Many businesses cite their employees as one of their most valuable competitive advantages. As an employee, you’ll see soon enough if your employer is really walking the walk. Your company’s benefits package is one place where you can reflect your values and do right by the people who keep your business humming along like a well-oiled machine.

Offering stellar benefits has nothing to do with keeping up with the Googles of the world. Rather, it makes great financial sense. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, businesses spend the equivalent of six to nine months of an employee’s salary to hire and train their replacement. A 2012 study from the Center for American Progress reports that replacement costs range from 16% of an entry-level employee’s salary up to 213% for an executive. Regardless of which study you believe, employee turnover is expensive and time-consuming. Upgrading your benefits and customizing them for your people is one way to combat these costs and transform your business into a place where people want to work for the long haul!

It starts with observing and listening to your people. What challenges are they facing in their personal lives as well as on the job? The same way your business creates solutions for its customers, pay attention and ask thoughtful questions to gain insights into your employees. Rather than offering nice-to-have but superficial perks (all you can eat chips and soda in the break room!), use your observations to craft benefits that will improve people’s lives and employee retention. Always know what your competition is doing, too. What can you do differently or better? Even if you’re not the boss, share your ideas. Presented appropriately, they’re sure to appreciate your efforts to help them attract talented people and reduce turnover.

Beyond the Basics

You’ll have serious problems if you don’t even offer the basics. Most small businesses offer medical insurance and discounts on prescriptions, a retirement plan, paid company holidays, and paid time off for vacation, personal time, and sick leave. Larger companies can also afford to offer benefits like dental and vision coverage, disability coverage, life insurance plans, and more.

Respect and Work-Life Balance

For many professionals, it’s rare to work a strict eight-hour shift. Many employers expect their people to have an “always-on” mentality. Expect your employees to assume a similar flexibility from the company. When else are they supposed to enjoy moments with their family, run errands and have fun if they’re on the clock 24/7/365? Employers who support work-life balance with flex time, teleworking or coworking options trust their employees to get their work done on schedule, regardless of when or where it happens.

Above & Beyond

It’s one thing to offer bare-minimum benefits required by the government. Going above and beyond highlights your company values and its appreciation of the people who make things happen each and every day. Here are a few ideas how you can go the extra mile for your people:

  • Sabbatical leave for employees who have invested in the company for a significant duration of time. Consider offering a program that allows them to take a month-long research trip or volunteer with a non-profit organization.
  • Paid time off for all new parents, including families who have adopted, beyond their normal personal time off.
  • Additional paid leave for bereavement of immediate or extended relatives.

Make It Personal

Make your benefits feel special, not cookie-cutter. These creative ideas from other companies might get your brainstorming off to a great start:

  • Rather than one-size-fits-all leadership programs for middle managers and above, allow each employee to work with a professional coach of their own choosing to help them achieve their full potential.
  • Reimburse employees for full or partial continuing education courses or advanced degrees.
  • Offer paid volunteer time off so that employees can pursue causes that matter to them.
  • Bring in speakers and engage employees to host inspirational and educational Lunch and Learn sessions.
  • Help your employees de-stress by offering chair massages periodically throughout the year. Sometimes it’s the little things!

One Word of Caution

Keep in mind that once you introduce benefits, it’s tough to reverse most of them (whether that’s legally, administratively or employee backlash). Make your decisions carefully. Envision what would happen if you had to scale down a particular benefit – or eliminate it altogether? On the bright side, you don’t have to do everything all at once. Improving your benefits over time can help you highlight your continued dedication to employees. And, every time you upgrade your benefits, you can gauge employee response and ensure your next steps still make sense.

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