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Think Nontraditionally to Improve Benefits – and Employee Retention

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With unemployment hovering in the low single digits and a strong economy on the horizon, it’s an employee’s market.

Attracting and retaining employees has led to an arms race of sorts, with employers trying to offer better benefits packages than their competitors and perks such as snacks and in-office pool tables. But as these kinds of extras have become commonplace, employers need to consider more culturally valuable, long-term offerings to provide an overall employee experience that their workers want and need.

Maturing Workforce
Raising wages is only sustainable to a point. Then it becomes less of an investment and more of a drag on company finances. In recent years, it has been trendy to add amenities such as the above-mentioned pool tables or arcade games to offices — particularly for those in the tech space — in an attempt to recruit young workers. But this, too, can be ineffective at retaining talent and building the kind of culture many employers are looking for.

While those kinds of benefits can be a fun add to an office, they’re now commonplace enough that the novelty is gone. We are undergoing a benefit reckoning of sorts where people are thinking less about what would make the office more entertaining and more about benefits that will actually better their lives at work and home. And frankly, it’s heartening to see workers asking and advocating for benefits that correlate more directly to their well-being today and in the future.

Companies can use this shift as a time to thoughtfully craft a set of nontraditional benefits that fit their specific workforce and culture. The culture of the workplace and its relationship to the private lives of workers of all ages has changed, and companies have an opportunity to react wisely to support their employees in new and meaningful ways.

Taking Care of Your Workforce
In crafting nontraditional benefits, a good question to ask is how to create culture and value within a company that workers can’t find anywhere else? What’s the unique experience you want your people to have? What is the story you want to tell?  What is the difference you want to make in their lives?

For example, at O.C. Tanner, we place a priority on helping our employees make wise financial decisions, both to improve their lives today and to set them up for retirement. We support this by offering debt reduction classes and a financial planning app, as well as periodically having a financial adviser come on site for one-on-one discussions with any employee who wants a professional opinion. These advisers help employees come up with financial plans and make wise investments, as well as answer questions specific to individual life circumstances.

For younger workers, this can help alleviate the stress of student loan debt that often gets in the way of saving for retirement. There are several companies, including Fidelity, Aetna, SoFi and Penguin Random House, that offer benefits such as student-loan forgiveness for employees. And for those workers nearing retirement, O.C. Tanner offers classes about making the mental and emotional shift from coming into the office every day to enjoying and finding purpose in their golden years. Becoming a partner in their financial success gives employees peace of mind and benefits the company because workers are more focused and dedicated to the task at hand rather than worrying about looming financial problems.

We have also helped bring some preventive medical services to the office. This includes flu shots, a mobile dental clinic and even a “mammobile” to give mammograms. These services directly benefit employees by helping make concrete steps toward wellness easier while mitigating potential problems down the road. Again, the company also benefits, because instead of losing the time these appointments and their associated travel would demand of an employee, that employee can return to work sooner and with additional peace of mind.

In one dramatic example, these perks even saved the life of one of our employees. The woman, in her mid-20s and without a family history of cancer, found out she had breast cancer, detected during her trip to the mammobile. She hadn’t planned on getting a mammogram for several years, but because she found out early, she was able to be quickly and successfully treated.

Cost-Conscious Benefits
While adding more benefits might sound like a large financial investment for companies, this doesn’t have to be the case. For example, we recently added a pet insurance option for employees after several people requested it, and we were able to partner with a third party to administer it via a plugin to our existing benefits portal, resulting in no added work or cost to us. These third-party services make it affordable and far less risky to offer new and better benefits than ever before.

Companies might also be able to partner with local vendors or services, such as a financial planner or dental hygienist, who might consider the trouble of coming on-site an investment on their end for the potential clientele it will bring them. We’ve had local teachers give lessons on CPR and self-defense at our headquarters, too, all for low-to-no cost to us.

There can be middle ground to offering benefits, too. Offering on-site child care can be prohibitively expensive for organizations. But innovative providers now offer partnerships with child-care services designed to offer employees a defined number of hours of care they can use when their regular babysitters or daycare falls through. This kind of benefit communicates we do truly care about the well-being of our employees and their families while still being a cost-effective option.

Another increasingly popular benefit is sabbaticals. While typically thought of in an academic sense, granting employees the opportunity to take a sabbatical and return to their same position after a set amount of time can allow the employee to pursue educational or experiential opportunities that benefit them professionally and personally. When they return, they’re re-energized and recharged, and often have gained additional experience that directly or indirectly helps the company. Again, many third-party services are out there to take on the administrative burden of implementing sabbaticals, so companies don’t have to undertake that themselves in offering this benefit.

By considering what kinds of offerings make sense for your people, your culture and employee experience while thinking creatively about how to achieve that, companies can help their employees be happier, healthier and more engaged at work, ultimately helping retention and the bottom line.

About the Author

Mindi Cox is the senior vice president of people and great work at O.C. Tanner.

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