Millions of jobs in sectors like manufacturing, healthcare and technology are vacant or could go unfilled in coming years as baby boomers retire. Economic growth and other factors are also expected to increase demand for fresh workers in many professions. Already, the national unemployment rate has hovered below 5 percent for more than a year, prompting companies to beef up their benefits packages to attract and retain top talent.
And in-demand employees want more than substantial salaries and robust retirement plans, said Lucy English, managing director of institutional research at Horizons Workforce Consulting. A recent Horizons study found employees value companies with benefits that boost more than just their bank balances.
“When you examine what makes an employer a ‘Dream Company’ in the eyes of employees, the top three things are: number one, my employer truly cares about my well-being; number two, my employer provides me with opportunities to learn and grow in my career; and, number three, my company promotes work-life balance,” English said.
Willing workers are a hot commodity in many sectors, experts say. So if you have sellable skills, here are 15 perks beyond a paycheck to push for during your next job search or annual evaluation.
1. Flexible Scheduling
An increasing number of employers are abandoning face time for flextime to create better work-life integration for their employees, said Iris Sullivan, head of talent acquisition for the recruitment firm FindersKeepers Talent.
“Whether it be core hours — where everyone must be in the office for a certain chunk of the day, but can work elsewhere the rest of the time — to working-from-home programs, we are already seeing the benefit it is having on employee engagement and retention,” Sullivan said. “[Employees] in turn, tend to be more refreshed, excited and loyal. They will want to do better work because their time is being respected.”
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According to the 2017 Employee Benefits Report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 62 percent of companies surveyed offered some type of telecommuting and 57 percent offered flextime options, with the number of companies boasting such benefits increasing in recent years.
In her experience, larger companies are more likely to offer flexible work arrangements, including core hours options, telecommuting or job-sharing, Sullivan said. But, as the competition for top talent heats up in today’s low-unemployment economy, experts say you’ll find more employers offering flexible work arrangements when possible.
“There is a big movement to flexible workplaces, and employers who are not catching up in offering those perks will be competing for star talent with companies who are able to offer such a valuable perk,” Sullivan said.
2. Employee-Sponsored Training
In the modern economy, employees are constantly required to master new technological tools and skills, said Sarah Tilton, senior regional director, New York, for General Assembly, a company that offers courses and workshops online in web development, data analytics and more.
“Today it’s estimated that the current shelf life of technological skills is less than five years,” she said. “Lifelong learning has become an economic imperative, meaning there’s never been a better time to ask your employer to sponsor a workshop, training or course to either refresh your skills or learn an entirely new subject.”
“At General Assembly, over 60 percent of our part-time students receive tuition reimbursement from their employers,” Tilton said. “It’s a great way for your company to invest in your future and increase your team’s value.”
3. Tuition Reimbursement
Along those same lines, 53 percent of employers surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits Report offered employees assistance with undergraduate expenses, 50 percent provided help with graduate school expenses and 11 percent offered scholarships for employees’ family members. But scoring a stipend shouldn’t require earning a full degree, said English.
“Growth and learning [are] important to employees, and we need to take a new look at what this means. It is no longer the case that everyone wants to or needs to pursue a degree program in order to advance their knowledge,” English said. “Shorter, on-demand learning has an important place in an agile workplace. It’s important to make sure that the company’s tuition reimbursement policies are updated to include non-degree bearing programs to support employees who are motivated to grow.”
4. Financial Wellness Programs
Hefty raises have been hard to come by for most Americans, and those trends show signs of continuing in 2017, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, workers — especially those right out of college — are often saddled with student loans and other debts, said Brandon Carter, an employee engagement analyst and writer for the employee discount program Access Perks. So some companies are introducing programs to help employees take their minds off their money, at least while they’re at work.
“Financial wellness is being taken on by workplaces,” he said. “It’s a knowledge economy, and the less people have to be stressed out about the more they can focus on using their brains for their work. Companies are rolling out various retirement savings functions, personal finance education, student loan repayment, discount programs and other things that help make money less of an issue.”
