Calculating the exact return on investment for specific employee benefits can be tricky. After all, it’s tough to know whether that weekly yoga class had an actual impact on morale or if shifting the work day a couple of hours had a measurable impact on productivity.
But the bigger-picture numbers are sobering. The American Institute of Stress pegs the business cost of employee stress in the U.S. at $300 billion annually. The cost of replacing an employee who left ranges from one-fifth to more than one-and-a-half times the employee’s salary, depending on various factors.
"If the company can take away some of the stresses in the employee’s life, then the employee will be better able to concentrate on work," says Cynthia Fukami, PhD, a professor of management at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. "To remain competitive in the marketplace for the best employees, you want to be going beyond what others are doing."
Beyond health insurance and 401(k) plans, some benefits have significant benefits to the company as well as the employees, say experts. Here are six that may pay off in unexpected ways.
Employees who are stressed out and distracted about money and retirement savings aren’t the most productive. According to the Society of Human Resource Management’s 2014 Employee Benefits report, relatively few companies offer financial advice online (19%), in person (17%), or in group or classroom settings (14%). But they should consider it, says Ken Matos, senior director of research at New York City-based Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to work-life-balance research and initiatives.
A 2015 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business found that one-off sessions may have little benefit, but long-term access to financial education and follow-up can have a significant impact. Workers who received financial education when they were 40, along with regular follow-ups, increased wealth in retirement by 10%.
Matos says it’s important to make these sessions positive and not make it seem like the employees can’t handle their money. If that’s the case, the stigma will keep them way, he ways.
"Make it aspirational, rather than remedial, so that they take advantage of these opportunities and reap the long-term benefits," he says.
Here’s an easy one: Let employees handle scheduling changes on their own and allow managers to sign off on the swaps, especially in sectors like manufacturing and retail, where schedules may be fixed. Matos says his organization’s research found that this measure of flexibility in workplaces that previously were thought to be inflexible can tremendously increase worker satisfaction, and also leads to greater engagement, since employees are more invested in the outcomes when they’re working out scheduling changes with each other.
"Providing those kinds of very subtle but significant opportunities do really make a difference in turnover. Employees [are more likely to say], ‘I am not going to leave, because I am not going to be treated as well, or have as much influence in making sure I am successful in all my domains someplace else,’" Matos says.
From real estate closings to wills and estate planning, chances are that employees are going to need an attorney’s help from time to time. One way to alleviate cost and concern about that is to offer prepaid legal services. Such voluntary benefits may be offered through your insurance company, with the tab being picked up by either the employee or the employer, says David Lewis, president and CEO of Norwalk, Connecticut HR consulting firm OperationsInc. The broker may also offer supplemental life insurance or other insurance policies that employees may want for peace of mind, he says.
Providing food is a growing trend in benefits, Lewis says. While it can be expensive, when you add up the cost of employees migrating from the office each day for lunch, as well as the missed opportunities for socializing and collaboration, which both contribute to productivity and reduced turnover, suddenly the cost might not be as significant. Providing healthy options as part of an overall wellness program may also contribute to enhanced employee well-being.
If putting in a kitchen isn’t in the budget, consider cutting a deal with a local eatery or two to bring in healthy food on a schedule the company can afford, he suggests. "The ROI's just unquestionable. Even for a small business, reaching into your pocket even for five bucks a day, more or less, toward your employees for that expense, I think has a huge upside," he says.
Juggling work and child care obligations is a constant struggle for working parents. Matos says that options like on-site child care, especially during nontraditional hours, such as night shifts, can be an important factor in retaining employees. A 2013 study by the Human Capital Institute found that one-fifth of employees said on-site child care was important in attracting them and 17% said child care subsidies were an important factor in choosing their employer.
Overall, relieving stress and making work and life integrate better is an important consideration when providing benefits, Matos says. Think about the challenges that your employees are facing, and help solve them.