Most organizations just can’t afford to give their employees the razzle-dazzle perks offered by high-profile companies like Google and Facebook, extravagances that include unlimited vacation days, gourmet catered lunches, free massages, stipends for travel and onsite rock-climbing walls.
But if employees are not earning above-market salaries, what motivation do they have to stay at the company? And how can HR enrich the benefits the organization does offer, making them something for employees to feel excited about, on a limited budget?
April 3 is National Employee Benefits Day, and this year’s theme centers on improving communication about benefits. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found in its 2016 Benefits Communication Survey that 80 percent of organizations reported that participating employees don’t read (and may not even open) the benefits communications they receive. In addition, almost one-third of organizations reported that their employees do not see value in their benefits.
If they are not reading the benefits communications that HR sends out, it’s safe to say that these employees definitely do not have a thorough understanding—or appreciation—of their benefits.
Countless surveys have found that employees rank health care as their No. 1 most important benefit, so that’s good news for companies that offer a health plan. But what are other benefits and perks that employees and job candidates really want—and that companies without Amazon-like profits can afford?
Low-Cost Benefits that Employees Value
The greatest benefit of all may be if work can be made into a relatively enjoyable experience. All sides win when employees get to make choices about how they work, when the work environment is pleasant to be in, when camaraderie among colleagues is encouraged and when employees feel lucky to be working there.
- Telecommuting is one benefit that employees spark to which may not cost the organization anything at all. The 2016 National Study of Employers found that the number of workers who telecommute has been steadily increasing: 40 percent of employers currently allow their employees to work at least some of the time from home on a regular basis, up from 33 percent in 2012. Many remote workers report being more productive and feeling more motivated. If fewer employees are in the workplace every day, that could also translate into money saved for an organization.
- The ability to work a flexible schedule is another option employees hold in high regard. Many people would prefer not to be constrained by the hours of the traditional workweek, and if their jobs allow for some flexibility, why not? Organizations that permit flexible schedules report lower absence rates and reduced turnover, as well as higher levels of employee engagement and commitment to the organization.
- Providing fitness stipends is one way to encourage employees to become healthier while feeling like they are saving money. They can use the stipend for a gym membership, yoga classes or other fitness programs. Healthy employees are employees who take fewer sick days, are more productive at work and keep the organization’s health care costs down.
- A commuter benefits program is money in employees’ pockets (and lowers employers’ payroll taxes, too). If an employer offers this program, employees can have money withheld from their checks to cover the cost of commuting to work by public transportation or vanpool, or to cover the cost of parking. Getting to work can be a significant expense for employees, but they can save up to 40 percent on their commuting costs by using pre-tax income.
- Extra time off during summer or around holidays is one benefit that employees may decide would be really hard to give up. If business slows down significantly when the weather heats up or at other times of the year, consider instituting shortened summer hours or closing entirely on certain days. ”Summer Fridays,” where employees work a little extra time for nine working days and then have every other warm-weather Friday off, is another popular option.
- A fun environment attracts some employees. If space allows, consider having a game room with Ping-Pong and foosball tables. A community jigsaw puzzle or wall-sized crossword puzzle can be something for employees to work on together during breaks. Contests and themed days are well-received in some workplaces. Maybe a basketball hoop can be installed outside.
- Other employees appreciate a peaceful space at work. All workplaces and workforces are not the same, and HR should get to know what kinds of people work at the organization. For some, a quiet room or corner, with couches and soft lightning, would be an asset. A library or book exchange can be included in this space. Some employers are even designating a garden area where employees can grow flowers and vegetables, watering and weeding during their breaks.
- Free food has served to brighten the mood of most people since their elementary school days. It can be doughnuts on Wednesdays, a quarterly breakfast, cookies at a meeting, or a fresh fruit plate to mark the first day of summer. Food can be brought in for a birthday or to recognize a special accomplishment or for no reason at all.
- Opportunities to be social can help employees make friends and feel like they fit in at the organization. As a bonus, company-sponsored sports teams, trivia nights, book clubs and the like can help employees get to know people in the company whom they don’t regularly work with. Send out a survey to see what activities employees would like to partake in or ask employees directly.
- Paid time off to volunteer is good for people and business. Allowing employees a day or two a year to do community service work will make them feel good about themselves and about working for a company that believes in the value of helping others. This can also be a way to enhance the employer brand within the community.
To be sure, exploring the options for affordable benefits that employees will love takes effort and creativity. Yet this is also a chance for the HR department to potentially have a big impact on how employees feel about where they work.
For more information, or assistance in developing a comprehensive and affordable benefit offering, contact CJC HR Services at 212.584.4770 or visit us online at www.cjchrservices.com