It’s About More than Money: How Employee Benefits Are Changing

Changes in employee benefits come about in a variety of ways. Sometimes the economy forces them, or the government regulates their structure. Unions negotiate for them. Employees lobby for them.

Or company CEOs just decide to offer them. Such was the case recently when Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson announced that new parents – both moms and dads — would be allowed to take a year off with full pay upon the birth of a child.

Granted, this generous benefit only affects staff who have put in at least four years at Virgin Management’s London and Geneva offices. But it comes less than a year after another significant employment policy change at Virgin Group that allowed staff to take as much time off as they wanted (as long as work didn’t suffer). Netflix and less high-profile companies had already instituted such a policy.

Such a sea change may not be realistic in your small business. But it reveals an underlying corporate culture that every company can adopt, if it’s not already in place: dropping rigid but-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way thinking and really considering what your employee benefits package would look like if you did what you could to keep employees happy – without, of course, triggering productivity losses or other negative impact on the company as a whole.

A Critical Culture Change

Making employee benefits more flexible and generous is more than a good idea. These days, it’s a necessity, considering that:

  • The unemployment rate remains low – 5.5 percent as of May 2015 – so you don’t have a huge pool of talented, unemployed people desperate for work. Good benefits can sway even someone who already has a job that pays a lucrative salary.
  • People are retiring later. They’re staring into that abyss that is the rest of their working lives, and they don’t want to wait until they’re 67 or 70 or even older to feel like they have some breathing room. They want their jobs to represent more than an obligation and a paycheck. They want a good work-life balance while there’s still need for the work side of the equation.
  • The perennial concern about the future of Social Security and the slow demise of the defined benefit plan makes today’s employees – from millennials to baby boomers – more concerned than ever about how their employers can help them save and invest.

What Can You Offer?

All of this is not to say that employees don’t want whatever they can get in terms of salaries. That quest is evergreen.

But they see the possibilities that rapidly-advancing technology offers to companies, both in terms of their ability to get work done faster and better, and the dwindling need to have everyone in their desks in an office for a prescribed number of hours every day, even if there’s no work to do at the moment, or the tasks that do need to be accomplished could be done at least as well in another location.

It’s no secret that telecommuting is on the rise. Entrepreneurship is allowing people to stop working for a paycheck and start creating their own businesses. Mobile technology is making it ridiculously easy to collaborate, to stay in constant communication, and even to be in two places at once.

Of course, many jobs require a physical presence during “work hours.” But you must know that at least some of your employees look longingly at progressive workplace changes in other companies.

Benefits Benefit You, Too

The big benefits — health insurance and employer-matched retirement plans – are expensive. Be as generous as you are able there, and as flexible as you can be in letting employees work when and where they want. Make it clear that you respect each individual’s need for personal development and growth by offering professional mentors, sabbaticals, training and educational opportunities.

Do the same for their physical and mental health by, for example, offering subsidized gym memberships and access to other community support vehicles. Enlist the help of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

A lot of the things you do to help your employees will actually return to you in improved attitudes, productivity, and longevity. So take Sir Richard Branson’s words to heart. Take care of your employees as well as your needs and your budget will allow, or risk losing them.



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