Small business owners would love to give their employees the world. If money weren’t an issue, everyone would have top-of-the-line health insurance, multiple weeks of paid time off, and unlimited sick time. Unfortunately, margins are tight for many small businesses, and that means limiting the kinds of benefits offered or getting creative with less expensive incentives, like the chance to bring dogs to the office. As we approach the end of the year, you might be thinking more and more about the benefits you’ll be offering in 2019. In part, because better benefits make for happy employees and increased retention. But also because better benefits are attractive to new hires and may be what sets you apart from your competition when trying to attract new talent. But how do you know what benefits are most desirable and, therefore, will have the greatest impact? QuickBooks recently sought to answer both these questions, by asking 1,000 small business employees about their current and most desired benefits. 1. When possible, be flexible. When asked what kinds of incentives would motivate them most in the workplace, 76% of employees chose the flexible work schedule. In comparison, just 46% of those surveyed said they’d be motivated by the chance to purchase equity or stock. Naturally, not all industries or positions can offer the kind of flexibility employees crave. Imagine how an urgent care clinic, for instance, would function without nurses on any sort of set schedule. Or how a restaurant would open if the only cook on staff was able to make his or her own hours. But flexibility doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The University of Chicago has several recommendations detailed in their flexible work options guide. It’s believed that a flexible work arrangement can reduce stress, reduce costs for commuting and/or parking, and reduce tardiness or absences — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The university suggests four kinds of flexible work options: \tFlexible start, stop, and lunch \tTelecommuting part-time or full-time \tCompressing the workweek into fewer days \tJob sharing for part-time or full-time workers For more information on these options, including a list of suggested guidelines and procedures, check out the guide. 2. Give praise where praise is due. Second to a flexible work schedule, 73% of survey respondents said they’d be more motivated if their employer offered performance-based annual raises — something just 10% said they had currently. Some more thrifty business owners might be wondering about giving a performance-based bonus instead. Unfortunately, while that option certainly would be less expensive, it’s also less valued, and choosing to give a bonus instead of a raise might actually damage your good rapport with workers. When asked, 28% of employees in the QuickBooks survey said their employer deliberately used bonuses to keep base pay low, and 18% of those who felt they were underpaid said it was because their expertise wasn’t properly rewarded or recognized. If you have the funds on hand to give a performance-based annual raise, consider the benefits such an act would lend to your business, including: \tBetter results in recruiting and retaining new employees \tIncreased employee satisfaction \tImproved brand perception Businesses with customer-facing employees could have the most to gain from increased pay and praise, as happy employees make for better customer interactions. And that leads to a better bottom line. 3. Make informed healthcare choices. This is a tough one and a potentially volatile subject for small business owners who’ve gone around and around, trying to figure out how to do best by their employees without breaking the bank. In 2016, a Kaiser Family Foundation study, found that the average employer-sponsored health insurance premium was $6,435 for single coverage and $17,546 for families, per year, for small businesses. And that may not even include all aspects of employee healthcare, including vision and dental. According to the QuickBooks findings, 80% of small business employees currently receive healthcare (i.e., medal insurance). Meanwhile, 72% said they get dental, and 70% said they get vision coverage. But here’s something to think about: when asked which benefits were important to them, only 39% of employees felt vision insurance was an important benefit. Dental was more highly regarded, with 48% of people stating it was important, while medical insurance came out on top at 61%. Benefits that ranked higher than vision care? \tRetirement — 48% \tSick leave — 46% Benefits that ranked even further down the scale? \tPaid time off — 34% \tFamily/parent leave — 27% \tCareer development/training — 19% \tChildcare support — 14% The lesson here is to ask employees where they see the most need for employer-backed support and to keep asking every year as your team grows and changes. You might be surprised by their responses. For instance, if your team is made up primarily of people with 20/20 vision, they might be more interested in a 401(k) retirement savings plan. If your employees are largely recent college graduates, they might prefer a benefit that helps them pay off their student debt. You’ll never know what people on your team want most until you ask. 4. Don’t lose sight of who you are. Part of what makes working for a small business appealing is the mindset: the chance to communicate directly with those who make the biggest decisions and the opportunity to affect change and see the ripples of those changes in everyday life. When it comes to building out your benefits plan for 2019, don’t think like a big business. Think like a small business, and bring your people along for the ride. Just as you might ask your team to give input on company goals, make suggestions regarding company culture, or help brainstorm ideas for breakroom snacks, bring the subject of benefits to the table and let the people decide. Two heads are better than one, and 10 are better than two. What might seem impossible now could become possible with a little inspiration.