5. Stress-Reduction Programs
Similarly, stress-busting initiatives help workers manage personal problems and stay more focused on the business’s bottom line, Carter said.
“It sounds hokey on the surface, but benefits like mindfulness training, nap rooms, even flexible scheduling, all show positive effects on employee performance and stress reduction,” he said.
Indeed, studies have shown mindfulness training, such as instruction in meditation, can reduce employees’ anxiety levels and have positive effects on their sense of well being and satisfaction. That can translate into tangible benefits for employers, including improved work relationships and increased productivity in the office.
6. Health and Fitness Programs
Active employees also tend to be healthier and happier both mentally and physically, said Carter. So workplaces are stepping up efforts to get employees moving as well as meditating.
“Health and wellness will continue to be an issue, as [having] healthier employees is seemingly the only way to truly reduce the insurance costs a company bears. There are also strong correlations between active employees and mental wellness,” Carter said. “Onsite gyms and cafes, personal trainers, company-provided wearables are all becoming increasingly popular as a result.”
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan is a believer in workplace wellness programs such as his company’s Get Active! initiative, writing in a CNBC commentary that employees who cut their body mass index can dramatically reduce healthcare costs for themselves — and their employers.
A survey from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found many other employers, especially large ones like Bank of America, offer such health and wellness promotion programs. The survey showed that 83 percent of large firms and 46 percent of small firms offer health benefits, also including these types of programs in some form.
7. Senior Care Assistance
Many employees who find themselves taking care of older loved ones need support systems to help them cover the bases at home and at work, said Al Zink, senior vice president of human resources at Care.com. The company provides senior care services to corporate clients through its Care@Work platform.
“Since we’re experiencing a rapidly increasing aging population … a boomer bomb is brewing just beneath the surface, and organizations need to prepare for when it goes off,” Zink said. “Organizations can prepare for the boomer bomb by providing benefits like senior care expert assistance, in which care specialists work personally with employees to identify and narrow down caregiver candidates; or other benefits, like in-home adult backup care for those emergency situations, in which employees often find themselves choosing between using PTO to care for their aging parent at home or showing up to work distracted.”
8. Child Care Assistance
The Horizons Workforce Consulting study on dream companies shows providing child or elder care support — including onsite childcare centers or backup childcare options — can pay off in unexpected ways. Employees with such support systems in place at work were less likely to be stressed about their own health and less likely to be in treatment for conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, English said. These healthier, happier workers tend to be more productive and less likely to look for another job.
“Dependent care responsibilities are high on everyone’s list of priorities, so whether we’re taking care of a child or an adult, having the resources we need to do that well is critical,” English said.
“Full-service child care centers associated with the employer provide proximate care, with calendars and hours that make sense for that organization’s workforce, and meet or exceed the quality standards of the organization,” she added. “These benefits are very sticky, in that employees with great care for their loved ones will be reluctant to leave the employer.”
9. Organizational Agility
Policy makers and managers can foster an environment of “organizational agility” by acknowledging employees have important priorities outside of the office. This provides people with a variety of ways to update their skills, and it creates an inclusive environment that encourages employees to share ideas and opinions, English said.
“Excellent people practices are critical to agile organizations because they allow people to have the cognitive capacity needed to perform well and bring creative solutions to the workplace,” English said. “Employees distracted by family care problems, financial issues … can’t make the same level of contributions as can employees with high levels of personal well-being.”
Zappos and Google are known for their robust employee-recognition programs and other perks. But companies don’t have to have cool campuses with group cooking classes or beach-themed conference rooms — complete with sand — to compete when it comes to offering employees a pat on the back, said Shawna Clark, owner of leadership development and executive coaching company Clark Executive Coaching.
“Not all companies have Zappos- or Google-sized budgets. You can still create an effective recognition program,” said Clark. “Ask your employees how they like to be appreciated and what’s important to them. Everyone is different.”
“From under-the-radar, sincere emails to loud-and-clear public displays — you’ll go much further keeping employees engaged if you take the time to find out their preferences in appreciation,” she added. “Then make sure to appreciate your employees in the way that’s best for them. Your employees will feel valued when your recognition is meaningful and unique to them.”
