Healthcare, dental, vision insurance and 401(k) savings plans are among some of the most commonly offered employee benefits -- and for good reason. According to Tower Watson’s 2013/2014 Global Benefits Attitude Survey of 22,347 employees worldwide, nearly 50 percent of respondents said their company’s retirement/healthcare program is an important reason they stay with the company.
But it’s the lesser-known (and seldom offered) benefits that differentiate companies from their competitors when it comes to attracting and retaining talented employees. Here are five overlooked benefits that not all companies provide, but employees always appreciate:
1. Commuter benefits.
Working in an urban setting can burn a big hole in an employee’s pocket. Employees who drive themselves to work can expect to pay a pretty penny in parking expenses, while bus, cab and subway fares can quickly add up for the car-less. Providing commuter benefits can help patch that hole for both employees and employers. Commuter benefits are considered tax-free transportation fringe benefits, not wage or salary compensation, so payroll taxes don’t apply. By allowing employees to reserve income on a pre-tax basis, employers can also save on payroll taxes.
Clif Bar & Company puts a unique spin on typical commuter benefits by giving employees who pledge to bike to work two days a month $500 to buy or improve a commuter bike. They are on the path to not only a happier, healthier workforce, but also a greener community.
2. Continuing education.
Company growth starts with individual growth and development. That growth begins with investing in employees’ continued education. Last year, Starbucks announced its College Achievement Plan offering full-tuition coverage for eligible employees to earn a bachelor’s degree online through Arizona State University.
Employee education programs can work for companies of all sizes. Smaller companies unable to afford assistance for full-time employees who are also part-time students can still offer flex time. Employees attending classes consider it equally valuable.
3. Paid sabbatical.
To truly gain a better sense of work-life balance, employees need to occasionally escape from the office and their work life for more than just a long weekend. That’s where the employee sabbatical comes in.
In the academic world, professors are commonly given several months off as a paid sabbatical to focus on personal and professional development. In the business world, however, SHRM’s 2014 Benefits Survey revealed that only 3 percent of U.S. companies offer this enviable perk.
At MeetUp, an online social networking platform that facilitates offline group meetings, employees can take a whopping three months of paid sabbatical after they’ve worked at the company for more than seven years.
4. Concierge benefits.
Concierge benefits are increasingly offered by some of today’s most innovative companies, notably Google, Facebook and Twitter. These services can include anything from dry cleaning to meal catering to oil changes. The idea is to create more balance between an employee’s personal and work life by taking care of time-consuming errands. Employees have their chores done and employers benefit from increased employee productivity.
Web-hosting service Weebly gives employees a $50 monthly credit (on their company credit card -- itself a benefit) to Exec, a house cleaning and errand-running service. The less time employees spend on non-work related activities during the work day, the more time they have to knock out their task list.
Despite its popularity with employees, concierge benefits are still one of the most overlooked benefits. Only 3 percent of employers offer these services, according to the above SHRM survey.
5. Volunteer hours.
Catering to social consciousness is critical to attracting and retaining the millennials who are growing to dominate the workforce. Offering employees time off to volunteer is a sincere way to fulfill company values and employee expectations.
Computer storage and data management company NetApp gives employees 40 hours of paid time off each year to work at a nonprofit or school of their choice. Last year, nearly 3,500 employees combined to volunteer 59,000 hours.
The SHRM benefit survey found that volunteer time off (VTO), while still uncommon, is offered by 16 percent of companies. VTO policies attract millennials by rewarding them for working hard work to make a difference in the community. VTO manifests a company’s commitment to authentic corporate social responsibility. It’s an undeniable win-win.