When money is tight in a small business, it can be tempting to dismiss exploring extra benefits or perks to offer your employees, on the basis that you feel you should prioritise paying competitive salaries. But there is definitely value in doing what you can to enhance the package you offer.
So how do you decide which benefits to offer so that you can ensure maximum impact without excessive costs?
- Ask what people want
For employee perks and benefits to have maximum impact, they need to be ones your employees will value highly, and the most effective way of getting this right has to be to ask what they want. You may be surprised at what you find and this could save you money you might have been considering spending on a benefit not many people are interested in, and ensure your resources are channeled in the right direction.
When enquiring what priorities people have when it comes to benefits, you could conduct a short survey, and either give people a number of options to select from, or just throw it open to suggestion and see what comes out. You’ll never be able to please everyone, but if there are key benefits a large proportion of your workforce would like to see implemented, it makes sense to fund those if you can.
- Consider your workforce profile
You may hear about all sorts of great-sounding benefits offered by other employers, advertised by benefits providers as being popular or something offered by ‘forward-thinking’ big employers. But think about the profile of your own workforce. Extra paid family leave or childcare help might be great for a mixed-sex workforce mainly in their thirties, or a high concentration of women, but if you have a high proportion of male employees in their fifties, for example, the impact is unlikely to be worth it.
- Look at the competition
As one of the objectives of your benefits programme is likely to be attracting candidates when recruiting, it’s worth having a nosey at what the competition is offering, either other businesses in your sector, or local employers, or both. That doesn’t mean necessarily matching what they do – perhaps you can better it! Think about how you can differentiate yourselves from the competition so that potential candidates see your business as a better option than the rest. And don’t forget ‘better’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more expensive’….
- Keep it simple
A wide range of benefits, either on a flexible basis or not, can seem like a great idea, but too much choice is not necessarily a good thing, and can be confusing, reducing the positive impact you are looking for, and also could add administration time or cost. A few well-chosen easy-to-administer and easy-to-join benefits might have a greater impact on a per-cost basis.
- Free or low-cost benefits
If budgets are tight (and even if they’re not), there are plenty of free or very low-cost benefits you could offer with a significant feel-good impact if they are chosen well. How about dress-down Fridays, bring-your-dog-to-work day or a lunchtime running club? If you have local attractions such as museums or parks, you could organise walking trips once a month, again at lunchtimes.
Bring and share lunch or coffee break treats can help encourage your employees to get to know each other, whilst negotiating discounts with other local businesses might be useful at a small cost. Employee awards can be motivating, recognising employees for going over-and-above or making a significant one-off contribution. There are many other things you can do which require a little effort but very little cost, and could make a big difference in retaining employees and making them feel valued.
- Match and enhance your culture
What kind of organisation are you? Do you have (or wish to have) a certain image, or project a certain culture? A set of priorities about how you work and what your business ethics are? You can (and should) choose benefits which match your culture and business objectives if this is possible, and certainly ones which don’t conflict with it.
As an extreme example, if you run a vegan café/healthfood shop and generally try to promote that lifestyle as a brand, including across social media, then providing cake to employees every Friday isn’t necessarily the best choice. Offering yoga classes might be a better option for supporting your brand profile as well as attracting job candidates who will fit with your business objectives.
- Be careful not to discriminate or cause conflict
In your enthusiasm to offer good benefits to employees and trying to show you value them, make sure you have explored the risks of the perks you want to offer before going ahead. Make sure benefits are offered to all employees, not to specific groups you think might want them, and try to ensure the range of benefits you offer doesn’t disproportionately benefit certain groups whilst leaving others out. Part-time employees can’t be treated less favourably so ensure you are able to offer benefits on a pro-rata basis.
Employee benefits don’t need to be expensive to be of value, so even if budgets are tight in your small business, it’s worth exploring putting something in place, as the right ones can have significant commercial benefits.
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