Creative Employee Benefits: Positive or Negative?

perksFor the small businesses that have continued to struggle in order to survive in this market, there has been a focus on providing new and various “benefits” in place of the annual raises that many can’t afford.  They are realizing that many of their employees are either already looking for higher paying positions or soon will be as the job market continues to improve.  Some are looking to extend formerly “management only” perks to all their employees, such as:  flexible hours, telecommuting, additional paid time off, etc.  In most cases, companies have seen higher morale, lower stress levels and better physical health as a result of these slight changes.  But, when does making these new accommodations for employees lean too far?

Managers need to remember that even changes seen as positive need to be fully thought out before being implemented to think of the long-term consequences.  How could these changes turn negative?  Unfortunately, easier than we might first think.

Telecommuting, for example, has become a hot option for many companies to not only save on overhead but to offer to unique work-life balance to their employees.  Who wouldn’t want the option of working from home on a cold winter day?  This is an especially attractive option for employees with young children who can then work babysitting, doctor appointments and sick days around their work schedule.

But now, let’s fast forward 10 years when the employee’s children are now out of school and the benefit of working from home is less of a necessity.  And what if the needs of the company now change and the position requires that they work in the office.  How do you take back the telecommuting agreement?  Now it has become an “expectation” in the eyes of the employee and even an explanation of the required change for the good of the company will still be met with hard feelings.

Many small businesses operate from the “we are a family” standpoint…and “family always helps each other.”  This can lead to quick decisions to keep everyone happy without thought into the long-term affect it will have on the company as a whole.  Employees are coming up with creative options for additional benefits these days as well.  I had one employee ask to sell “gift cards” for her daughter’s high school.  For every gift card bought, a certain percentage of the profits would be applied to her daughter’s tuition.  Her manager saw this as an easy decision – wanting to make it part of her “compensation package” without any idea of how that would be tracked or managed.  His only argument, “She has been a long-term employee and we want to keep her happy.  This doesn’t cost us at all.”  What he didn’t take into account was how it would be viewed by the other employees.  Word of this “simple benefit” spread quickly throughout her department and took less than an hour for the complaints to start coming in about how unfair it was to the others than she was the only one getting this.

Creativity and change is necessary in today’s ever-changing economy and employment market.  There is greater pressure on companies to adopt more worker-friendly policies and new benefits to retain their skilled employees.  Build employee satisfaction and it will increase loyalty while decreasing turnover.  The key to remember is that we still have to think long-term while we are coming up with creative short-term solutions.  Start accommodating a select few or making too many “exceptions” will create more problems than the company is trying to solve.

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