(This article originally appeared in the Philaelphia Inquirer)
It’s no secret that there’s a significant labor shortage and that finding good workers is among the top challenges facing most small businesses. Of course, in times of low supply and high demand, costs go up, which is why many companies have been increasing compensation to attract employees.
So much so that payroll firm Paychex has reported that the average hourly wage has reached an all-time high of $30 and that overall compensation paid to employees has increased more than 11% over the last 12 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
But it’s not just about wages, it’s also about benefits. Smart business owners I know are offering innovative perks to further entice workers. Here are five that you may want to consider for your business.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that many employees are able to get their jobs done even when they’re not in the office. And, as countless surveys have proved, employees very much want this type of benefit. So whether it’s a flexible paid time-off plan, a work-from-home program, or the ability to stagger hours and work whenever and wherever, this is a benefit that’s critical for attracting and retaining employees this year.
“We have five different shift times so that we can be flexible around people’s livelihoods,” said Molly Siciliano, a human resources manager at Evolution Gaming Ltd, an online gaming and casino company with studios in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. “It’s the best of both worlds. People prefer to work different times of the day due to their family situations and we can help accommodate that.”
Mental health is a top priority in 2022. Cheryl Kiley, a managing partner at employee benefits firm Fairmount Benefits in Radnor, has seen a “strong desire” by her clients to help their employees with mental health issues.
Whether it’s through health insurance coverage, or through coaching, counseling or making available such services as BetterUp and Talkspace, many companies are revisiting their mental health benefits and making sure both prospective and current employees are fully aware of what’s available. That’s because, thanks to the pandemic and attention from such celebrities as tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, mental health awareness is high and many employees — particularly younger employees — no longer view depression, anxiety, and other similar issues as a stigma.
“It’s become a very popular — and important — benefit to provide,” Kiley said. “We’ve been helping many clients enhance these benefits with their current health care provider.”
Many employers this year are also boosting their core health benefits, according to Robert Deninno Jr., a principal at Precision Benefits Group in Philadelphia. For example, Deninno said that if you’re not already offering a health savings account with a high-deductible health plan then “you’re doing your employees a disservice.” A health savings account allows both employees and employers to contribute pre-tax dollars that can be used to pay for such non-reimbursable health expenses as eyeglasses and diagnostic tests.
In addition to health savings accounts, Deninno has also seen many of his clients extend their health care coverage beyond just workers to include their families. “It’s an opportunity to provide even more coverage without having to change plans,” he said. “And it’s become a popular option, probably because of COVID fears. “
Student loan reimbursement is another hot benefit. Many companies are taking advantage of existing tax deductions and new incentives available thanks to legislation before COVID that not only encourage helping their employees pay down student loans but also provide for other types of educational assistance.
Sure, there’s a chance that the government may one day forgive some of the college-related debt that is burdening so many workers. But for now, many employers are stepping up and offering to help pay down loans using such services as Tuition.io and Savi.
“These are powerful platforms,” said Alan Kaplan, who runs executive recruiting service Kaplan Partners in Wynnewood. “It’s a bit of a differentiator because a lot companies are still not doing it. And I believe many young people graduating with so much debt really appreciate it.”
Finally, consider the fringes. Kiley’s company offers fringe benefits through Fringe, where employees are given points by her company and then can use those points to choose from more than 130 different types of fringe benefits offered on the platform ranging from gym reimbursements and lunch stipends to financial wellness apps and life and career coaching.
“You can offer these benefits on your own, but it takes a lot of administrative time, which is why we enjoy the Fringe platform,” she said. “We also use it as a reward system instead of just a benefit platform and our people love it.”
One other thing worth mentioning, because it’s overlooked by so many employers and their workers: education.
“Too many of our clients aren’t fully leveraging what they have,” Deninno said. “I tell them to let me come in and brag to their employees about all the benefits their company offers because they’re probably not aware of them all.”