You hear so much on the news and in the blogosphere about amazing benefits being the key to attracting and retaining talent. Egg freezing! Student-loan payoffs! A year of paid paternity leave!
But where does that leave a small business? Should you spend a fortune on fancy benefits so you can get and keep the best talent around, or throw in the towel and have zero benefits because you’ll never compete with the Googles and Netflixes of the world?
There is a compromise, says Lakeisha Robichaux, CEO of Chief of Minds, an HR and business strategy consultancy in Baton Rouge. You can start small and use your dollars wisely, building up a powerful small business benefits plan over time, she says. Here’s how.
Most people working at a small business realize the cost limitations that can affect their employer. They likely don’t expect a fancy benefits package, and as long as you’re honest about it they’ll be OK, Robichaux says. “Most employees want to know up front, but once they do, they’re fine. You can say it’s on the horizon if that’s the case. They understand,” she says.
They also may value other things over traditional benefits at this time in their lives — things a small business is uniquely suited to provide. “Employees at a small company care about culture. Everyone wants to work somewhere relaxed, fun and inviting. If you can offer some additional paid time off, flexible scheduling or occasional remote work, this is a tradeoff that a lot of employees are willing to make,” Robichaux says. When there are no benefits, or few benefits, being able to take the afternoon off to go to a school play can make a big difference.
Also, professional development can be valuable to your staff. Educational opportunities, conferences and continuing education credits can all be benefits. “You want to stipulate that the development must be applicable to the employee’s job,” Robichaux says. “And you should have a policy that any time off for training will still allow for routine work to flow as normal. You can’t have an entire department gone to a conference. Whether your policy involves seniority or ‘first come, first served,’ just have something,” she says.
You may also be able to get creative with other little perks as a way to let employees know they’re valued without the expense of a full health plan. Providing free coffee can do wonders for the caffeine-addicted among your staff, and the occasional free group lunch or snacks can help everyone, she says. Even something as simple as a fun retreat day can be positioned as a benefit, she says. Perhaps you could do a morning of meetings or other work and then take the afternoon for a fun team-building activity like bowling or a picnic, or to take everyone to the movies, she says.
When you do start paying for benefits, use your dollars wisely. “Start with what will make the biggest impact on your current and future employees,” Robichaux says. This is almost always health insurance. Not every employee at your company has poor vision or will need life insurance, but everyone will appreciate a safety net in case they become ill or injured.
If you absolutely cannot afford health insurance but want to do something, or you have health insurance and you’re ready for an additional benefit, consider disability insurance. Again, so many other types of benefits appeal more to one group than another, but disability can help everyone. “Baby boomers, Gen X and millennials all have different ideas about life insurance and retirement planning. Years ago I’d have said retirement should be next, but people stay at jobs an average of two to three years now. Millennials are going out and getting their own accounts outside the workplace. But everyone can understand income protection like disability insurance, and it’s usually not too expensive,” she says.
If you position disability as a way to safeguard income, it should be a value that everyone appreciates. Bonus: It will help you, the small-business owner, save either some guilt or payroll dollars if an employee becomes unable to work for a bit.
Once you have the basics covered then you can add in extras as you have the money or interest at your office.
Robichaux recommends dental and 401(k) plans as a good use of money next. Anything you can do to show you are building things up over time and value your employees will be appreciated, she says.
Beyond that, you can add in other benefits — such as vision, accident, hospitalization, cancer or catastrophic illness and life insurance. Many of these are voluntary benefits that the employee can pay for, at least partially, so they likely won’t be a huge financial hit. There may be some administration costs for your company, so be sure to research those.
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