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Can Unique Benefits Help Retain Top Talent?

With record-low unemployment, businesses “perk up” to engage and retain productive employees.

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BY Entrepreneurs Organization - 09 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

With the U.S. unemployment rate at a 16-year low, we asked Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) members to share the unique benefits and perks they offer to differentiate themselves and retain top talent in their industries.

Hiring has taken on new pressures for employers, as potential employees look not only for a company's core values, but also for robust health benefits and unique perks. For example, while Keurig, beanbag chairs and foosball tables were once considered novel, today's workforce seeks more meaningful gestures. To keep top talent satisfied and loyal, companies are offering out-of-the-box perks including employee sabbaticals, unlimited vacation days and expanded work-from-home policies.

Why? When a company shows it cares, employees are more likely to reciprocate. A SHRM survey found that companies with strong benefits packages enjoy higher employee retention, boosted morale and stronger engagement, resulting in highly motivated employees who stay longer and work harder.

"We want to be a company that employees brag about. Our perks include a yearly, all-inclusive paid vacation for you and a guest, a continuing education program, birthdays off, personalized birthday presents, a paid time-off day for volunteer work, work from home schedule as needed, and unlimited beverages in the office," said April Bernal-Cleek, president and CEO of EHR Concepts. And it works: "I still have the same core team that I started the company with seven years ago; I couldn't be more grateful," she continued.

Encouraging Growth

The value of benefits that help employees grow resonates across industries.

"Our employee-run Culture Committee establishes our benefits, with a mindset that the best benefits help an employee grow as a whole person," said Jeremy Miller, CEO of FSA Store. "For example, each month, a Life Coach assists employees in personal and professional endeavors; we have twice-weekly meditation sessions to manage workplace stress; and we fund professional development classes to help workers grow outside of their current roles."

"One of my favorite perks is our Learn Anything program: Every year, employees get US$3,000 to learn anythingcreating a 'choose your own adventure' atmosphere," explained Chris Taylor, founder and CEO of Square Root. "Employees take piano or guitar lessons, attend international conferences, or go scuba diving to conquer a fear. We believe our team gets stronger through learning, whether it's directly tied to their role or not."

Supporting Work-Life Balance

"We understand that our team benefits from time off to recharge. In addition to 10 PTO days and paid holidays, the office closes for one fully paid week in both summer and winter. Our dress code is casual; kids and pets are welcome at the office," explained Veronique James, founder and CEO of The James Agency. "We continue to attract top talent and experience very little turnover, which is unique in the advertising industry."

As employees grow their families, parental leave becomes a hot topic. Several entrepreneurs we spoke with offer generous benefits in that realm.

"In addition to unlimited time off, we offer three months of fully paid parental leave to every new parentmother or father, birth or adoptive," said Alex Yastrebenetsky, founder of InfoTrust. "To ease the transition back into work, new parents have the option of working the next three months at a reduced schedule."

Removing Impediments

Sometimes the best benefits aren't something you get but rather the irritating things you don't have to endure.

"We have a long list of benefits, but now focus on removing obstacles to growth and engagement. Computer slow and frustrating? We buy a new one. Software not working for you? We switch it. Client making things really difficult? We'll assess whether they are a good fit for our company," said Brandon Dempsey, co-founder of goBRANDgo! "Keeping people is all about engagement. Remove the frustrations and obstacles to them progressing and doing their work, and you will retain loyal people."

"We have a zero tolerance for office politics; we don't need people who back-stab or step on others to get ahead. We have managed-out people who exhibit those qualities and will continue to do so," explained Violet Lim, CEO of Lunch Actually. "Associates are discouraged from cursing at work. We don't tolerate managers who berate team members or associates who are rude or disrespectful to their colleagues. All of these policies combine to create a peaceful and highly productive atmosphere."

Fueling Productivity

Many of the entrepreneurs we spoke with provide free food or beverages to employees regularly: coffee and tea, individualized afternoon snackseven an omelet bar.

Who says there's no free lunch? "We cater lunch daily, encouraging team members to take time away from their desks to relax, eat and enjoy their co-workers. And maybe squeeze in a game of ping-pong or corn hole while they're at it," Alex Yastrebenetsky continued.

Matt Doud and Ed Callahan found a unique way to fuel productivity.

"We recently moved to a great new location with a single drawback: no coffee shop nearby. So, we opened one: Order & Chaos," said Planit co-founder Matt Doud. "Planit employees enjoy free coffee and the opportunity to connect with the local community, who often stop in for a cup of joe. We're bringing back the age-old notion of coffee houses as the center of community and innovation. We survey customers, test ideas and concepts and receive opinions. It works."

Building Camaraderie

Employee happy hours and summer picnics help employees relax with coworkers and enhance relationships. Some companies take things a bit further.

"In addition to our on-site coffee shop, we offer a wellness program, summer Fridays, flextime, a custom-built room for new moms, agency outings designed to foster teamwork and camaraderie, an all-day Halloween party and costume contest, access to Baltimore Ravens and Orioles tickets, ice cream socials, omelet bars, and our infamous holiday party and gift exchange," Matt Doud continued.

"Our team participates in bi-monthly teambuilding adventures and excursions such as hot air balloon rides, indoor skydiving, ATV rides, Segway tours and an annual overnight retreat to northern Arizona," Veronique James continued. "By encouraging the team to step outside of their comfort zones, we build camaraderie and trust."

Great perks and benefits serve their purpose in the workplace. Many of the entrepreneurs we queried are repeatedly recognized with Best Place to Work awards and are proud of their accomplishments in creating company cultures that foster a team environment, where employees work seamlessly together toward mutual goals while avoiding burnout.

What else could anyone possibly offer in this Super Bowl of benefits?

Veronique James has the answer: "To celebrate the agency's 10-year anniversary, we surprised everyone by flying the entire team to Disneyland!"