Are You Offering These Outside-the-Box Benefits?

6 min read • May 17, 2021 • Kayla Voigt

Health insurance. Vacation time. 401k matching. 

Employees have come to expect some basic benefits from their employers—and ones you should offer to attract (and keep!) great talent. 60% of employees say that benefits or perks make the difference when deciding whether to accept a job offer, and 80% of people would choose additional benefits over a pay raise.

But what about more outside-the-box benefits? 

Remote Work (Forever)

A few years ago, remote work and flexible options would have topped the list of most outside-the-box benefits. And while you’re probably debating how you want to approach your workforce moving forward, one thing is clear: remote work is absolutely going to differentiate your employee benefit packages in today’s workplace climate.

57% of Americans now work remotely in some capacity, according to a Gallup poll. According to another survey, 99% of currently-remote American workers now want the option to work from home for the rest of their careers. 

Graph showing Americans increasingly working remotely

Source: “US Workers Discovering Affinity for Remote Work,” Gallup. 

Even if you’re planning on returning to the office, you should consider how you’ll accommodate these wishes for both new and existing employees.

Many companies plan to adopt a hybrid approach. “Going back to the office with 100% of the people 100% of the time, I think there is 0 chance of that,” Daniel Pinto, JPMorgan’s co-president and chief operating officer, told CNBC. “As for everyone working from home all the time, there is also 0 chance of that.’’

Where remote work benefits can get interesting is with planned retreats or digital nomad-style get-togethers in tropical locales. Health tech startup Olive leases getaway homes for employees to encourage them to take breaks. Companies like Outsite, which hosts groups of remote workers around the globe, now see more teams of coworkers planning so-called “workations.” “Before the pandemic, we were fitting a niche of people…nomads, freelancers, tech workers. Because they can work remotely, they choose to live a different lifestyle,” Emmanuel Guisset, founder and CEO of Outsite, told CNBC

A Holistic Approach to Health Benefits

Fitness perks like discounted gym memberships, incentivized exercise programs, or in-office gyms are just one piece of the wellness puzzle for today’s employees.

“Companies realize that people are feeling drained—mentally and physically,” Kevin Yip, COO of employee reward platform Bluebeard, told Wired. “We have a cohort of customers that have created separate programs to give well-being experiences to employees: Pelotons, Mirrors, Chorus meditation sessions, life coaches.”

There’s a new emphasis on wellness and mental health benefits in response to pandemic-driven burnout. 53% of employers are providing special emotional and mental health programs to their workforce in the wake of the pandemic. Whether it’s expanded access to telehealth and virtual therapy, meditation app subscriptions, or access to wellness coaches, traditional health benefits aren’t going to cut it any longer.

“We are living in unprecedented times with heightened anxieties, fears, and frustrations,” Benecard COO Kevin Kroll said in a press release detailing new mental health benefits for customers. “We hope this free service will alleviate some of the pressures on our members, clients, and brokers—both professionally and personally.”

Offering More Paid and Flexible Leave

American workers are notorious for leaving their vacation time on the table. Even before the pandemic, 55% of Americans didn’t use all of their vacation time in 2019, and 54% of workers said they felt guilty about taking time off at all.

“A lot of employees are very worried about taking time off,” Andrew Shatté, cofounder and chief knowledge officer of meQuilibrium, told FastCompany. “They might think it could undermine their job security. Or they worry about being disconnected at all. It doesn’t help anyone to be connected all of the time. It doesn’t help engagement or loyalty. Organizations need to set new ground rules and structure so that people aren’t at risk for burnout. Make it clear it’s okay to take PTO.”

The answer isn’t necessarily unlimited vacation time, but a series of paid leave policies would help to give employees freedom and flexibility, from maternity and paternity leave to volunteer time. 

Think about what aligns with your business already. For example, REI employees get 2 additional “Yay Days” each year to participate in outdoor activities. “People literally use them to go have fun in the outdoors,” REI SVP of HR Raquel Karls told Business Insider. “What I love about REI and what our employees love is…we all have a common purpose and a common passion. Our common ground is our passion for the outdoors.”

Another answer? Mandating vacation time, 4-day workweeks, or instituting company shutdowns. “We realized back in May [2020] that nobody was taking days off,” Ryan Denehy, CEO of IT startup Electric, told Wired. “You might not be able to go to the Bahamas, but we still want you to take days off.” 

Outside-the-Box Benefits Aren’t So Outside-the-Box

You don’t have to offer monthly skydiving packages, food delivery, or lavish office parties for employees to feel supported, productive, and excited about working for your small business. In fact, the most important benefits to employees still come down to security and flexibility.

Graph showing benefits most valued by job seekers

Source: “The Most Desirable Employee Benefits,” Harvard Business Review.

“Google is famous for its over-the-top perks, which include lunches made by a professional chef, bi-weekly chair massages, yoga classes, and haircuts. Twitter employees enjoy 3 catered meals per day, on-site acupuncture, and improv classes…[but] after health insurance, employees place the highest value on benefits that are relatively low-cost to employers, such as flexible hours, more paid vacation time, and work-from-home options,” writes Kerry Jones for Harvard Business Review.

As you evaluate your benefits package, focus on giving employees a mix of benefits that serve them—whether they’re new parents looking for flexible hours or paid leave, recent college grads looking for student loan assistance, or employees with an eye on retirement.

Kayla Voigt

Always in search of adventure, Kayla hails from Hopkinton, MA, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can find her at the summit of a mountain or digging in to a big bowl of pasta when she's not writing. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.