Creative Employee Benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paid sick leave is a benefit for 78% of civilian workers, and paid vacation days are a benefit for 76% of civilian workers. But some benefits are less common, like flexible work schedules, which are available to only 13% of private industry workers. Many of these less common company benefits are cost-effective and give you a way to differentiate your company from other employers. When setting up employee benefits packages, consider extra perks to keep your employees happy.


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Why offering creative company benefits to employees can be beneficial

Job seekers are used to seeing employee benefits for small businesses, like paid time off and health insurance, listed in job ads. Adding creative company benefits sets you apart. Job seekers notice those little extras and see your business as a unique place of employment, which can increase the number of candidates you get. These perks can earn you a reputation as a sought-after employer.


For the employees who make it onto your payroll, these benefits add happiness to the job. They make life more convenient and make your employees feel special and valued. That adds up to increased job satisfaction, which can help improve your employee retention.


Affordable and creative benefits for small businesses

Many creative employee benefits for small businesses are free or inexpensive. What you get in return is loyalty from your employees and a reputation as a unique employer with a great benefits package. Consider these affordable and creative company benefits.


1. Lending library

Many employees value learning and developing opportunities. A simple way to offer that is by creating a library of industry-specific resources employees can borrow. These resources can make their jobs easier or let them explore new potential career paths.


Another option is a general library with all types of books. This encourages reading for recreational purposes and can make reading more convenient without a trip to the library.


This inexpensive option only costs the initial price of the books. You can make it more affordable by asking employees to donate books they no longer want to the library.


2. Relaxation room

Carve out a relaxing spot where employees can unwind during breaks. Some companies make a napping spot with a cot, bed or other comfortable place to grab a power nap during breaks. Others simply use comfortable seating, pillows and cozy decor to make a relaxation space. You can fill an empty office with these comfortable items for under $1,000, depending on what type of furniture you choose.


3. Bring your dog to work

Pet parents don’t like to leave their furry companions at home, so a pet-friendly office is an appealing perk. Make sure all employees are okay with having pets in the office. Before an employee brings a pet to work, have them fill out a form to ensure the pet is vaccinated and of a good temperament to be around people. Set guidelines for where pets can go and the responsibilities of the pet owners for cleaning up. You can also have certain “bring your dog to work” days if you don’t want pets in the office every day.


4. Free memberships

Free gym memberships are common, but not everyone wants this perk. Or maybe you want to offer more than just a gym membership. Consider other membership options, such as a monthly car wash pass or a membership to a warehouse club store. Prices vary, but many memberships are available for $50 or less per person per month. Some businesses might provide a group discount.


5. On-site services

Scheduling appointments for oil changes, haircuts and similar services isn’t easy when you work full-time. Bring those services to the office to save your employees time. Hire a local mechanic to come occasionally and perform oil changes for your employees, or bring in a hairstylist to offer on-site salon services. Make arrangements with a local dry cleaner to pick up and drop off clothes at the office. Your employees still pay for the services, but you’re making it more convenient for them to do those chores.


6. Parents’ night out

If you have a lot of parents on your payroll, consider hosting a parents’ night out once a month or once per quarter. Hire babysitters for the night and let your employees drop their kids off for a few hours to enjoy a night out. The average rate for babysitters is $17.73 for one child or $20.30 for two, but rates vary by area. You can often negotiate with babysitters for a fair rate to watch multiple kids. You’ll also have minor costs for food and activity supplies to keep the kids entertained.


7. Free snacks

Stock the break room with snacks for your employees. Packaged items such as granola bars and individual servings of crackers are easiest since they stay fresh longer. Fresh fruit is a healthy option. You can spend as much or as little on this perk as you want based on how much you buy and the types of snacks you purchase.


8. Negotiated discounts

Negotiate discounts with local businesses for your employees. You might offer those businesses a reciprocal discount for their employees.


9. Student loan repayment

In the first quarter of 2021, total student loan debt was at $1.58 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. There’s a good chance many of your employees have student loan debt that takes a large part of their paychecks. Provide a set amount to go toward student loan payments each month for your employees. This can cost as much or as little as you want based on how much you give each month. The total cost depends on how many employees have student loan debt.


10. Flexible work spaces

Instead of sticking to rigid offices or cubicles, set up flexible work spaces. Offer multiple desk configurations and different types of work surfaces, such as standing or treadmill desks. You might set up small tables and chairs for collaborative work or lounge-type areas for employees who prefer sitting on a sofa with their laptops. This perk can range in price depending on the furniture pieces you buy.


