A small business budget may not allow you to dole out hefty bonuses or fancy trips, but low-cost, creative employee benefits can still make an impact on your staff. In fact, benefits and perks can offer employers an edge when it comes to hiring and retaining employees in tight labor markets.
Here are 20 creative employee benefits, along with some of their potential advantages and disadvantages, that mix fun and practicality when it comes to rewarding your workforce.
1. Flexible schedules
Flex schedules are a popular non-traditional benefit for both employees and employers. The 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR survey revealed that flexible scheduling is the top non-traditional benefit that companies provide, with 39 percent of respondents offering this. Allowing employees to shift hours forward or back from the core workday can help them avoid rush-hour commuting and alleviate family scheduling conflicts, for example.
Although flex scheduling is viewed as a relatively low-cost benefit, implementing a corporate-wide policy requires planning on the part of the employer and employee. Your HR department should be actively involved in the process to ensure success. A quick look at perceived advantages and disadvantages of flex time may help you decide whether this approach makes sense for your business.
- Allows employees to work during the hours that best suit their schedules.
- Potentially helps businesses open earlier and stay open later.
- Attracts talent; employees may ask for this specific benefit when joining companies.
- Offering flex time shows that management trusts workers to get the job done, no matter which hours are worked.
- Difficulty scheduling group meetings and other group gatherings around different schedules.
- There may be times when employees are working without oversight.
Not every business can offer this perk, but those permitting employees to work from home occasionally, or on a set schedule, may reap rewards in higher productivity and retention. A telecommuting policy may allow all employees to work from home for a certain number of days per week, or define specific job responsibilities that may be conducted remotely.
- Gives employees flexibility to work in a setting of their choosing.
- Frees up an employee's time normally spent commuting to work.
- Viewed as an environmentally friendly policy as it reduces gas expenses related to work commuting.
- According to the Pulse of HR Survey, the top concerns employers have regarding employees who telecommute are management and oversight of work, data security, and engendering consistent productivity.
3. Movie, theater, and sporting event tickets
Gives employees and their family members access to a free entertainment or a cultural experience.
- Low cost
- Boosts morale
- Benefit isn't directly related to work and may have little impact.
- Competition among staff or departments when deciding who receives the tickets.
Appreciating your employees doesn't require a significant investment. Creative employee benefits combined with personal recognition can increase your reputation in the labor market.
4. Expanded health benefits
Flexible spending accounts, dental, and vision insurance are all relatively low-cost add-ons to health insurance plans. According to Paychex senior HR generalist Joshua Carty, an FSA is "a nice tax-free advantage for business and employees, and a great avenue for healthcare affordability. The business is not required to max out the benefit and could place a cap on how much an employee can elect."
- Given the rising costs of health care, employees will likely appreciate these expanded benefits.
- Additional administration of multiple health benefit plans.
5. Free food
Let workers enjoy coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and snacks any time of the day. For the health-conscious, consider including fresh fruit. A group meal can promote camaraderie and team bonding. Once a month, once every two weeks, or one day every week, provide lunch for your staff.
- Free food is one of the most popular and highly appreciated, low-cost perks.
- May be more of an expectation rather than viewed as a true "benefit" unless a unique twist is added.
6. Casual dress code
Designate certain days as casual-attire days, or, depending on your business, dispense with a dress code altogether.
- Low cost and easy implementation.
- Casual work attire may be interpreted in a variety of ways by different employees and a policy may need to be written.
7. Family leave
In a recent Paychex survey of business leaders, 47 percent of respondents would support paid family leave legislation. Still, employers should examine their current parental leave policies to ensure they comply with state and federal mandates. Certain states have passed laws requiring this benefit, and employers need to make sure their policies are up-to-date.
- Shows employer support for work/life balance.
- Encourages employee retention.
- May be difficult for small businesses in particular to shoulder the cost of paying employees while on leave.
8. Benefits for part-time workers
Allow part-timers some of the same perks given to full-time employees. In some cases, part-time employees may be eligible for certain benefits such as health insurance. You may also want to consider extending lower-cost fringe benefits to part-time employees for consistency and to boost company-wide morale.
- Offering benefits can help companies compete for part-time employees.
- May create a sense of unification among full- and part-time staff.
- Cost of additional benefits.
- Administrative complexity of maintaining full-time and part-time benefit plans.
9. Commuting assistance
Provide a stipend to cover public transit passes to help staff defray the costs of traveling to and from the office; give car commuters free or subsidized parking.
- Transit passes viewed as an environmentally friendly benefit.
- Elimination of tax breaks for certain reimbursements due to recent tax law changes.
10. Tuition assistance
Offer to pay a portion of employees' tuition costs while they pursue education relevant to their jobs.
- Supports employees’ career development.
- Employee turnover could negate this benefit
11. Flex days off
Carty suggests allowing employees to earn paid days off for a job well done. This perk doesn't need to be awarded often, but it can be a great incentive for hard work.
