When you first start your company, employee benefits are probably the last thing on your mind. (Figuring out how to make or raise money so you can bring on said employees? A bit more important.)
But as you grow your business, you face a dilemma: You want to attract the best and brightest workers, but you can’t afford the high-dollar salary and awesome benefits handed out by Fortune 500 companies (or even more established small businesses). How do you build a workplace so compelling that people will eagerly come work for you?
The good news is that some of today’s most beloved and sought-after employee benefits don’t cost a fortune. In fact, they’re fairly affordable. And in the long run, providing even a few low-cost benefits can help you attract loyal employees and compete for talent in today’s strengthening job market.
Here are seven perks to consider at your start-up.
1. Unlimited Vacation Time
Letting employees decide how much vacation time they take may seem like a slippery slope. But it can actually help motivate them to work harder. You trust them to do their jobs, and, in exchange, they’re free to take time off as they need. Many of today’s fast-growing companies including Netflix, HubSpot, and my company, ZenPayroll, have adopted unlimited PTO policies. We provide guidelines and references (for example, what other employees have done in the past) but fundamentally, we trust employees to think about what’s best for the company, their work, and themselves. And that’s a really empowering perk.
Of course, at many workplaces, it’s logistically impossible for employees to take off more than a couple weeks at a time. But offering a lengthier break after, say, five years of employment can differentiate your company from competitors and let your employees recharge. Only 4% of companies offer sabbaticals, according to a 2011 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. But those that do say they boost retention, while providing valuable personal and professional development opportunities.
Sabbaticals can be designed in various ways, though most are tied to years of service. For example, Red Frog Events, a Chicago events planning firm, gives employees a one-month vacation sabbatical every five years of employment. When I worked at Intel, employees were rewarded with a two-month sabbatical every seven years.
3. Flex Time
Most start-up employees find themselves working around the clock, whether they’re checking email in the morning or wrapping up a project before bedtime. So, a nice way to compensate for that “always on” work mentality is by giving them a little flexibility in their work hours.
You can set this up in various ways: Some companies require their employees to work certain core hours, but let them create their own work schedule around that time frame. Others allow them to work whenever they choose, as long as they produce quality work and finish it on time.
4. Fitness Stipends
Healthy employees are good for your business, as they can lower your insurance costs while also preventing sick days. And while you may not be able to install an on-site gym, you can give employees a monthly stipend to pay for gym memberships, yoga sessions, or other fitness classes. We do this at ZenPayroll, and we’ve found that it not only promotes healthy lifestyles, it’s also something our employees really value.
5. Commuter Benefits
Getting to work may cost your staffers $100 or more each month. That may not seem like much, but it’s certainly a tangible cost to them. Consider helping them pay for these expenses, whether by providing a monthly stipend or giving them access to a commuter flexible-spending account (FSA) that provides a tax deduction for contributions. These types of commuter incentive programs are in place around the country, and the tax benefit can be significant.
6. Free Food
Everyone needs to eat, and so food is a universally consumed (and universally loved) benefit. You might stock a refrigerator with yummy snacks or even treat your employees to occasional catered breakfast or lunch meetings. At ZenPayroll, we’ve found eating outside the office as a group at least once a week is a great opportunity to change our environment and bond as a team. It’s a relatively small cost that can pay back in dividends by strengthening your workplace culture.
7. Vendor Discounts
As your employee base grows, you may be able to arrange employee discounts at various companies in your area—think health clubs, dry-cleaning services, or restaurants. AnyPerk is a great low-cost service that makes it easy to give employees access to discounts in your area. These discounts may not cost your business much (or anything), but they’re really fun perks that people love.
As you work to build your start-up’s benefits package, don’t forget about your freelancers, independent contractors, and part-timers as well. These workers can be just as vital to your business. Giving them access to some of your offerings can make a difference in their lives and make them much happier members of the team.
Ultimately, every workplace is different, and the most valuable benefits will depend on your employees and their personal needs. If you’re not sure what benefits they value, just ask! Often times, it’s not the most expensive perk that makes the difference.