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Show Them the Love: Low-Cost, High-Value Employee Benefits

As a small business owner, you are probably aware of the importance of offering a basic employee benefit package that includes health and disability insurance, and a retirement savings plan. However, recruiting and retaining top talent often requires going above and beyond the basics. By offering creative, low-cost benefit programs, you can differentiate your business from other potential employers.

Flexible work environments

In today's hectic world, time is nearly as valuable as money. Consider the following statistics from the Families and Work Institute (Source: National Study of the Changing Workforce, 2008):

  • 59% of employees don't feel they have enough time for themselves
  • 61% believe they don't have enough time for their spouses/partners
  • 75% (more than 7 out of 10) feel they don't have enough time for their children

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For these reasons, one of the most popular and appreciated employee benefits available today is a flexible work environment. Once the hallmark of only small and "hip" technology companies, flexible work arrangements are now offered by larger, more established organizations. Some examples of flexible work programs include:

  • Flex schedules: work hours that are outside the norms, such as 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Condensed work weeks: for example, working four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days
  • Telecommuting: working from home or another remote location
  • Job-sharing: allowing two or more employees to "share" the same job, essentially doing the work of one full-time employee. For example, Jan works Monday through Wednesday noon, while Sam works Wednesday afternoon through Friday.

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Allowing your employees to tailor their work schedules based on their individual needs demonstrates a great deal of respect and can generate an enormous amount of loyalty in return. Even if your business requires employees to be on-site during standard operating hours, having a process in place that supports occasional paid time off to attend to outside obligations such as doctors' appointments or family commitments and even unexpected emergencies can have enormously positive effects, too. In some cases, these benefits have no costs associated with them, while in others, the costs may be minimal (e.g., the price of a smartphone or laptop to help employees remain productive on the go).

Free food

Another popular perk at smaller companies is a well-stocked kitchen. Soft drinks, snacks, and inexpensive meal items such as cereal and bagels can go a long way toward fostering good will (and keeping energy up!). Providing healthy options, such as fruit, nuts, and smoothies, is a subtle way to show employees that you value their well-being.

Social activities

Sponsoring periodic activities can help workers relax and get to know one another. Such events don't need to take much time out of the day, but can do wonders for building morale. Bring in lunch or schedule an office team trivia competition or group outing. Perhaps your employees would like to share their little-known skills through an art exhibition or talent show. If you work in a particular industry in which colleagues share a common passion, consider organizing events around that interest. For example, a sporting goods retailer could close up early on a slow-business afternoon and go for a hike or bike ride.

Concierge services, discounts

You may also be able to negotiate with other local companies for employee discounts and services. Laundry services, dry cleaning pickup/drop-off, and meal providers that can deliver hot, family-sized take-home dinners may help employees save both time and worry--and stay focused on the job.

Financial planning/education

For many people, money worries can be distracting and time consuming. Consider inviting a local financial professional into your office to provide counseling sessions for your employees. While you don't necessarily have to pay for any services provided, simply offering the opportunity to get such help during work hours will be appreciated by your workforce.

Survey your employees

The best benefits are those that meet the needs of your employees. Before making any assumptions, survey your employees to see what benefits they value the most. Then, respond to the most commonly identified concerns and desires with creative solutions. That can encourage employees to respond in kind through hard work and dedication.