This story first appeared in the January issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe. Q: I can’t afford raises. What employee benefits are the most cost-effective to implement?
A: First things first: If you have money to spend on employee benefits, then you have money to put into your employees’ pockets. Trust me, this goes further toward generating loyalty and goodwill than anything else. You don’t have to extend permanent salary or pay increases; one-time bonuses will do the job.
But that’s not the answer you wanted to hear. So I’ve outlined a list of benefits that goes from cheapest to more expensive to implement, with the caveat that what works for some businesses may not work for others. At the very least, this list will give you a starting point for a benefits discussion with your board or company directors.
Letting people work where and when they want to is probably the easiest benefit to implement, and your employees with children or aging parents will appreciate it. Yes, there are conflicting schools of thought as to whether it’s best for your business — see Yahoo’s decision to do away with flextime and working remotely — but that’s a management issue, not a benefits problem.
Cafeteria Plans/Flexible Spending Accounts
These programs allow employees to make payments through payroll deductions with pretax dollars for items such as health coverage, life insurance, childcare and even parking and commuting expenses. For employees, these programs often provide the perception of benefits that exceed their real cost to you.
Personal Time Off
If you don’t already have a sick leave/personal time off (PTO) program, consider offering one, as it relieves a lot of stress from employees. If you already have a policy, you might raise the number of days off. If you feel you’re maxed out on PTO, do away with the idea of sick days and doctors’ notes and replace it with a “no questions asked” policy. Unless you have to temporarily increase staff to make up for the time off, the cash cost will be zero.
Vacations and holidays are different from PTO, since they’re planned time off the job. Working half-days on Fridays during the summer and giving employees their birthdays or work anniversaries off would fit here as well. If turnover is an issue for you, consider offering more vacation time with a shorter wait to accrue days to entice employees to stay. There will be costs, especially if you’re closing the business for a holiday, but you’ll be able to budget around them.
This won’t be attractive to your younger employees, but it means something to those on your staff with families, as well as your older workers. Cost is minimal — a couple hundred bucks per employee per year, if that.
Dental and/or Vision Plans
Add these if you have a no-frills health plan. Dental and vision plans don’t cost much compared to health insurance, but they can be important to employees.