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As published in the August 1, 2009 Toledo Business Journal

Unusual Employee Benefits Attract, Retain

You might be proud of your organization’s benefits package. It has a couple of healthcare options, standard vacation leave, and maybe educational reimbursement. But if your employees – and especially your potential employees – don’t see anything different or interesting, your benefits package might not pack much of a punch.

“You don’t stand out by doing the same thing everyone else is doing” in terms of benefits programs, stated Steve Williams, Ph.D., SPHR, director of research for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “You stand out by doing something different.”

Williams explained that studies by SHRM’s research department and other organizations have shown that key benefits – and many relatively uncommon ones – can be cost-effective. For example, he said, many benefits professionals think that they are cementing strong bonds with employees by providing such “fun” benefits as holiday parties, picnics, and milestone rewards. But they might get more impact, according to Williams, by trying more unusual or unique offerings. Paying for child care for a parent who is on company travel. Pet care for an employee on travel. Paid travel for an employee’s spouse. Even pay-per-view movies at a hotel where an employee is staying.

And it doesn’t have to stop there, explained Williams. Try sabbaticals in which employees bank income for their time off. Or phase in the return to work of women who had been on maternity leave. Consider concierge services that tackle personal chores. Look into free grocery delivery, on-site dry cleaning pickup and delivery, reimbursement for courses unrelated to work, on-site yoga classes, even a catered dinner for those who must work late.

“A lot of these things are very, very inexpensive,” stated Williams. “The smallest benefit is often the most impactful one.”

Not One Size for All

Not all benefits work for all organizations, he noted. He urged HR professionals to determine what works for them by conducting frequent surveys and focus groups, comparing their benefits with those of competitors, and studying the benefits offerings of companies on the lists of best places to work.

Benefits do more than attract and retain employees, he added. They boost productivity, bolster a company’s image, and provide a competitive advantage. Convenient work schedules are offered by a high number of top-rated workplaces. “If you want to be competitive, you’ve got to start offering this,” he stated.

The job doesn’t stop with crafting a well-rounded benefits package, he added. “Here’s the problem: How many people really know about these benefits?” To maximize their impact, “You’ve got to communicate these benefits through employee branding.” That can be done through a company website, print ads, chat rooms, employee testimonials, and other methods that reach employees directly.

“You want to leverage your employee benefits to create a brand that shows what you value the most,” stated Williams. “Even in this down economy, when there is pressure to cut what may be viewed as frivolous benefits, you need to realize that the economy will rebound and the organization with the best benefits portfolio will be in a more competitive standing.

The purpose of the Toledo Area Human Resource Association (TAHRA) is to promote the enlightened practice of the Human Resources discipline, to enhance the professional and personal development of individuals engaged in the practice of human resources, and to provide occasions for the interchange of ideas and information among those who are members of the organization.

Information provided by the Society for Human Resource Management.

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