebies, though, and employers don’t have to mirror flashy tech start-up perks to offer meaningful opportunities.

In a recent study of the relationship between workplace policies and employee engagement and wellbeing, Gallup found that “indulging employees is no substitute for engaging them.” Here are seven unconventional office perks that go beyond free lunch and encourage employees to engage with their company — and each other — through learning.

1.  Imagination boosters

To inspire creativity among employees, Discovery Communications offers a variety of whacky classes. The nonfiction media company hosts everything from improv seminars to African dance classes and fly-fishing lessons. Employees also enjoy free in-house premiers of the network's educational shows, which sometimes include live interviews with the cast.

2. Lunch and learn

The World Wildlife Foundation offers free classes during lunch everyday on topics connected to its mission of protecting nature. Lectures cover topics from biodiversity to Amazonian wildlife.

3. Financial know-how

Research shows that financial stress negatively impacts employee productivity. Both American Express and Quicken Loans offer free personal finance courses to help employees better understand their benefits and budgets.

4. Knowledge sharing

Google takes advantage of the knowledge that employees already have. Its “Googler-to-Googler” program places employees in teaching roles for both its core curriculum and “extracurricular” classes. The former includes career-building education in topics like management and public education, while the latter covers diverse subjects from kickboxing to parenting.

At Cornerstone, we have monthly "Development Days" at every office around the world. Employees teach classes in areas of expertise, and recent lessons have included "How to Make Work-Life Balance Work" and "Wine Tasting 101."

5. Healthy inspiration

Many companies encourage employees to bike to work and some make the option more accessible through education. Facebook and Kimberly-Clarke offer safe cycling and maintenance workshops to help employees become comfortable with bike commutes.

6. Multicultural connections

Although mobile gaming company Ngmoco is based in San Francisco, it’s owned by a Japanese business. Ngmoco holds Japanese cooking and language classes to expose employees to its multicultural roots.

7. Fitness focus

Nearly 90 percent of companies offer wellness incentives to help employees stay healthy. That includes stipends for gym membership or free biometric screenings, but some companies take it a step further. NFL employees attend free fitness classes at NFL facilities, and Yahoo workers have access to on-site pilates and yoga classes, for example. 

While ping-pong tables and bottomless snack bowls can boost employee morale, creating meaningful experiences that help workers grow will improve their engagement with employers of all sizes and industries.

Photo: Can Stock