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Beyond health insurance: Innovative employee benefits that attract and retain talent

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In today’s increasingly competitive job market, offering a basic health insurance package is no longer enough to attract and retain top talent. Employees are seeking more than just medical coverage; they are looking for a comprehensive approach to their well-being, both inside and outside the workplace.

To stay ahead in the talent acquisition game, business owners and managers must consider innovative employee benefits that go beyond the basics. In this article, we will explore a range of innovative employee benefits that can help companies attract and retain the best talent in their industries.

Labor Market Trends Confronting Recruiters

Since 2021, the National Bureau of Economic Research has documented powerful new trends in the labor market that confront recruiters with multiple challenges:

  • Historically low unemployment rate
  • Historically high unfilled jobs rate
  • Declining work hours among younger men
  • Declining worker engagement (Quiet Quitting)
  • Declining retention (The Great Resignation)

Should these trends continue for the foreseeable future, HR professionals with responsibility for talent acquisition cannot expect to attract and retain top talent with employee benefits that are less than highly competitive.

The Evolution of Employee Benefits

Employee benefits have come a long way since the days of basic health insurance coverage with a savings retirement plan thrown in. As the workforce has evolved, so too have employees’ expectations when it comes to traditional employee benefits. But, to offer more, it is not always necessary to spend more. Competitive advantage can also come from creativity in putting together a benefits package.

Basic Benefit Packages are No Longer Competitive

Not long ago, a more competitive benefits package might have included health insurance and a 401(k) plan, plus dental and vision insurance. While these offerings are still very valuable, they are now considered the bare minimum in many industries.

Today, employees are looking for holistic benefits that address their physical, mental and financial well-being. They want a package that supports their work-life balance, includes wellness benefits, offers opportunities for personal and professional growth and reflects their values and priorities.

To meet these expectations, employers need to get creative and think beyond traditional offerings.

Innovative Employee Benefits That Make a Difference

Here are some of the work-life benefits being offered by companies that are leaders in innovative benefit packages:

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Professional development and learning opportunities
  • Childcare and family support
  • Financial wellness
  • Health and wellness
  • Volunteer and community engagement programs
  • Pet-friendly policies
  • Student loan assistance
  • Personalized benefits packages

Let’s take a closer look at each of these benefits. After that review, we will follow up with case studies outlining the benefits offered by best-in-class companies.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Among the most sought-after benefits in recent years are flexible work arrangements. Whether the company offers the option to work remotely, allows flexible schedules or has a shorter, more compressed work week, employees are attracted by the ability to tailor their work schedules to fit their personal lives.

Offering flexible schedules can help a company increase job satisfaction for workers, reduce turnover and boost productivity for the business.

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Professional Development and Learning Opportunities

Employees value opportunities for both personal growth and career development. Consider offering tuition reimbursement, online courses, a language learning club or access to industry-specific workshops and conferences to show that your organization is invested in its employees.

Additionally, create a scale showing the required skills for more responsible positions. Offer courses in leadership, tech literacy and general business skills. Investing in your employees’ personal and professional development not only benefits them, but it also sharpens the competitive edge of the business.

Mental Health Support

New research from the Society for Human Resources Management found that one in three U.S. employees say their job has made them feel overwhelmed or has left them depressed at least once a week. Almost a third have considered quitting for mental health reasons.

Companies should regard the above statistics as both a warning and an opportunity to boost loyalty and retain talent by offering valuable new supplemental health benefits to their workers.

Offering mental health resources, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), counseling services or stress management programs, can have a profound impact on employee well-being, retention, productivity and engagement.

Childcare and Family Support

Top recruits are often in their child-rearing years, and balancing work and family life has always been a challenge for employees with children or elders in the home. With no options for family support, these workers may be forced to choose between career and family.

However, when the organization provides basic support, such as on-site childcare assistance, childcare facilities, backup childcare services or flexible parental leave policies, these affordable benefits can make a significant difference in helping employees manage their family responsibilities while excelling at work.

