Small businesses can compete for talent without breaking the bank. Yes, you still need to pay competitive wages to get people in the door, but it’s the perks that will help you retain them. Here are 30 low-cost ideas for small businesses who want to show employees that they are highly valued.
1. Flex time. Some organizations require employees to be at work during core hours, and employee can set their schedule around this. Others allow employees to put in hours at their own discretion. Most require employees to have a set schedule so managers can plan for coverage. The schedule may be adjusted to accommodate personal matters like doctor's appointments.
2. Innovation days. Set aside several days a year to allow employees to step away from their usual responsibilities to tackle projects related to the way they work and the spaces they work in. Results are shared in a company meeting the following morning.
3. Monthly commuter benefits. Offer a monthly stipend ($100 or so) for those who commute by public transportation. In many cities where mass transit is used, companies offer tax-free transit fare programs; you can learn more about the options available from programs like TransitChek  or Commuter Check . These programs also save companies money in payroll taxes.
4. Fully stocked kitchen. Provide free coffee, soft drinks, and snacks for employees during work hours. Want to bump this up a notch? Keep organic milk in stock and add fresh fruit and healthy options to the shopping list.
5. Wellness benefits. Employees can receive reimbursement for purchases related to fitness (up to $300/year). Typical items reimbursed include gym memberships, running shoes, yoga mats, bicycles, and so on.
6. Free lunch. Order in for all your employees once a week to foster community and give employees a break from packing their lunches.
7. Canine colleagues. Got an office full of dog lovers? Then invite house-trained visitors to join the team.
8. Parental leave. As this infographic shows , the U.S. has some of the weakest paid family-leave benefits anywhere--while some states guarantee paid leave, it's not a federal mandate. You can immediately differentiate your company by making sure all employees are eligible for paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child.
9. No dress code. Relax--ties are optional in this work environment.
10. Summer hours. Employees kick back early on Fridays during the summer months, allowing them to beat the heat as well as the traffic if they're heading out to the beach for a weekend.
11. Free chair massages. Fifteen minutes in the chair once a week, and employees will return to their desks refreshed and ready to tackle their to-do lists.
12. Optional telecommuting. In an increasingly mobile and digitally connected world, many employees can easily and successfully work from home part- or full-time. Here are some tips on working from home  that will make the transition smooth.
13. Tech neutrality. Offer the choice of PCs or Macs so employees can work on the machine with which they're more comfortable.
14. Flexibility in paid time off. Employees can choose how to use their paid time off bank (vacation, sick, and personal time) to best meet the needs of their individual situations.
15. A culture of work/life balance. Create an atmosphere where it really is okay to leave the office before 8 p.m.
16. Perks for part-time employees. Many organizations treat part-time workers like they were temps. Provide part-time workers with perks and they’ll be acting like full-time workers in no time.
17. Cultural extras. Keep the workplace exciting by mixing in rewards like concert tickets, movie outings, or passes to sporting events. Don’t forget to throw some cash your employee’s way to cover the babysitter.
18. Sabbaticals. Offer month-long sabbaticals after five years of service, or two months after 10 years of service.
19. Laundry service. Employ a service to pick up employees' clothes and drop them back at work, clean and folded.
20. Car care. Who has time to take their car in for an oil change? Companies have arranged for a service to come to the office and take care of this messy task while employees are working.
21. Gift matching. The company matches employee's charitable donations, with the match based on what the company can afford.
22. Adoption assistance. This financial assistance can be used for legal expenses, adoption agencies, or other professional fees.
23. Take-out meals. To help make things easier, new moms and dads are able to expense up to $300 for take-out meals during the first three months that they are home with their new baby.
24. Employee referral programs. Good people know other good people, and the best employees are usually hired through referrals. Those who refer candidates who are hired receive a cash bonus award.
25. Green initiatives. Preferred parking and/or subsidies for those who purchase and drive hybrid vehicles.
26. Paid time off to volunteer. Employees are given a specific amount of time to volunteer in their communities.
27. Cleaning services. Sweep employees off their feet--hire professional cleaners to tidy up employees' homes every two weeks.
28. Tuition forgiveness. Offer to pay a percentage of tuition owed, per year of employment, for hard-to-fill positions that are appropriate for recent grads.
29. Easier dinnertimes. Take care of the people who matter by enlisting a vendor to deliver ready-to-eat healthy dinners that employees can elect to purchase and take home to their families.
30. Acknowledgment of significant others. When employees do have to work late hours, the people who really pick up the slack are their spouses who are forced to work double duty. Acknowledge their contributions by sending flowers or gift cards, along with a personal note to acknowledge their contribution.
Incorporating perks like these into your organization will help you attract top talent, increase employee satisfaction, and reduce costly employee turnover, which in the end is far more profitable than scaling back on your benefit expenses to save a few bucks.
Have you incorporated any of these benefits into your business, or found any other unique ideas that work?
Author Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions (yourhrexperts.com ) and author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around , a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters . Register today for Roberta’s free Profitability Accelerator Teleconference Series .
[Image: Flickr user Max Geiger ]