The benefits of offering benefits

Attracting, retaining quality employees just part of return on investment

Employers are once again concerned about a capability gap appearing in the marketplace, as it seems the gulf between candidate skills and the needs of employers is widening.

Perhaps this is due to the rapid change technology brings about and/or a perceived lag in educational training. Yet, the last time a shortage of skilled employees plagued the market, it resulted in some pretty creative recruitment strategies.

For instance, candidates were being offered signing bonuses, a free laptop even if they weren't selected as a finalist candidate and/or the ability to bring their dog to work.

One unique situation comes to mind where a candidate requested a desk made out of Lego blocks.

Whether this request was a joke or not, the candidate was hired, and the employer built a desk out of 3,000 Lego blocks.

The capability gap appears to be repeating itself, and recruiters are once again becoming creative in their candidate search strategies. This time, recruiters are using targeted social-media campaigns, along with YouTube videos, blogs written by happy employees and slick slogans to advertise their job roles. Still others are setting up competitive candidate events where everyone is given a similar task with the winner(s) taking home the prize job.

More attention is also being paid to the work environment. For instance, more and more organizations are moving toward open-space work units that are flexible and can be moved around. Some employers are also now providing perks such as free in-house yoga classes, nap and playrooms, as well as all-day access to fruit and vegetables, healthy snacks and drinks.

Still others focus on ensuring a positive company image through creative websites and advertise their use of the latest technology as a means of attracting new employees. They work hard to ensure positive interpersonal relationships within the company and have become more informal than formal in their dress and demeanour.At the same time, most large organizations are also realizing the value of a competitive compensation and benefits packages as part of an attraction and retention strategy.

On the other hand, there are still a number of small-business owners who don't understand how valuable employee benefits are to employee recruitment and retention. Instead, they fret over perceived costs.

This belief and/or philosophy is unfortunate because in the long run, it may well strangle the chances of long-term business success. According to a study by McKinsey Quarterly, benefits are key to attracting and retaining employees.

So just what is the value of offering employee benefits?

Demonstrates corporate commitment -- Candidates looking at an organization as a potential employer will see it is willing to invest in employees. They perceive they will have value in making the company successful.

Reduce turnover -- Employees tend to stay when they achieve job satisfaction. Studies show there is a reciprocal relationship between job satisfaction and the receipt of employee benefits. Offering benefits helps to create employee loyalty, thus reducing turnover.

Enhance employee morale -- Offering employee benefits that match and address the personal needs of a workforce also shows the company cares; this in turn creates a healthy environment. Once again, research shows happy employees are more productive and help create a positive work environment.

Support good health -- At one time, employers felt employee health was none of their business. Now, it is realized time away from work costs the employer a lot of money. Thus, benefits support the good health of employees and help to reduce the number of sick days. Employees, too, are seen to pay more attention to their health overall.

Variety meets individual needs -- Typical benefits include life insurance, short- and long-term disability, dental and vision plans, paid vacation time, maternity, paternity and sick leave. However, creative companies have combined these with things such as product discounts, tuition reimbursement and/or opportunities for paid professional development.

Cost sharing creates respect -- Employees want benefits and value them. In most cases, employee cost-sharing is accepted and welcomed. This creates a sense of appreciation for everyone's contribution.

Benefits can be an educational tool -- Most employees take good health for granted, and so a benefit plan and its educational component can serve to remind people of its value. Employees should understand what a plan offers, how it is managed and what the overall benefits cost. Employees should be provided with an annual statement so they can see exactly what services they have used.

While understanding the benefits of offering employee benefits, small-business owners are often overwhelmed by the complexity of service offerings. However, there are several insurance-service providers in the market today, and the services they offer are excellent: a wide roster of programs, innovative tools, educational materials, employee and employer online access and annual analytics. This enables a sense of freedom and control for all parties, yet outside support is there when questions arise.

A benefit provider can help determine the type of plan best suited to an individual company and its employees' needs, balance future needs versus today's needs and work with an insurance professional to implement cost-control tools.

It is a shame many small owner-operated businesses often focus too much attention on the costs of providing employee benefits and fail to see the investment value received in return.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2015 B14

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