Employee Benefits Ideas to Help You Stand Out

July 20, 2016

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Competition for talent is getting more intense. Last month’s positive jobs report was great news, but it also means that employers are going to have to step up to the plate and offer a compelling value proposition in order to recruit and retain the best talent. Fall behind and it will be your competitors, not you, with the most productive and imaginative workers. Of course, cash compensation is always going to be important. But cash isn’t the only way your company can set yourselves apart from competing employers. Here are some other employee benefits ideas for benefits and other perks that have proven to be effective elsewhere.

1.) Unlimited paid time off. This isn’t a great fit for every employer. But in certain circumstances, with a dedicated, high-morale staff, it works extremely well. Lendio.com, a company that specializes in small business loans, offers such a benefit, and it was a hit. “Although it may seem a little counterintuitive, unlimited paid time off actually boosts productivity here at Lendio,” says company CEO Brock Blake. When people are trusted with the decision of how much time to take off, they make sure their work get’s done. When employees feel that you trust them, they are more likely to stick around. Netflix also offers unlimited vacation time, and has done so for years.

2.) Paid fitness club memberships. Anything you can do to create a healthier work force is going to pay dividends in terms of reduced health care utilization, costs, and absenteeism and presenteeism costs. If you’re not up to sponsoring a full-fledged wellness program, offering paid fitness club memberships to nearby facilities, and doing what you can to create a culture of fitness in the company can be of tremendous value. To make it work, have senior members of management work out on a regular schedule – and invite anyone who wants to to join them. Not all at the same time, but maybe someone works out after work, another routinely hits the gym for an intense lunchtime workout, and another senior mentor makes it known all are welcome to join her every Saturday, to reach out to the weekend warriors.

No one’s going to workout at lunchtime unless the boss is doing it.

The idea isn’t just to get the health benefits for the staff, but also to form bonds, create opportunities for social interaction and mentorship. The senior management members benefit, too.

3.) College loan repayment assistance. This is still relatively unusual, but rapidly gaining popularity: Employers make contributions to employee student loan servicers, or provide other cash assistance. These amounts are taxable to the employee, but they tend to attract educated workers, especially once the word gets out. Examples of companies that are offering this perk include the federal government, many law firms and hospitals/health care clinics, Natixis Global Asset Management, Pricewaterhouse Cooper, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and many others.

These programs can be important for younger workers, who find themselves unable to contribute to a 401(k) because of high student loan payments. So until they can get those loans paid off, they wind up getting left out of a major part of most employee benefit offerings. Adding a student loan repayment program and providing a match similar to a matching 401(k) contribution can go a long way toward inclusion of these younger workers who may be at the beginning of their careers and not yet earning very much.

4.) Free drinks/snacks. Some popular sodas and teas in the refrigerator can help workers fight off the 3 O’Clock Z-monster, help them stay on task on those necessary but tedious job functions, and help the office feel like home. Think of it… if your caffeine addict can’t get her daily Pepsi or iced tea fix at 3 pm, she’ll either leave and go off task to get it, or worse, spend the afternoon trying to stay awake and focus, while being prone to simple mistakes because of a reduced alertness.

5.) Drop the clock. Netflix doesn’t track hours, paid time off or any of that. Focusing too much on the clock can cause a culture of time and hour compliance, rather than a culture of excellence. At Netflix, everyone’s on salary, everyone can come and go as they please, within reason (subject to meeting schedules and necessary functions that require face-to-face contact). The idea is related to outcome-based evaluations — the notion that compensating employees simply based on hours worked, or other such metrics are simply not relevant. Companies that practice outcome based evaluations give employees full control over their time – but every one knows what the evaluation metrics will be, and it’s up to the employee to manage his or her time and meet the metrics. Employees who are very good at time management will theoretically achieve an optimum work life balance while still generating acceptable and sometimes excellent results for the employer.

Note: The Department of Labor just released a set of rules that would make this arrangement impractical for employees earning less than $47,476 per year. So read this before designing your own program.

6.) Concierge Services. This perk allows employees to have an improved work-life balance by providing assistance with getting time-consuming errands done during the work day. during their week. For example, many organizations work with local dry cleaners to arrange a convenient drop-off and pick-up on company property. Since the dry cleaner is assured a steady stream of business,  you can negotiated a discounted rate for your employees, and it doesn’t cost that much, compared to the benefit both employee and employer receive.

And no, the concierge doesn’t have to be on site. Many companies use specialized concierge benefit companies to provide these services via telephone or over the Web. 

Dry cleaning is a straightforward example, but there are many other applications as well: Employees can utilize the concierge service for help with grocery deliveries, receiving and sending packages and shipments, meal deliveries/catering, pet services, appointment setting, travel and reservations, arranging for oil changes and car detailing, and just about anything else employees and employers can imagine.

Employers can reimburse or subsidize certain services, or just pay the concierge and let the employee handle their own expenses, or create any kind of hybrid arrangement they like. It takes a number of employees to make the economies of scale work, but according to the Society for Human Resource Management, full services concierge services run employers who offer it between $3 to $8 per employee per month, plus anything they kick in to subsidize expenses for dry cleaning, etc. The value of such contributions would need to be tracked, as it’s considered taxable income to the employee.

7.) Work from anywhere. Nobody wants to work in a Dilbert-like environment anymore. With the advent of the paperless office, many employers are dumping the cubicles and creating comfortable, open spaces where employees can put their laptops and mobile devices up anywhere. It’s not just about being cool or hip — it’s also about allowing your employees to collaborate more easily and effectively, doing work with their laptops up side by side and otherwise sharing resources.

Many companies find tremendous success by letting their employees work from outside the office, too – particularly where focused effort is needed for creative or time-consuming tasks. A recent survey from FlexJobs found the following:

  • 76 percent of employees surveyed report they experience fewer interruptions from colleagues while telecommuting.
  • 74 percent report fewer distractions.
  • 71 percent report they experience minimal office politics while telecommuting (It’s still there, kids. You just don’t see it.)
  • 68 percent report reduced stress from telecommuting
  • 65 percent report their telecommuting worksites are more comfortable than the office environment. Yes, house slippers are comfier than heels.
  • FlexJobs also report that 30 percent of respondents would take a 10-20 percent cut in pay if they had more flexible options regarding work time or telecommuting options.
  • 24 percent reported they would be willing to give up vacation time.
  • 18 percent would be willing to give up their 401(k) matching contribution,
  • 82 percent of those surveyed report they would be more loyal to their employers,  not less, if they could take advantage of flexible work option.

Additionally, The American Time Use Study, a recently-released report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, finds that more Americans are working remotely. “In 2015, 38 percent of workers in management, business and financial operations occupations and 35 percent of those employed in professional and related occupations did some or all of their work from home,” report the BLS’s researchers, who also found that the number of hours worked at home per employee was increasing as well.