When the job market picks up, will your employees also pick up—and leave? The U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent in June. Though it might be premature to call that a major uptick in the job market, many think that's just around the corner. Which means now's the time to act if you want to keep your workers' minds off the Help Wanted ads.
To encourage their best workers to stick around, many companies are looking at adding perks. Certainly, they have plenty of options: There are the "corporate" benefits—health insurance, retirement plans, sick leave—that are offered to all employees. Then, there may be divisional or departmental benefits offered only to workers within those groups, such as flexible schedules, opportunities for job sharing or cross training.And then there are what we think of as "line-item budget" benefits—the salary increases, bonuses and facility upgrades offered in boom times (but that are first to go when recession looms).
But offering up a full slate of perks can get expensive. It's almost certain you'll have to pick and choose. Which perks mean the most to staff members? You might be surprised by the answers.
Take the standard "corporate" benefits: health insurance, annual salary increases; paid sick days and vacation days; and equipment upgrades (as needed for productivity). Employees have come to expect these and may not see them as perks. Therefore, the positive impact is minor. But that doesn't mean you should drop them. Although offering these benefits probably won't help you hire or retain people, a lack of them can work against you. That is, it's unlikely a job candidate will accept your offer simply because you offer insurance, but he or she may decline your offer because you don't.
What about making the site a more pleasant place to work? Remodeling the break room and providing bottled spring water in the warehouse may be appreciated, but they won't go far toward building loyalty. By the same token, outfitting an onsite workout room or underwriting membership to a nearby exercise facility will not be appreciated by as many as you'd think.
It's important to keep in mind that not every benefit carries the same weight with all employees. For example, life insurance coverage and retirement benefits mean absolutely nothing to most twenty-somethings. They'd probably prefer flexible schedules. Similarly, career development seminars and cross-training programs may hold limited appeal for older workers.
Managers should also be aware that the "get-themin- the-door" benefits have limited useful life. Sign-on bonuses and flexible schedules can serve as enticements to bring your firstchoice hire on board. But a few months down the road, these things start to feel like entitlements, not rewards.
Perks need not be budget busters. A little recognition can go a long way. Consider footing the bill for departmental birthday parties; offering cross-training and career development seminars (for younger workers); and tokens of appreciation (such as certificates and awards). Set up a departmental softball—or bowling or basketball—team and provide the tee shirts.
One other low-cost/no-cost benefit that can go a long way toward building morale (and loyalty) is to use your clout to negotiate discounts for needed services on your employees' behalf. For example, you may decide that running an on-site day care center is too costly, but there's no reason why you cannot contact a nearby center and see if you can work out a quantity discount. Though their child care won't be free, your employees will perceive the discount as a valuable company benefit. And it won't cost you anything except a little negotiation time.