11. More Flexible Paid Time Off
Many companies are polishing their paid time off policies, allowing employees more paid vacation days. Or, companies are letting employees bank unused time off of all kinds into an account they can tap when they’re ill or simply need a mental health day. Some employers are even experimenting with or adopting unlimited paid vacation policies, said Scott Wesper, hiring manager for Arch Resources Group, which provides client companies with services including payroll administration and recruiting.
“Companies understand that employees value time spent outside the office, and they encourage their employees to use this time for family, friends, travel and more,” he said.
12. Programs That Encourage Innovation
Employees need time to experiment and feel challenged, said Adrian Ridner, cofounder and CEO of the educational technology company Study.com. He recommended companies launch specific initiatives to encourage new ideas.
“Study.com organizes regular 24-hour “Rockethons” where the entire company regroups into small teams to exercise their creative skills by brainstorming ideas, creating prototypes, improving tools and more,” he said.
And tech-centric firms aren’t the only employers trying to encourage innovation. For example, media giant Thomson Reuters introduced an internal Catalyst Fund to provide seed money for innovative projects proposed by its employees, who also get access to key executives through the program. Even government agencies are getting into the innovation act, with initiatives like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Ignite Accelerator. This competitive program offers its staffers access to coaching, mentorship and other resources to help move passion projects from dream to reality.
13. Giving Employees Perks and a Sense of Purpose
Study.com’s website highlights perks including frequent fun outings, free gym memberships, a free, fully stocked kitchen — and a free, midweek beer cart that delivers desk side. The company’s careers page also showcases Study.com’s mission, which Ridner said is a selling point for potential hires who want to make a difference in the world.
“Employees want to feel good about their work and the impact their company makes,” he said.
A strong sense of mission could also help retain workers. For example, 71 percent of millennials surveyed by Gallup in 2016 who strongly agree that they know what their organization stands for say they plan to be with the company for at least one year.
14. Opportunities for Advancement
The 2016 report from Gallup also found 87 percent of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a workplace. Meanwhile, 69 percent of workers in other age groups shared that sentiment.
Many companies highlight programs focused on promoting from within — which can help you climb the career ladder. For instance, some large firms have their own robust in-house training programs, such as AT&T University or McDonald’s Hamburger University. But companies should promote their development programs if they want to attract and retain the best employees, said Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation, which helps people start and maintain businesses.
“Let your team know that there are opportunities for growth within the company, and give them work that challenges and engages,” said Case, who oversees hiring at MyCorporation. “Recognize their accomplishments and promote from within by allowing them to transfer to another department based on their skill sets.”
15. Personalized Healthcare Benefits
Healthcare costs have been on the rise for employers and employees alike, making it harder for smaller companies to compete when it comes to offering traditional group health insurance policies, said Caitlin Bronson, a content writer for Zane Benefits, which provides health benefits products and services for small businesses.
A 2016 survey from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation seems to support those claims. It found 53 percent of small companies offered health benefits in 2016, compared with 96 percent of larger companies. The number of small firms offering benefits has also been on the decline from a high of 66 percent in 2010.
“More and more small businesses are starting to solve this problem by offering what we call personalized health benefits,” Bronson said. “With personalized benefits, companies give employees tax-free money through plans like the Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) to spend on the services they find most valuable. Employees can purchase their own individual insurance policies and pay for other health services, and then use a fixed amount of company money to reimburse themselves for the cost.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed enrollment in plans with savings options and higher deductibles has grown by 8 percent in the last two years. Meanwhile, enrollment in preferred provider organization plans, or PPOs, has fallen 10 percentage points in the same period.
“Personalized benefits help small businesses by allowing them to control costs,” Bronson said. “But, more importantly, they give employees the freedom to choose the health care services they prefer.”
About the Author
Charlene Oldham specializes in education, workplace issues, consumer finance, health and wellness and business personalities. A former business news staff writer for The Dallas Morning News whose varied resume includes a stint with Teach For America, Charlene has written freelance works that have appeared in publications including the Orlando Sentinel, SUCCESS, Organic Gardening and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.