Once upon a time, you often ended up spending your entire career with one company.
In return, the company provided medical and dental benefits, paid vacation and holidays, and, when you retired after 30 years or so of devoted service, you had built up nice nest egg with a generous pension package.
Those days are long gone, for the most part.
Startups, in particular, are in no position to offer costly benefit packages to new hires. (According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics, benefits cost on average $10.48 an hour and represent 31.4 percent of total compensation outlays.)
Yet, how does a business make itself attractive to potential new hires beyond offering a competitive salary?
Here are some awesome employee perks that cost nothing or nearly nothing that could make the difference whether a business can snag top talent or lose it to competitors.
Related Article: Why Company Culture Matters More to Employees Than Pay
Here's why it's better to be a fish in a smaller pond: The opportunity to contribute more, to really see a direct impact your work makes on the bottom line, to get to play a variety of roles. Smaller businesses have an edge over large corporations because they need people to take on a greater range of responsibilities and interests.
As Kyle Wong of Pixlee, an online marketing platform, puts it, “The best candidates aren’t solely motivated by salary. They are often motivated by the opportunity to learn, grow and be challenged. Put your best employees in a position where they can succeed, develop new skills and do things they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do elsewhere. For example, at a startup you can pitch the ability to have an impact on multiple parts of the business and grow with the company.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that work-flexibility programs that help employees balance work and family life obligations are popular with employees. But there’s a dirty little secret that works to the advantage of employers who really prefer their people on regular 9 to 5 schedules: Actual participation is low, with no more than 12 percent electing to take advantage of part-time, reduced scheduling or maternity leave policies.
However, progressive-thinking companies have long since disabused themselves of rigid workplace scheduling that belongs more to the times of, well, when companies could afford to offer generous benefit and pension packages. It doesn’t cost anything to allow workers to set their schedules.
Sure, there may be times when employees need to be physically in the same place at the same time. But in many, if not most cases, they don’t. And the payoff you get for no investment is tremendous.
Related Article: Smiles Are Free: How a Positive Business Culture Inspires Employees
As Lisa Horn of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points out, “Organizational leaders will be interested to know that flexible work can improve employee health and wellness, reduce real estate costs and turnover, improve retention and increase employee engagement and productivity.”
One caveat though: It’s not enough to simply offer a workplace flexibility program; the program has to be effectively managed. According to Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group, “Flexible work success requires and extra layer of collaboration, coordination and communication that we need to manage and initiate. But is a small price to pay in order to have that flexibility to make what matters on and off the job happen on a regular basis.”
A related component of flexible scheduling is to allow employees to work from home. This could be on a regular so-many-days-a-week schedule or on as-needed basis, or even 100 percent working remotely. And the benefits to employers go beyond the ability to attract talent that likes a telecommuting option.
As Paul C. Boyd, author of “Six Organizational Benefits of Telecommuting,” points out, "Sophisticated and well-planned telecommuting programs have [...] reduced their office space requirements, and, consequently, their rents.”
The key here is “sophisticated and well-planned.” While it not only doesn’t cost anything to offer employees telecommuting, and can even reduce bottom-line operational expenses, it does have to be managed.
Carol Cochran, contributing writer at FlexJobs, provides these tips to effectively manage virtual work teams:
- Communicate. Every day. By email, chat, instant messaging, even that old standby, the telephone. Regular communications with telecommuting workers is critical in setting expectations and ensuring everyone is on track to meeting those expectations.
- Trust, but verify. Provide employees with the tools and resources to do their jobs, and then allow them to do their jobs. Also, managers need to check in to evaluate progress, identify and resolve issues. By the same token, if you can’t trust your workers, especially workers you aren’t seeing day in and day out, then maybe you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place.
- Know your team. It’s easy for telecommuters to feel isolated. Managers need to connect with telecommuters not just on work matters, but on a personal level. It helps determine what motivates people, how they operate and, moreover, how to foster a feeling of teamwork among people who may never actually set eyes upon one another except through videoconferencing.
Joshua Reeves, CEO and co-founder of ZenPayroll, recommends arranging employee discount at various local companies. “Thinks health clubs, dry-cleaning services, or restaurants," he writes. "AnyPerk is a great low-cost service that makes it easy to give employees access to discounts in your area. These discounts may not cost your business much (or anything), but they’re really fun perks that people love.”
Bring Your Pet to Work
Amazon and Google are just two of a number of companies that let employees bring their pets to work. Limeade Marketing blog notes that, “Dogs in the office reduce stress for their owners and make work more satisfying for other employees.”
That said, be aware that some people are allergic to or are afraid of dogs, and not all pets are well-behaved, despite what their owners might think. Before putting into place a pet-friendly policy, you need to know the pets coming into the office as well as the people. If everyone on the team isn’t comfortable interacting with animals as part of the workplace, allowing pooches in may be more trouble than it's worth.
Also, be on the lookout for employees who spend more time playing with pets than being productive at their jobs. Still, dog-friendly offices are increasingly seen as an attractive perk that could incent desired candidates to take a job.