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How to get creative with your employee benefits 

Many businesses offer employee benefits, and many employees expect them. But if you’ve got a small business and a tight budget, you might wonder if employee benefits are really necessary or worth the cost. They are.  

In case you missed the memo, we’re living in a time when work-life balance and mental health are not just buzzwords anymore. They’re the crux of what many employees are seeking. A strong benefits program offers countless, well, benefits to your business. It can help you attract and retain the best employees, even in a competitive market. It leads to healthier, happier and therefore more loyal employees. And ultimately, good benefits lead to greater productivity, which is a boon to business. 

Let’s break this down a bit further

For many employers, the challenge of finding and keeping real talent is what fuels the drive to become ever more creative, responsive, and generous in the way they design their benefits packages. For many employees, a benefits program can be the deciding factor in choosing where to work. Employers who continue to provide more traditional and limited benefits are apt to lose the best candidates to businesses with better offerings. Not to mention, once you’ve made a quality hire, a great benefits package can keep your employees from getting swayed by other offers. Lower turnover and higher retention means saving time and money on hiring and training. Finally, it should go without saying, but employees are far more productive when they aren’t understaffed (due to high turnover), or made to work through illness. Having some measure of security for themselves and their loved ones helps too. Lost productivity costs American businesses a whopping $1.8 trillion dollars every year. 

For all these reasons and more, the majority of businesses offer some kind of employee benefits—even small businesses. Close to 50% of businesses with 3-9 employees offer health insurance benefits. This rises to 71% for businesses with 10-24 employees and 85% for those with 25-49 employees. Finally, 99% of companies with 200+ employees offer benefits. To up the ante, it’s also worth noting that as of 2019, mental health coverage had grown much more common: 79% of Canadian organizations offer mental health coverage (up from 40% in 2014), compared to 87% of those in the US (up from 69% in 2014). 

Now that you’re on board with meaningful benefits, are you ready to take the next step and start getting creative with your overall approach? You’d be surprised how much you can improve the health of your business with a little outside-the-box thinking. Here’s some inspiration for the taking, catered to a range of budgets. 

Creative employee benefits your teams will love 

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Walking meetings 

Being inside all day compromises productivity, especially when it’s gorgeous outside. So do unnecessary meetings. Consider holding a certain percentage of small group meetings each week outside—while walking. A simple stroll is an ingenious way of airing out the old think tank and inspiring fresh ideas. If you can walk in a natural setting, even better, because regular walks among trees can increase short term memory by 20%

Plant life 

You can up your team’s nature quotient indoors as well, simply by keeping plants around the office, placing fresh flowers on employees’ desks for a colorful pick-me-up, or even covering the walls in greenery like Etsy did. Really, though, any effort to make your indoor space greener is sure to boost morale. And if your company is in possession of an empty yard, you might consider a community garden project that your team can work on together! 

Pet health insurance 

Businesses that offer pet health insurance are few and far between, but those that do are incredibly valued by employees with cats and dogs. If your own pet has ever been sick, you’ll understand just how significant a perk this is. 

Dog days 

Speaking of pets, some companies offer dog-friendly office spaces, allowing employees to bring their dogs to work whenever the fancy strikes. If a daily dog seems overboard, letting employees bring in the hounds once a week or even once a month is a positive gesture. Employees who bring their dogs to work experience less stress throughout the day, higher job satisfaction, and overall, a more positive view of their employer. 

Wellness first  

More and more companies are offering their employees in-house yoga classes and onsite massages to help them cope better with stress. And some companies offer bonuses specifically mandated for wellness. Asana, for instance, offers an onsite ‘nap room’ as well as free gym memberships for their employees. 

Mentorship 

Consider offering mentorship or even life coaching as part of your benefits package. The focus can range from career building to personal relationships. If you don’t have the budget for external mentors and life coaches, try tapping your own workforce for experts, particularly if your team is multigenerational. Almost 90% of millennials agree that baby boomers are a great source of in-house mentorship, and 93% of baby boomers say Gen Y bring new life to the workplace. 

A development fund 

Consider offering employees access to a development fund they can use to attend conferences, classes, or buy learning materials. Your company will benefit from boosting your team’s knowledge base, and employees appreciate meaningful investment in their development.  

Special stipends 

Budget isn’t the only key to better benefits. Consider using your own products and services as an employee incentive. For instance, Airbnb offers a $2000 annual stipend to travel and stay in an Airbnb listing located anywhere

Date night 

Getting personal can be a positive. Hire onsite childcare professionals and let employees drop their kids off on Friday night so they can take a friend, partner, or spouse out for an all-expenses-paid night on the town. Consider doing this once every three or four months. 

Parental benefits 

When it comes to parental leave and benefits, generous is always better. Take Facebook, which offers 5 months of paid leave, a 24-hour lactation consultant, and free breast-milk shipping for working moms. Of course, you may not share Facebook’s budget, so take inspiration from Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, which simply allows employees to take time off so they can attend their kids’ events and activities. And then you have offices that allow children to be brought to work—either because the babysitter cancelled, or because the company culture is welcoming to kids. 

Mental health days 

Anxiety, depression, grief over the loss of a loved one, and other big emotions can make it next-to-impossible to get work done some days. Rather than expecting employees to use a sick day, offer a few mental health days. Simply acknowledging the distinction between the flu and mental health is a huge step forward your employees will appreciate. 

Company off-sites 

Whether it’s a day-long visioning session in the park down the street or an employee trip to Maui geared at discussing your business’s ‘bigger picture,’ moving the whole team somewhere new for a week can be relaxing and help forge lasting connections that will serve your business well in the long run. 

4-day work weeks 

Some companies are starting to cut out work on Fridays. You might also consider cutting out every other Friday or treating Fridays as half-days. Workers at Microsoft Japan found that working one day less each week (without a pay cut) led to a 40% increase in productivity! The company also saved on office costs like electricity. 

Flexible work arrangements 

As long as the job gets done well, consider allowing employees the flexibility to choose their own hours and/or work from wherever they choose. Some companies allow employees to work remotely all the time, while others allow a ‘hybrid’ mix of onsite and remote work. The key here is openness to a flexible work arrangement.  

Social time 

Consider scheduling a half-hour twice a week as ‘social time.’ A team that likes one another is a happier, more productive team, after all. Other ideas include scheduling karaoke nights out, birthday parties, work anniversaries, and building a company softball team. Get creative. 

A vacation bonus 

In addition to offering adequate PTO and encouraging employees to use it, consider offering a vacation bonus to spend on a trip of their choosing sometime throughout the year. Feel free to offer any amount. The main idea is to value and incentivize time off so your employees benefit more from their time away

Bottom line

Healthier employees lead to a healthier business! Offering health insurance, PTO and creative wellness benefits makes good business sense, so get to work designing a program that works with your team’s best interests at heart!   

The PurelyHR Team

PurelyHR is powerful modular software for your everyday HR. We want to give you more time by providing industry-leading tools for essential tasks like time and attendance tracking, performance reviews, infraction tracking, and more. The PurelyHR blog is your resource for the latest in HR, workplace trends & culture, and product updates.