Employee benefits present a dilemma for small business owners.
On the one hand, it's impossible to compete for the best workers without offering a robust employee benefits package. But at the same time, employee benefits are vulnerable to high costs and dramatic annual price increases. And once you offer a benefit, it's almost impossible to eliminate it without causing turmoil in the workplace.
So as a small business employer, you're faced with the option of either offering limited benefits or committing a significant portion of the budget to employee benefit plans. But the good news is that there may be a way to bulk up your benefits program without breaking your budget.
Instead of expanding your program with expensive benefits, consider fortifying your existing program with a handful of low- or no-cost benefits. Although these benefits shouldn't be used as substitutes for standard health plans or vacation benefit, they can substantially augment a basic benefits package and make your company more attractive to prospective hires.
- Retirement savings options. Employees are extremely sensitive about retirement savings benefits, and rightfully so. While no one expects a full pension from their employer, most workers expect their employer to help them save for retirement. There are a multitude of retirement savings plan options available for business owners, many of which have little or no out-of-pocket costs for employers.
- Direct deposit. Direct payroll deposits are a low-cost benefit that offers real advantages to both you and employees. Rather than having to handle their own paycheck deposits, workers can count on receiving their pay at regular intervals, even when they are on vacation or out of the office. From an employer's perspective, direct deposit can reduce the cost and hassle of distributing paper-based paystubs.
- Childcare. Childcare is a big issue for many employees. If your company is unable to provide on-site daycare options, consider expanding your benefits plan to include policies (e.g. sick leaves, job shares) that make it easier for parents to balance their work/home responsibilities.
- Flex time. Flex time is an attractive benefit because it shouldn't cost your company a dime (theoretically). The idea is that instead of requiring workers to adhere to a strict 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM workday, employees have a limited amount of control over their schedules. The trick is to create job flex mechanisms that minimize the potential for abuse.
- Work from home options. Work-from-home options are becoming increasingly popular in the small business workplace. Not all jobs are right for a work-from-home arrangement. But for certain positions, even a half-time, at-home option is enough to retain quality workers.