11. Lunch and learn

Offer learning opportunities during lunch breaks with lunch-and-learn events. Bring in a speaker once a week or month, depending on your budget, to present a short educational program. Employees can bring their lunches and eat while they watch the speaker.


12. Mentor program

A free perk you can offer new employees is a mentor program. Partner more experienced employees with new employees to help them through the first several months to a year at your company.


13. Major assistance

If you have a larger benefits budget, consider offering a one-time sum for major expenses. This could be something like help with a house down payment, adoption fees or fertility treatments. Set a dollar amount limit to help control the budget. You might list certain qualifying expenses that employees can cover with the benefit. Limiting this benefit to one time per person also helps keep the costs lower.


14. Volunteering time

Volunteering is important to many people, but it’s not always easy to fit into the schedule when you work full-time. Offer your employees a certain amount of paid time off to use for volunteering each year.


15. Summer hours or flexible hours

Changing the hours during the summer is a free benefit option that appeals to many people. You might switch to four 10-hour days in the summer or end the workweek early by letting employees leave early on Fridays.


A similar option is to offer flexible working hours year-round. This allows employees to choose their work hours to best fit their schedules. You might need to limit the flexibility by requiring employees to schedule their time between certain hours.


16. On-site health events

Help your employees stay healthy with special health events at work. Examples include a wellness fair, flu shot clinic or mini health screening. These events make it easier for employees to care for their health.


17. Employee reward program

Employee reward programs make it easy to give out rewards and incentives for exceptional work. Many reward platforms are available to make the program easy to manage. You can set your budget for rewards to control the costs.


18. Seasonal activities

Plan seasonal activities, either during work or after hours. Ideas include a Christmas party, summer picnic or fall trip to the pumpkin patch. These activities can be employees only or family activities.


19. Gradual maternity/paternity leave reentry

Maternity leave is a common benefit, and many companies also offer paternity leave and leave for adoptive parents. No matter what type of leave you provide for adding to the family, consider a gradual reentry program when your employees return. Instead of requiring them to come back full-time at the end of the leave, allow them to slowly ramp up their work hours. They might come in part-time for a few days a week initially and gradually increase back to full-time.


20. Monthly team competitions

Host monthly team competitions on a Friday afternoon for a break from normal work and to encourage team bonding. Minute-to-win-it games work well for these competitions. You can have different departments take turns planning the events each month. Hand out a trophy to the winning team for the month.


21. Theme days

Add a little fun to the workday with theme days. You might encourage employees to dress up to match the theme, plan related activities or have an employee potluck that fits the theme. These days break up the monotony of work and show your employees that you value fun.


22. Commuter benefits

Offering commuter benefits helps offset the cost of getting to work. You can also use the benefit to incentivize certain modes of transportation. You might give a bonus for riding a bike to work or carpooling.


Other commuter benefits to consider include:

  • Designated parking spots
  • Free parking if your business is in a city with paid parking
  • Free public transportation passes or subsidies to buy the passes
  • Fuel credits
  • Reimbursements for tolls
  • Shuttles to the office if your employees use off-site parking

Costs vary based on the number of employees, local prices and how many employees take advantage of the commuter benefits. You can choose to cover the full amount or offer a set dollar amount to control costs.

Creative benefits FAQs


Are employee benefits really necessary?

Certain employee benefits are required by law. While other benefits and perks are optional, it benefits you to provide them. Job seekers expect basic benefits, such as paid time off and health insurance. Offering extra benefits adds a nice bonus and sets you apart from other employers. Not giving benefits can turn away potential candidates for open positions, and it can make your current employees look for a new job with better benefits. Spending the money on benefits can save money in the future by retaining employees and keeping them happy.


Are benefits better than offering higher pay?

While a higher salary might initially attract job applicants, having valuable benefits can encourage your employees to stay. Many employees see the value in good benefits, especially insurance, which can protect them financially. Not having health insurance or having bad coverage can result in catastrophic medical bills if an employee or family member has a major medical situation. A higher salary won’t offset those astronomical bills. Balancing the salary and the benefits is often the best approach.


What employee benefits are mandated by law?

You’re required to give your employees only a handful of company benefits. These include workers’ compensation, Social Security, federal and state unemployment insurance and Medicare, according to the BLS. While health insurance isn’t required, some employers may have to pay the IRS if they don’t offer it under the Affordable Care Act. Employers with at least 50 full-time employees, which includes full-time equivalent employees if the company has part-time workers, may be subject to an employer shared-responsibility payment to the IRS. You might also have to provide FMLA coverage if your private company has 50 or more employees for 20 or more workweeks in a calendar year. Check state and federal regulations to ensure you’re providing all required benefits based on your situation.

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