Employers have recognized the importance of family formation in fostering a mindset of stability and commitment in their employees. These employers are developing innovative new benefits to help their workers start, nurture, educate, support and grow their families.

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Financial Wellness

Financial stress can significantly impact an employee’s job performance and overall well-being. It’s difficult to deliver the best work possible when unpaid bills or student loans are weighing on their thoughts and emotions. Consider adding financial wellness programs to your benefit offerings to help employees manage these worries and focus on career success.

These benefits can include assistance with financial planning, budgeting workshops, subsidized meals or transportation, debt counseling, help with income taxes, living expenses, retirement plans and access to professional financial advisors. These programs can help employees avoid financial stress and maintain peace of mind both at work and at home.

Health and Wellness

Today’s most innovative wellness initiatives go far beyond traditional gym memberships. Think about offering wellness challenges, healthy food options in the workplace, cooking classes, weight loss incentives, company-sponsored 5K runs and on-site fitness or yoga classes.

Along with healthy eating and exercise, the workplace can be a gateway to lifestyle change options, such as smoking cessation or programs for overcoming alcohol or drug addiction. These programs help create a culture of wellness, resulting in healthier, happier and more engaged employees.

Volunteer and Community Engagement Programs

Many employees are looking for ways to give back to their communities. Employers can build engagement by encouraging and supporting these employees by offering paid volunteer time, matching donations or organizing company-wide volunteer events.

The Harvard Business Review reports that corporate volunteering has risen sharply in the past decade, and almost half of all companies support employee engagement in the community.

The key to success is giving employees paid time off for volunteering. The best source of volunteering ideas is your local community and your current customers.

Companies can raise money for a non-profit, create a scholarship, offer free services, honor those who have served in the military, build homes with Habitat for Humanity, collect winter coats for deserving kids or start a job training program – the possibilities are endless. No matter how your business chooses to take part, you’ll find that supporting employee involvement in community service will foster a sense of purpose, teamwork and belonging among your team.

Pet-Friendly Policies

With more people welcoming pets into their families, pet-friendly policies are becoming a popular benefit. Allowing employees to bring their furry friends to work or offering pet insurance can be a unique selling point for your company. Another take on this benefit is offering pet-sitting services for employees who must travel overnight to visit clients.

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Student Loan Assistance

Student loan debt is a significant financial burden for many employees. According to the Education Data Initiative, there are over 45 million Americans with active student loans. Ninety-two percent of borrowers have federal student loans, with an average debt of $37,338. For private loans, the average debt is $54,921.

Offering student loan repayment assistance as part of your benefits package can be a game-changer for attracting and retaining top talent, particularly among younger workers.

Personalized Employee Benefit Packages

Recognize that not all employees have the same needs and priorities. Some workers have children at home. Others may be caring for an elder. Some may have access to dental coverage equivalent to company programs.

Consider offering personalized benefits packages that allow employees to choose from a menu of options to create a package that suits their unique circumstances and helps them achieve a better work-life balance.

Steps to Consider Before Implementing New Benefits

Implementing innovative employee benefits requires a thoughtful approach to balancing benefit offerings between health coverage, supplemental benefits and employee perks. Here are some steps to guide you:

Assess Workforce Needs

A pet insurance program may not actually interest your employees, and the worst time to discover this is after implementing this benefit. Before introducing new benefits, conduct surveys or focus groups to understand what your employees would value most. Their feedback will guide your decision-making process.

Create a Budget

Determine how much you can allocate to these new benefits. Keep in mind that this is not a pure expense. The return on investment in terms of employee satisfaction and retention can outweigh the initial costs.

Communicate Effectively

Once you have implemented these benefits, communicate them clearly to your employees. Make sure they understand what is available and how to take advantage of these offerings.

Evaluate and Adjust

Regularly assess the effectiveness of your benefits. Solicit feedback from employees and be open to adjusting your offerings based on their input.

The Competitive Advantage of Innovative Benefits

Innovative employee benefits not only attract top talent but also provide a competitive advantage in retaining that talent. When employees feel that their well-being and personal development are valued, they are more likely to stay with their current employer, reducing turnover costs and ensuring workforce continuity.

