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Using Employee Benefits to Attract, Retain Employees

Pets, children and space tents make for unusual workplace surroundings. But today they're part of a plan to keep employees on board. More and more businesses are putting together a unique collection of stress reducers and workplace enhancements in an effort to retain its hard-to-replace staff.

Employee-retention is an increasingly big issue in all fields, especially for smaller businesses. The tight job market makes replacing workers more difficult and also raises the odds that competitors will try to lure employees away. With the unemployment rate at historic lows, many companies also have had to sweeten their benefits packages to attract and retain hard workers.

How are some firms accomplishing this feat? Gould Evans, a Kansas City-area architectural firm, uses "spent tents." These are rest areas with blankets, pillows, a mat and alarm clock for breaks from late-night work or weekend sessions.

Gould Evans concentrates its benefit perks on employees and their families. For example, one Friday a month is set aside for celebrations of employees' birthdays and arrivals of new employees. There is also a large Halloween party for employees' and clients' children.

Those are just a few of the unique benefits businesses are offering employees. Other retention strategies include flexible schedules, a special community art gallery, outside courtyards where employees can work and a special play area to encourage employees to bring their children to the office. Gould Evans even allows dogs and other pets to be brought to the workplace.

When it comes to making employees happy in the late 90s, flexibility is the key. Although many employees would rather get a fatter paycheck than more benefits, others are desperate for time off and any help the company can give in dealing with challenges on the home front.

That's why companies are offering such things as flex time (in which workers may start and end shifts earlier or later than usual), day care, working at home, job-sharing and free counseling over the phone on everything from diapering to divorce.

One benefit that is cropping up more frequently is the compressed work week. The two most common arrangements: Employees work four 10-hour days each week or spread 80 hours over nine working days, taking a Friday or Monday off every two weeks. These plans are aimed at giving two-career families and busy single adults more flexibility in balancing work with the rest of their lives.

Even a conservative industry such as the legal profession is embracing flexible hours. More law firms are bending traditional workday schedules in order to enhance staff-productivity, corporate culture and employee-retention. In a recent nationwide survey of attorneys, nearly three out of four respondents (72 percent), said their firms currently offer formal or informal flexible-hours programs for employees. The survey was developed by The Affiliates, a staffing service specializing in project attorneys and legal support personnel.

Sometimes, these perks can even improve the employee's on-the-job performance. That's the thought behind Multiplex's program that offers staffers financing on home computers, without interest and at substantial savings. The idea: if your employees use computers off the job, they'll probably use them better at work.

The deal costs Multiplex little. When the company buys equipment for its offices, it passes along the bulk discount to employees. Employees pay 10 percent down and cover the balance with monthly installments deducted from their paychecks. The only cost to Multiplex is the finance charge on the money it fronts employees for the machines.

Other possible employee perks include:
  • Pay all or part of the dues for a fitness facility membership.

  • Provide special parking spaces, or pay parking fees.

  • Send employees to seminars and training programs.

  • Reimburse tuition costs for educational opportunities.

  • Celebrating successes: of the company, the department and the individuals in it. Take time for team- and morale-building meetings and activities. Be creative and fresh.

  • Provide employees with a sense of ownership in their work and their work environment.

  • Involve employees in decisions, especially as those decisions affect them. Involvement equals commitment.

- Ron Ameln. Republished with permission of the St. Louis Small Business Monthly.

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Updated: 2/14/12