Rethinking employee benefits: Four ideas we like (and 3 we don’t)

Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series that looks at how businesses can attract and retain employees with new – and sometimes creative – benefits. We want to help you understand the best options and why they’re an important part of what you offer. 

Quick hits 

Four non-traditional benefits our experts recommend: 

  • Flexible work arrangements 
  • Wellness programs 
  • Professional development opportunities 
  • Generous parental leave policies 

Three things we’d avoid: 

  • Murky explanations of what you offer 
  • Limited/outdated offerings 
  • Inequitable distribution of benefits 

Let’s face it—it’s no longer enough to offer employees standard benefits such as health/dental insurance, 401(k), and paid time off. In most instances, prospects—and your current employees—will find an organization that provides more lucrative benefits to fit their specific needs.

We get that knowing what to do or where to start is difficult. In fact, it’s something we talk about often with our clients. We’re regularly looking at what works and what doesn’t. What do people value today, and what’s window dressing? 

To address those issues, we sat down with our President and CEO, Tara Conger, to discuss what she likes—and, as importantly, what she thinks is either outdated or archaic when it comes to developing new benefits to offer. As a board member of the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), she has a pulse on not only what we experience at Tandem HR but also on what the industry sees nationally. 

The 9-to-5 is still alive, but it’s far different than it was even a few years ago. Technology has opened the door to new ways of working that don’t require everyone to be in the office Monday through Friday. 

Yes, the pandemic spurred this trend, but we don’t see it going away any time soon. If you want to attract top talent, flexible work is something you need to consider.  

You don’t have to go “all in.” In fact, for some companies, an entirely remote workforce wouldn’t work. However, a hybrid model tailored to your employees’ needs is worth considering.  

Companies that offer flexible work arrangements such as remote work options or flexible hours are tangibly demonstrating they trust their employees and the importance of work-life balance. 

“This can lead to increased job satisfaction, productivity, and employee retention,” Conger said. “Who doesn’t want that?” 

In many ways, technology and tools that allow us to be “always on” have given us freedoms, including the freedom to flex our work. But that same tech has increased stress, making it difficult to disconnect from our jobs and careers—a factor that can take its toll on an employee’s well-being.  

That’s why we must prioritize our employees’ health and take real steps to support them as the world becomes increasingly complex and demanding—on both the personal and professional side. 

Some initiatives to consider include: 

  • Gym memberships 
  • Mental-health resources 
  • Free, healthy snacks 
  • Stress-management workshops 

“If you prioritize employee well-being, it’s going to foster a healthier, more engaged workforce,” Conger said. That not only benefits your employees but also leads to fewer sick days, more productivity—and, let’s face it, happier people.” 

No one wants to feel “stuck” in their job, wondering if they even have a remote chance of advancing their career while at your company.  

To that end, formalizing professional development opportunities goes a long way with employees. It shows a clear roadmap and lets them know their futures are a priority for you and your business. 

A few simple things that show your commitment to employee growth are: 

  • Tuition reimbursement 
  • Skill-building workshops 
  • Mentorship programs 

While it requires time and effort, the results speak for themselves. “Most often, you’ll see employees report higher job satisfaction and increased motivation at work. In turn, you’ll likely see an improvement in employment retention, saving you time and money,” Conger said.

While parental leave policies continue to vary, it’s time to up the ante in terms of what you offer. 

This is a pivotal moment in people’s lives, and showing support as an organization will go a long way with employees. Whether it’s extended time off with pay, leave for both partners or a combination, this is the perfect time to let your employees know you truly care about them as people – not only as workers.  

“In general, we see progressive parental leave policies lead to increased loyalty, engagement, and productivity among employees because they feel valued and supported as parents,” Conger said. 

Don’t dance around your benefits, making it difficult for potential and existing employees to understand what you offer. Yes, things can change, including contribution percentages and cost, but that’s no reason to be vague.  

Clearly state eligibility criteria, coverage details, and costs to avoid confusion and frustration. Be to the point and incredibly clear when communicating benefits to your employees. Remember, they have enough going on in their personal and professional lives – no need to make benefits difficult to grasp. 

“A lack of transparency can erode trust and lead to dissatisfaction with your benefits package,” Conger said. Take the time to spell things out clearly for your employees. They’ll appreciate the openness, and it will save them time and undue stress.”

It’s time to sunset those outdated benefits packages. They’re no longer relevant, and people aren’t going to settle any longer. The landscape has changed, and if you want to attract top talent, you need to ditch archaic offerings. 

What do we mean by that? Well, things like minimal healthcare coverage and lack of retirement savings options are a great place to start. If you’re looking to go further, layer in progressive benefits (including some mentioned above), such as mental health coverage that often falls outside the scope of traditional healthcare plans.  

When you try to do things as cheaply as possible without regard for how it will impact your employees, you may struggle to attract and retain top talent in a competitive job market.  

We aren’t talking about compensation here. Instead, this comes down to ensuring everyone at your company can access the same benefits. 

For instance, don’t offer perks such as remote work only to executives when any part-time or contract worker could easily work from outside the office. If employees qualify for benefits, they should all have equal access to the same packages.  

“When you start to gatekeep certain benefits, you quickly contribute to feelings of inequality and resentment within your workforce,” Conger said. “This can lead to decreased morale, productivity, and loyalty – three things I’m sure no leader wants.”