The many benefits of employee benefits.

In this era of low unemployment, finding, hiring, and retaining top talent is tougher, and more important, than ever. The question is, how do you do it?

Of course, having a first-rate business and culture helps a lot; a place where people like to work and where they feel included and valued makes all the difference. One way to do that, and a very important way, is to offer a great benefits package. 

Tech companies of course are well-known for offering some of the best employee benefit plans out there. Why is that? Because they know that to attract and retain top talent, especially in their uber-competitive industry, requires that they be a place where people want to work and that in turn necessarily means offering a significant and creative benefits package.

Take Facebook for instance. The number of benefits offered by the social media giant is literally too long to list here, but consider some of the highlights:

Financial: Pension and retirement plans; performance bonuses; stock options, charitable gift matching.

Insurance: Full health (including vision and dental); disability insurance; mental health; on-site healthcare; life insurance.

Family: Flex-time; maternity and paternity leave; onsite childcare.

Other perks: Free food; gym memberships; pet friendly; tuition assistance.

That is pretty amazing, right? 

That said, of course we all know that owning a small business is a tad different than running Facebook, and the budgets we have and benefits we can offer are altogether different, right?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, of course, a small business cannot offer the breadth and depth of a benefits package like that offered at Facebook and other large companies. But, that said, it is also true that small businesses too can be creative and offer things outside the norm, things that can both set them apart as well as impress potential employees.

While health insurance, paid vacation, and paid sick days are the most common employee benefits offered by small businesses, it is the extra things that you can offer that often make the difference:

Life insurance: Life insurance is very affordable and a welcome perk. (And, additionally, as a small business owner, life insurance is great because it allows you to insure key people and can also be used as a basis to payout a partner in a buy-sell agreement.)

Wellness programs: Needless to say, staying fit and healthy is important to most people these days and that is why this is a great benefit to offer employees. Gym memberships are quite affordable, especially for a group, and as an added bonus, often can help reduce your healthcare premiums.

Similarly, you might consider giving staff trips to the spa, or bringing in a massage therapist or yoga instructor on a regular basis.

Creative ideas: One of the best parts of running a small business is that you can be creative, and that certainly should extend to perks for the staff. What about:

Stocking the kitchen: No, you likely cannot afford to feed people lunch every day like Google can, but you can stock the kitchen and break room with snacks.

Sending them to a game or show, etc.: Buy season tickets to the local sports team and divvy the games up to team members. Send them to a concert or other local event. What about a season ski pass to the local mountain?

Offering house cleaning: As a reward for hard work, arrange to have a house cleaner sent to a top employees’ homes so they can enjoy their downtime chore-free.

Creating a cozy place to work: Studies show that open spaces, painted in comfortable, friendly colors, and decorated with couches and the like, not only make people more relaxed, it makes them more creative too.

Flex-time: Here is an almost free perk to you that you can give your team. Allowing people creativity with their schedule, or even to job share, is an easy way to be a great employer. 

Employee discounts: If you are in retail of some sort, or the food and hospitality industry, giving an employee discount to your staff makes them feel special and like a valued member of the team.

Commuting help: Free parking, being bike friendly, and the like is becoming more and more popular (and easy to do.) 

Family friendly: Again, here is a perk that costs you nothing yet yields big benefits. Being pet and kid friendly is an easy way to endear yourself to your staff. By the same token, maternity and paternity leave (even unpaid) is a pretty easy way to boost your benefits package.

Time off: Taking another cue from the Facebook employee benefits playbook, what about offering people time off to volunteer, or building in some three-day weekends into your scheduling? What about giving people their birthday off or summer and/or winter Fridays? 

The bottom line is that small businesses need to do whatever it can these days to compete and to attract and retain top talent. Offering a broad, creative benefits package is a big part of that.

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