The Loop

The Case For Innovative Benefits

Filed under: Benefits

Can benefits be the deciding factor for accepting one job offer over another? One recent trend, driven by the Millennial workforce, is that quality of life is more important than money. As such, many jobseekers may eschew higher pay to work for a company that truly cares about its workforce.

One of the best ways to demonstrate this culture of caring is through benefits.

Many companies are jumping on board with today's popular benefits. These include student debt repayment assistance programs, education reimbursement, financial education and advice, and a slew of voluntary benefits ranging from pet and long term care insurance to eldercare and legal assistance.

But perhaps the best way to attract the choicest talent is to think outside the box; to go beyond what others are doing. Companies that gain a reputation as "best employer in town" usually have a gimmick or two that gets people talking. Whether it's a ping pong table in the break room or unlimited paid time-off, much of the buzz about who is a good employer comes from the people who already work there.

Therefore it pays to be innovative. One place to start is by following the same tenets as your business mission: Find out what customers want and give it to them. In other words, a ping pong table might sound like you offer a culture of fun, but this may not appeal to hard workers who don't want fun in the workplace. Likewise, many top performers are workaholics who struggle to use the vacation days they have, so unlimited time off may not appeal to them.

What do workers want? A good place to start is understanding why they leave. According to a recent analysis of exit interviews, the following are top reasons why people leave their job:

1. Better career development
2. Better work-life balance
3. Disenchanted with their manager
4. Better wages and benefits
5. Overall well-being

A common thread that touches each of those reasons is control. Workers may feel they lack control over where their career is going, how work interferes with their personal life, their manager's behavior, their financial problems, or the way all of these issues weigh on their mental – and even physical – health.

How can a benefit package address the need for personal freedom, flexibility, and control for a widely diverse workforce population? One way is to treat each worker like a franchise entrepreneur. The company provides the tools, processes, and training, but the worker has the flexibility to determine how to get his job done.

Expense Account
Instead of a higher salary, perhaps each worker gets a $2,000 a year expense account; about $166 a month. Then offer a laundry list of ways to use that money, such as:

  • Housecleaning services
  • Transportation/parking
  • Fitness pursuits - ranging from equipment (sneakers, elliptical) to membership (gym, YMCA, tennis club) to lessons (golf, yoga, ballroom dancing)
  • Weekend excursions - dinner and a movie, babysitting, clubbing, Ubers, winery bus tour

The point of the expense account is to give each worker control over how to spend the money. If his salary was simply $2,000 higher, that money may easily be attributed to household bills and other ongoing costs of living. It would not necessarily contribute to a higher quality of life for the worker. Of course, there are tax ramifications with this approach.

While wage levels may differ, there is a certain fairness and equity to giving each worker the same expense account amount. Moreover, they each have control over how they spend the money. One month they may use it to buy tires; the next month for tickets to a football game. The idea is that they can tap a small savings account to spend money on things they normally may not because they feel they don't have or cannot afford to spend the money.

This also solves for the problem of providing a wide range of benefits that not everyone will use (e.g., student debt repayment, gym membership, daycare) in order to have enough options to appeal to everyone.

Flexible Scheduling
Another way to give workers more control over their lives and work life is through flexible scheduling. Our lives are busy and having to work all day every day during the workweek doesn't allow for much else. Whether it's getting to a dentist appointment, a hairdresser, or just spending a few hours alone in their own house without the rest of the family around, a lot of people would just like to own their own time.

For years employers have flirted with enabling workers to work more from home, even if only occasionally. It may be worth thinking outside the box to expand on this benefit. Consider how you can extend available hours for people to work onsite as well. For example, take a few hours off in the morning but work an extra hour at the end of the day for several days that week.

Or, rather than making workers establish their hours (e.g., 8 to 5; 9 to 6), some positions may be able to incorporate more flexibility. For example, establish "office hours" much like a college professor in which they plan to always be available for meetings and discussions (e.g., 2 to 4, Monday through Thursday). Also consider phased schedules for new parents or older workers who want to work only part-time.

The key is to give workers as much control as possible over their schedule, so that each can make adjustments to fit the ongoing challenges and priorities they juggle in addition to their job. To make this work, it's important to establish ground rules, communication vehicles, and a means to keep their up-to-date calendar posted for colleagues and managers.

There are, of course, some jobs that require workers be onsite for set hours/shifts each day. However, perhaps more consideration can be given to flexible schedules by week or month so that workers can have more control over what they need to do and when they can do it.

Mandatory Vacation
Whether a dedicated employee who feels guilty about leaving for a week or the consummate workaholic who has nowhere else he'd rather be, we all need to take time off and recharge our batteries. Study after study has shown that workers are more productive and better engaged when they take periodic vacations.

With this in mind, employers should consider cultivating a culture of taking time for oneself and family. As such, every worker should be expected to take his full vacation time. Promotions and bonuses would be contingent on meeting this particular criterion because, after all, studies show that productivity is correlated to taking time off.

Employers may even combine paid-time-off with the expense account benefit. To wit: When a worker submits his request for vacation time, he can also request that his expense account roll over each month so that a larger savings amount is available during his scheduled vacation. The longer in advance he schedules his vacation, the more money he will accrue – which can help offset the excuse that a worker can't afford to go anywhere or do anything for vacation. This dual benefit not only gives workers a vacation to look forward to but enables employers to better manage schedules to accommodate time off. Again, there are tax ramifications that must be considered with this approach.

Ongoing Training and Development
As wonderful as a job may be at the beginning, once mastered it's part of human nature to want more. A good employer will provide the opportunity for more – not just for rising stars but for every worker. A recent Gallup poll found that professional training and career growth is very important to 87 percent of Millennials. Conduct lots of surveys to find out what types of classes and training your workers want.

Again, if you can't offer the breadth of options requested, consider offering a training expense account for them to pursue their own path. Even if that path leads them to another job or another industry, they will likely sing the praises of the employer that facilitated their goals. That's a much higher endorsement than saying they left because of a dead-end job.

The most innovative benefits help workers soar – to do the best job they can, to pursue professional aspirations, to have more personal time, and to feel they have control over their lives. Employers that help workers achieve these goals are less likely to have high turnover and more likely to establish a reputation as "best employer in town."

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