Moreover, a comprehensive benefits package can enhance your company’s reputation as an employer of choice. This positive image can attract candidates who are not only skilled but also aligned with your company’s values and mission.

Case Studies: Five Companies Leading the Way

To illustrate the impact of innovative employee benefits, let’s look at five top companies that have embraced these practices and are reaping the rewards.

Google: Time for Personal Fulfillment

Google is renowned for its unique approach to employee benefits. Beyond the usual perks like free meals and fitness centers, Google’s employee benefits include on-site health care services, on-site childcare and a “20 percent time” policy that allows employees to spend one-fifth of their work hours on personal projects.

Google also offers some truly unique benefits, such as fertility treatments, a $500 baby bond, insurance for personal travel, free laundry and on-site massage services.

Their extraordinary commitment to employee well-being and personal development has made Google a top destination for talent in the tech industry.

an all female exercise group

Michelin: Getting Paid to Stay Healthy

Michelin has a six-part menu of benefits, including insurance, health and wellness, financial and retirement, family and parenting, vacation and time off, perks and discounts, tuition assistance and professional support.

Along with on-site health care, biometrics, mental health care, family health centers and personal health reviews, Michelin offers its 22,000 employees financial incentives, such as free gym memberships, free medication to manage chronic health conditions and up to $2,000 a year in direct health reimbursements.

Salesforce: Emphasis on Well-Being and Community

Along with a comprehensive program of health plans, wellness and financial benefits, Salesforce benefits include free meals, company social outings, legal assistance, auto insurance, maternity/paternity leave and pet-friendly policies.

Salesforce has also earned a reputation for its philanthropic initiatives. The company offers employees seven days of paid volunteer time off per year, encouraging them to give back to their communities.

Salesforce also promotes employee well-being through its wellness program, which includes fitness classes, mindfulness sessions and mental health resources.

Netflix: Unlimited Paid Time Off

Netflix is known for its unique approach to compensation and benefits. The company offers unlimited paid time off, allowing employees to take as much vacation as they need.

This policy is rooted in trust, assuming that employees will manage their time responsibly. Netflix also provides generous parental leave and unlimited access to medical, dental and vision benefits.

Netflix also offers unique benefits, such as family-forming benefits through fertility treatments, surrogacy or adoption. If employees must come into the office, Netflix will pay for rideshare services so they can work instead of driving. When it comes to philanthropy, Netflix’s employee giving program matches donations up to $20,000.

Microsoft: Health, Financial Well-Being and More

With approximately 221,000 employees, Microsoft is careful to design its benefit programs based on both cost-effectiveness and benchmarking the benefits offered by its peers.

On top of its generous health benefits program, Microsoft further attracts top employees with immediate enrollment in the company’s 401(k) program, including 100 percent vesting as soon as they join the company.

Microsoft offers employees either a Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). They also give each employee $1,200 per year for wellness benefits, such as gym memberships, massages and financial advice, among many options.

A Microsoft college coach helps the children of their workers apply to college and navigate applications for financial aid. Employees can buy Microsoft stock at a discount, student loans can be cut down to size through a company refinancing plan and a group legal plan assists employees with many different types of legal services.

Build a Thriving, Engaged and Resilient Workforce

Innovative employee benefits are no longer optional in today’s competitive job market. To attract and retain top talent, business owners and managers must go beyond traditional health insurance packages and retirement plans.

By offering benefits that address the diverse needs of their workforce, companies can create a more compelling menu of benefits and can earn a more engaged and loyal employee base.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to innovative benefits. The key is to listen to your employees, understand their needs and tailor your offerings accordingly.

By doing so, your company will not only attract the best talent, boost employee morale and retain employees – it will also build a thriving, engaged and resilient workforce, driving the business to long-term success.

Need assistance implementing an innovative employee benefits program to recruit, retain and motivate your team? Higginbotham can help. Learn more about how our team can help you take care of your employees and connect or schedule a call with one of our team members to discuss your organization’s needs and priorities.

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