If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve been thinking more about employee benefits. Most attention goes to medical benefits – and rightly so, considering health insurance consistently ranks #1 when it comes to the most desirable benefits. It’s the first thing most employees look at when comparing their options.
However, the nature of employee benefits is changing, potentially for the better.
Look beyond healthcare and employees are most interested in relatively low-cost employee benefits. Rather than offering expensive facilities and incentives, they want benefits associated with a certain kind of company culture: One that knows how to show employees are valued in every area of the business.
Employees Want To Be Valued – And Many Are Ready To Fire Their Current Bosses
With the transformation of the working world over the last six months, employees are asking themselves questions that may never have seemed relevant before. Questions like: “Does my employer value my safety?” “What kinds of sacrifices will I be asked to make for the business if there’s an emergency?”
It’s said you never know what someone is really like until you see them in a crisis, and that could be just as true of a business. With some executive leaders choosing to throw caution to the wind rather than follow a detailed safety plan, there’s no telling how many millions of American workers are looking for the exits.
Today’s public health crisis will pass, but what workers learned about their employer is forever.
So, what kind of work environment will talent be looking for when the dust settles?
Today’s professional wants their employer – and their employee benefits – to reflect autonomy and trust in their skills. While it’s beyond doubt some newer employee benefits are little more than splashy fads, some of the innovations of today’s startups can easily be applied to small businesses that want to be more competitive.
Lower Cost Doesn’t Mean Lower Value When It Comes To Next Generation Employee Benefits
In the world of startups, piles of venture capital cash are far from guaranteed. Many startups in competitive industries attracted their top talent by pioneering new ways of looking at the employee experience. While some resonate mainly with younger workers, there are others with broad appeal – and they tend to be inexpensive.
Some of the best concepts include:
1. More Flexible Hours
The idea of the 8-hour, 9-to-5 workday reached its current form by way of the Industrial Revolution, with a few tweaks by Henry Ford. There’s nothing saying it’s the most productive way for workers to reach their goals. To the contrary, there are many situations where a standardized 8-hour schedule can be harmful.
Research from Harvard Business School shows that during the first weeks of shelter-in-place, employees who worked remotely saw their workdays get longer by an average of more than 8%, about 48 minutes overall. More flexible work schedules can serve as one plank in a defense against work encroaching into more of life.
Flexible hours can also help you unlock greater productivity from members of your team whose contributions are limited by the traditional workday. For example, those with circadian rhythms that predispose them toward staying up later can finally do their best work when they feel most alert.
2. Work from Home Options
It wasn’t that long ago when the opportunity to work remotely was looked at as a luxury. Many enterprises imposed strict conditions on telecommuting, wanting to be sure that – for example – an employee’s laptop was fast and modern enough to stand up to the onerous task of a video conference.
In 2020, many companies had no choice but to embrace working from home in record time. Some of the world’s top technology leaders have shown no intention of going back. Dropbox has declared its whole workforce will remain ‘virtual first.’ Amazon has committed to remote work through the end of Q2 2021.
Whether your company’s future is “remote first” or “remote friendly,” work from home options will continue to loom large in the minds of your new hires. Examining job roles and titles closely helps you determine who can contribute just as well from home – and may also uncover areas to improve, consolidate, or cut numbers.
3. More Vacation Time
Americans have a problem with vacation, and it’s especially noticeable among today’s cohort of younger Millennial workers. The problem is this: They don’t use it, even once they’ve accumulated it.
Research from the U.S. Travel Association shows that more than half of Americans don’t use all of the paid vacation days they’ve earned. That report was issued in 2018. In 2019, The Washington Post incredulously asked “What does America have against vacation?” while tallying unused vacation days at 768 million.
Armchair philosophers can postulate that there’s something in the American character that just doesn’t like vacation – but the more likely answer is this: In a job market where employers rarely show loyalty, employees worry that a week off might make them look expendable.
In truth, vacation time ranks near the front of the pack in most surveys on non-healthcare employee benefits.
Even more interesting is the concept of unlimited vacation. Adopted by a variety of small businesses in the knowledge economy, the name says it all: Employees can take off as much time as they want as long as the job gets done. The idea is still relatively new, but SHRM sounds a cautious note about under-use here, too.
Ignite Employee Benefits Satisfaction At Lower Costs By Aligning Your Company’s Culture
With uncertainty about the future of healthcare in America continuing to grow, nothing is likely to overtake health benefits as the #1 consideration on employees’ minds. But the writing is already on the wall about how other priorities are likely to shift. Low-cost, high value employee benefits are a cornerstone of success.
The key is not only implementing these benefits, but monitoring their use.
Whether you believe employees suffer “vacation guilt” or simply don’t want to get fired, under-utilization of employee benefits is a sad fact of life. You can head off this behavior by keeping tabs on who does and doesn’t use their benefits to the fullest, then finding ways to encourage them.
For example: If you want to get more people to embrace remote work, make sure they’re still looped in with relevant feedback and a clear plan for career development even when they spend less time at the office.
If you want to encourage your team to enjoy their earned vacation days, it usually isn’t enough to decide that they don’t roll over to the next year. Instead, employees need to see their direct superiors taking time off.
Tried-and-true healthcare and retirement benefits will always have a place in your compensation strategy. As the goals of your workforce change, however, it’s crucial to move with the times. Update your company’s culture and attitude toward employee benefits and you could make a big impact at low expense.