- A popular and relatively inexpensive benefit.
- May require shifting work schedules to cover employees who use this benefit.
12. Student loan assistance
This benefit is becoming more popular, especially among millennials. With 70 percent of today's graduates entering the workforce with college loans, employers can make an impact on their workforce by providing such assistance.
- Helps companies recruit and retain college graduates.
- Budget challenges, depending on how many employees take advantage of the program.
13. Direct paycheck deposit
Offer employees this option to help them save trips to the bank. To add further value, employers can consider a split-to-save feature that helps employees increase their personal savings.
- Benefits of direct deposit include convenience for employees, faster access to their paycheck, decreased costs of payroll processing, and less expenses associated with printing and mailing paper checks.
- Not all employees may be able to receive direct deposit.
Your employees are your biggest asset. Offering benefits that indicate you value their work can inspire loyalty and retain talent.
14. Career guidance services
This in-demand benefit offers employees the opportunity to work with an impartial counselor to help them map out the next stage of their career. Career guidance can help workers decide which of their skills need further development and where to focus their efforts.
- Provides support to employees who are ready to further their career.
- Boosts employee engagement and morale.
- External career counselor advice may conflict with internal HR or a manager's suggestions regarding career progression.
15. Employee discounts
Because businesses purchase technology products in bulk, suppliers may provide workers a markdown for personal computing equipment. You may also offer discounts on company products to employees.
- Encourages pride in company and work.
- Giving employees products with company label may provide a marketing opportunity.
- Discounted products can cut into profits.
16. Bring-your-dog-to-work day
This won't work everywhere, but small businesses can often accommodate well-behaved canine colleagues in the office. You may want to try this out for one day. If it’s popular and goes well, consider making your office a pet-friendly workplace. Paychex senior HR generalist Victoria Whittaker notes that more companies are making Fridays year-round a day to bring dogs into the workplace (with a policy in place to protect the employer, employees, and their furry friends, of course).
- Boosts morale.
- Encourages employee camaraderie.
- Pet allergies may be a factor. If you’re considering this benefit, take into account health, safety, interpersonal, and cultural issues before allowing dogs into the workplace.
17. Summer hours
Keeping employees motivated and productive can be a concern during prime vacation season. Consider closing an hour or two early on Fridays during the summer months so everyone can take advantage of the extended sunlight.
- Morale boost for employees during a more relaxed time of year.
- Some employees may still need to work regular hours due to deadlines or their role in the business.
18. 401(k) plan
Although a 401(k) plan may not seem like one of the most creative employee benefits, small companies concerned about the costs associated with retirement benefits can find innovative ways to offer this important plan for less. According to Shannon Anderson, Paychex senior HR generalist, "when an employer fully understands their options, this can be a low-cost benefit. Employers do not have to offer a match to employees. The plan can simply be a vehicle to allow employees to save for retirement tax-free." Plus, if an employee is saving money tax-free, the employer is also not paying taxes on the amounts saved, making the 401(k) plan a win-win for both the employer and employee.
- Allows small employers to remain competitive with benefits of larger companies.
- Excellent recruitment and retention tool.
- Low initial investment.
- Administrative duties may be a factor, but experienced service providers can help to streamline the process.
19. Wellness benefits
Sponsoring wellness activities including fitness classes, lunchtime speakers addressing health topics, flu shots, online health assessments, health coaching services, an office gym, and weight-loss and smoking cessation programs can show employees that you care about their well-being. Alternatively, you can reimburse employees for all or part of health-club memberships, yoga classes, bicycles, and related items. Fitness wearables are a relatively recent trend in employee benefits, now offered by 15 percent of companies, as reported in the 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey.
- Wellness benefits can serve as an important benefit for hiring and retention.
- Group wellness or fitness programs encourage employee interaction from all levels of the company.
- Potential for low utilization if not communicated or marketed correctly, and assessment of the programs' success may be difficult.
- Daytime classes may compete with productive work time.
20. Paid volunteer time
Offer to pay regular wages up to a certain number of hours to staffers who devote time to community service. This is a sought-after benefit particularly for millennials.
- Increased employee pride in their work and their employer.
- Serves as an active form of corporate social responsibility.
- Develops a positive relationship between your company and the community.
- Encourages employee interaction at all levels when working together on company-sponsored projects.
- Lost work time and scheduling issues can be difficult for small companies.
As seen here, appreciating your employees doesn't require a significant investment. Creative employee benefits combined with personal recognition can increase your reputation in the labor market. Even simple thank-you notes for people who have helped the company succeed add a personal touch, notes Chris Jankus, Paychex HR consultant.
Your employees are your biggest asset. Offering benefits that indicate you value their work can inspire loyalty and retain talent. Learn more about how benefits and perks play a critical role in retention.