4 Employee Benefits at Little (or Zero) Cost

Photo: deanm1974

Want to offer big-time benefits on a small budget? Consider the advantages of these cost effective benefits for your employees and your company.

1. Flexible Hours

Offering the opportunity for flexible hours may be one of the best ways to attract and retain high performing, talented, and motivated employees. Flextime, work-at-home, and short workweek options allow your employees to work when they are most productive and give them time for personal and family commitments.

Here are steps in providing flexible schedules while maintaining control of your operations:

  • Set guidelines for acceptable schedules, which may include earlier-than-standard starting and ending times (6 a.m.-3 p.m. rather than 8 a.m.-5 p.m.), one-day-per-week telecommuting from home, or a 4-day workweek (10 hours per day).
  • Decide what employees will qualify for flexible schedules; establish eligibility by performance rating and tenure, for example.
  • Develop policies and procedures for submitting requests, approving requests, reviewing effectiveness of schedules, and revoking schedule changes.
  • Figure out how you'll handle holidays, vacations, overtime, and special requirements (e.g., schedules during peak-volume periods).
  • Institute safety guidelines to avoid injuries and workers' compensation claims that may have been prevented with standard schedules and traditional work environments.

Before offering flexible schedules, establish performance standards for the company, each department, and individual employees, and design methods of measuring and monitoring results (if you haven't already taken these steps). You'll want to be able to determine if performance stays the same, falters, or improves following schedule changes.

2. Employee Discounts

Discounts can encourage your employees to evaluate, purchase, and use your company's products and services, which can be advantageous to your employees and your business. Direct engagement with your products and services can make your employees more knowledgeable and better company evangelists. Sales associates can make more precise recommendations to customers; service representatives can more effectively consult on intended applications; marketers can elevate relevancy of features and benefits.

Here are ways to assure that this benefit enhances rather than detracts from your business:

  • Decide when discounts are available, either continuously or on a restricted basis (e.g., one week each year).
  • Create guidelines for products and services eligible for discounts or stipulate items that are never discounted; for example, inventoried items may be purchased for a discount but special order items are never discounted.
  • Set discounts, such as 30% off retail price or 10% above cost. Consider the message that discounting conveys, being careful not to reveal profit margins to a large audience.
  • Check vendor agreements to make sure discounts don't violate contracts.
  • Establish rules relating to purchase limits so that you can avoid inventory shortages and make sure that employees don't resell products.
  • Define acceptable payment methods and terms, or require immediate payment via cash or charge card.

3. Corporate Memberships

Corporate memberships with free or vastly discounted individual memberships can not only allow employees to save money on various services but also advance company priorities.

For example, a Y membership can promote physical fitness, with potential for reducing healthcare costs. Cultural or recreational affiliations can provide venues for client entertainment and inexpensive family outings. Professional association memberships, though not traditionally classified as an employee benefit, can be a boon to those who might otherwise pay individual dues in order to access training and networking opportunities.

Take these steps in signing up for corporate memberships and offering discounts:

  • Identify new memberships that will be most beneficial to your company and its employees, or leverage existing memberships.
  • Compare corporate discounts with widely-available discounts to confirm that your company is actually getting a price break on individual memberships, season tickets, training classes, etc.
  • Define employees who are eligible for free or discounted services. You might offer health club discounts to all employees, season passes for baseball games to sales representatives, and association memberships to staff members in certain disciplines (e.g., credit, finance, research, IT).
  • Decide whether your company covers all costs, subsidizes expenses, or simply passes along savings to individual employees for member-only services.
  • Establish payment policies and mechanisms, such as payroll deductions for health club memberships or direct payments from employees to outside organizations for baseball game tickets.

4. Higher Education

Tuition reimbursement can be pricey but cost-conscious companies can design programs that control expenses while enabling employees to pursue quality higher education. Matching curriculum choices with employees' training and development needs can boost productivity, decision making, and team collaborations.

Take these steps to reap value from higher education without overspending:

  • Identify quality but inexpensive educational options such as community colleges, distance learning from online and brick-and-mortar universities, and specialized training with credit toward professional certifications.
  • Establish an education budget for the company and thresholds for individual employees.
  • Decide whether your company will pay all or part of tuition, fees and books, and whether payment is dependent on successful completion of courses.
  • Give temporary flexible schedules, extended lunch hours, or extra time off (either in addition to or instead of tuition reimbursement) for the purpose of allowing employees to attend class, conduct research for projects, or prepare for exams.
  • Set up guidelines to submit and approve requests for expenses and time dedicated to higher education.

Talk to your small business accountant about tax deductions associated with these employee benefits.

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