It’s no secret that health insurance and other employee benefits add up. But believe it or not, employers spend nearly a third of their labor budgets on work perks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private firms pay about $11.38 per hour for each worker they provide benefits.
For an employer like Google or Apple, that might not be a high cost to swallow. But what about startups and small businesses? Can they afford to pay 150 percent of the federal minimum wage for benefits — not to mention core compensation?
Perks at a Lower Price
The hard truth is that, no, most can’t. But the solution isn’t to eliminate employee benefits entirely, especially as others beef them up to aid in recruitment and retention; it’s to pick your perks wisely:
An accelerated advancement track.
In American Psychological Association surveys of the U.S. workforce, professional education and development regularly ranks as the area workers are least satisfied with. What’s more, the APA found that lacking advancement opportunities are a bigger source of work stress than any factor other than low pay.
But how, short of sending workers back to school, can you put them on a path to advancement? Alongside its reduced-cost coursework opportunities, Chipotle recently rolled out a career development program. With its anticipated savings from the recent federal tax cuts, Chipotle has built a classroom at the company’s Denver headquarters. Employees who enroll will learn advanced management and operational techniques in the classroom before practicing them in real Chipotle restaurants.
Healthy office snacks and meals.
It’s tough for team members to be productive or satisfied with their jobs when they’re hungry. For far less than the costs of retraining, employers can offer healthy office snacks and meals. A ZeroCater survey found that 90 percent of employers say that office meals and snacks help team members build stronger internal relationships, and 60 percent of employees consider office food one of their top three workplace perks.
Because food costs can vary considerably from month to month, opt for a snack or meal plan with a fixed monthly fee. NatureBox, for example, offers an unlimited snack plan for $20 per employee per month. For an additional $5 per person per month, NatureBox provides coffee and single-serve snack packs as well. Although it may not be a budget perk, enterprise employers like Uber and LinkedIn go even further by serving employees free breakfast and lunch every day.
On-site screenings and checkups.
Helping employees eat healthier can also reduce the cost of health insurance, which companies are increasingly struggling to afford. For the sixth year in a row, the cost of employer-provided health plans is projected to jump by 5 percent or more in 2019. Another way to get the retention boost of this top benefit — or as an insurance substitute for small businesses — is to offer basic health services on site.
Tech firms, in particular, have leapt at this money-saving perk. Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and LinkedIn all made the list compiled by Mercer and the National Association of Worksite Health Centers. According to the joint study, half of the companies included reported a return on the program of 1.5 or greater. In other words, for every dollar invested, they saved a dollar and a half by improving retention, reducing absenteeism, and boosting productivity.
Paid time off to volunteer.
As more and more employers try to reduce employee leave expenses by pooling vacation and sick days into paid time off, others have expanded the category to include volunteerism. Known at some companies as “VTO,” the perk is particularly attractive to Millennials. The Society for Human Resource Management found that 94 percent of them want to use their skills for a good cause, while 57 percent want more company-wide service opportunities.
But VTO doesn’t just bring employees in the door. A Cone Communications study noted that workers who participate in an employer-based volunteering program are 36 percent more likely to feel a sense of loyalty to their company compared to those who aren’t involved. Plus, companies that offer VTO gain positive press in local news publications as well as trade magazines — increasing their chance of being noticed by that perfect applicant.
Employers all want to keep their workers happy and healthy, but not all can afford to do it the traditional way. Fortunately, initiatives like on-site health services can go a long way toward replacing or reducing the cost of old-school benefits like health insurance. When it comes to employee benefits, traditions are far better to break than budgets.