In an economic downturn, companies can struggle to maintain their existing employee benefits programs, much less think about adding new ones. In times like these, low- and no-cost measures can help a company to keep its benefits programs vibrant and evolving to meet employee needs. Here are some such measures to consider:
- A recession may make it impossible to allocate additional company dollars to benefits, but an employer can give employees time and convenience instead, through various strategies-
- Set up a direct deposit program for employee paychecks. Depending on the financial institution used, the direct deposit program may be a bridge to discounted financial services, such as free checking, waived ATM fees, and the like.
- If business needs permit, give employees more control in balancing their work and personal demands through some form of flexible scheduling. This could include flexible hours, summer hours, compressed workweeks and telecommuting. Some employers find that employees on flexible schedules are better performers on the job, because they can more readily attend to personal issues and thus be more focused when at work.
- Investigate adding voluntary benefits. These no-cost-to-the-employer benefits can add a dimension to your benefits programs that can be difficult to achieve through a traditional benefits package. Employees are able to buy benefits at prices more affordable than what is available in the individual market; they have the convenience of payroll deduction; they also have the convenience of benefits being marketed to them, rather than having to seek them out on their own.
- Investigate discount programs. In these programs vendors offer their products and services at a discount to a company’s employees. The vendor’s motivation is access to the employer’s workforce, with the hope that the discount will steer buyers in their direction rather than to their competitors.
- Although many workplaces have gone more casual, others maintain specified dress codes. Employees appreciate when certain days are designated as casual-blue jeans okay-and the atmosphere that can accompany a casual dress day can give the workplace a lift.
- Examine existing benefits programs to see what works and what doesn’t, and ask whether dollars should be reallocated to better meet employee needs. For example, are there medical plan options in which few employees participate? A streamlining of the available options can reduce administrative and program costs alike.
- Some benefits have multiple uses but may have been promoted narrowly, so that employees may not understand their true value. Employee assistance programs (EAPs), for example, may be perceived as a source of help for substance abuse problems, but EAPs also typically offer a wide range of services many employees could avail themselves of, such as childcare and eldercare referral and assistance with financial issues and debt counseling.
- Employees often underestimate the value of their benefits and compensation package, but there’s a good reason for this-many companies neglect to inform employees of what the company spends to make the benefits offerings available. Employees see their own contributions for medical, dental, etc., on their paycheck stubs, but other than during open enrollment-if even then-many companies simply never let employees know what the company pays for employee benefits. Consider distributing “total compensation statements,” which show employees the actual amount the employer is compensating them, through salary, mandated benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare), and the company’s employee benefits program.
As the economy improves and benefits budgets become less constricted, these measures can remain in place, continuing to enhance the value of your benefits package in employees’ eyes.
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