Industry Market Trends

Fringe Benefits: Unique Employee Perks

Jul 06, 2010

As businesses continue to focus on keeping costs low, offering non-traditional perks is becoming a more popular way to reward workers without overrunning budgets.

With the job market still struggling to stabilize, many employees have been forced to sacrifice some of the benefits they've grown accustomed to in order to keep their jobs. As companies remain focused on managing costs, particularly for health care, some businesses have turned to more creative, non-monetary ways of rewarding their employees. Here we look at some surprising yet effective perks workers can receive.

According to the 2010 Employee Benefits survey from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), published last week, 72 percent of human resources professionals said the economic downturn has negatively affected their company's employee benefits. Although benefits packages remained relatively stable since 2009, "benefits offerings experienced a downward trend when compared with results from five years ago."

The SHRM survey found that organizations spent an average of 19 percent of an employee's salary on mandatory benefits, 18 percent on voluntary benefits and 11 percent on pay-for-time-not-worked benefits. A great deal of effort was also spent on evaluating benefits packages: more than three-quarters of organizations said they reviewed their benefits programs annually and 10 percent said they reviewed them even more frequently.

"Although the recession has presented challenges in the continued support of some employee benefits, some organizations are finding creative ways to replace the more costly benefits with alternative, less costly, family-friendly benefits," Mark Schmit, director of research at SHRM, said in an announcement of the findings. "These progressive companies will likely fare better in retaining key talent as employment opportunities increase post-recession."

Offering creative benefits can be an effective way of boosting employee satisfaction and, in many cases, without breaking the company's budget. One of the most common non-monetary benefits is providing flexible work schedules that allow employees to structure their day and make the most of their personal time.

"Give a little latitude in determining work schedules and to take time for family or personal issues (such as doctor's appointment and banking errands)," Richard Martin, president of Alcera Consulting Inc., told HR World. "As long as the employee is deserving and doesn't abuse the privilege, this can go a long way to building trusting and mature relationships with key workers."

Other common perks involve: offering rewards, such as flowers or company discounts, to hardworking employees; encouraging office celebrations to boost morale; and publicly recognizing employees for their achievements both in and out of the workplace.

"In developing your employee benefits program, compare your benefit package to competitors and solicit staff feedback. The best benefits are the ones desired by the workforce and are competitive in the marketplace," small biz expert Darrell Zahorsky says at Small Business Information.

Some of the more uncommon employee benefits Zahorsky cites include implementing wellness programs that promote fitness and stress reduction; providing business cards with employee names and titles to boost staff professionalism and pride; offering parking privileges or even paying employee commuting costs; and offering an interest-free loan for an employee to buy a computer through automatic payroll deductions.

At the very end of the spectrum are the kind of rare benefits that defy traditional classification. offers a list of the most unusual benefits employers bestow, including:

  • Providing on-site pickup and return for clothing that needs to be laundered;
  • Allowing employees to use company vehicles for their daily commutes;
  • Serving locally grown organic snacks at work and having the treats delivered directly to workers' desks;
  • Hiring professional cleaners to tidy up employees' homes every two weeks;
  • Providing two weeks of paid time off for employees to work at a non-profit organization of their choice;
  • Awarding points for participating in fitness programs that can be redeemed for personal items;
  • Letting employees spend up to 10 percent of their time working on research projects of their own devising; and
  • Inviting employees' family members to participate in evening and weekend education classes.

Of course, popular or effective perks programs don't have to be as non-traditional as the ones on this list. In fact, some of the most appreciated benefits offered by employers are those that provide simple ways for workers to improve their work-life balance.

"[P]erhaps the healthiest thing companies can do for employees is help them regain space and sanity in their lives, and remove from family time the stigma of a guilty pleasure," a separate article from explains. "First comes the realization that whenever possible work should be shaped to accommodate life and not the other way around."

In addition to flexible work schedules, work-life benefits can consist of telecommuting opportunities, which "are good for productivity, morale and the environment," or parental assistance, such as increased maternity and paternity leave and helping with family daycare costs.

Although the economy may still be struggling and the current job market offers fewer opportunities for employees to gain the benefits they want most, benefits still play a crucial role in allowing businesses to hold on to their top talent and maintain worker productivity. In terms of employee engagement and retention, the bottom line is: perks are powerful.


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2010 Employee Benefits

Society for Human Resource Management, June 28, 2010

Employee Benefits: Which Ones are Surviving the Weak Economy?

Society for Human Resource Management, June 28, 2010

25 Ways to Reward Employees (Without Spending a Dime)

by Dan Tynan

HR World, 2007

8 Uncommon Employee Benefits Your Staff Will Love

by Darrell Zahorsky Small Business Information

10 Perks We Love, 2010

How to Improve Your Employees' Work-Life Balance

by Leigh Buchanan, June 8, 2010