Small and Midsize Businesses Can Recruit and Retain the Best Employees by Offering the Best Benefits

A remarkable one in three employees plans to be working somewhere else in the next year, according to MetLife’s 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends1. It seems that through a period of low turnover, companies of all sizes have become complacent about employee retention and job satisfaction, with little, if any, awareness of their workers’ intentions.

One of the best ways to attract and keep great employees is to offer them the best benefits. Employees who are satisfied with their benefits are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. But what are the best benefits? Well, it’s not just about healthcare anymore. Employees place much more value on non-health benefits than many employers realize.

One area that has become particularly important in the wake of the recession is financial wellness. People who are financially stressed are more likely to have health problems, including ulcers, migraines, anxiety, depression, lower back pain, and even heart attacks. Moreover, financial stress affects employee productivity. According to the MetLife study, 58 percent of employers say financial stress is partly responsible for employee absences, and 78 percent say that financially stressed workers are distracted to the point of being less productive.

Many of these employees need sound financial advice and guidance but don’t know where to get it. Providing them with information on retirement planning, basic financial literacy, income protection, and/or debt counseling fosters a sense of goodwill and increases loyalty. And offering adequate amounts of life insurance and disability income insurance will make your employees and their families feel more secure in the event of premature death or an injury that prevents them from working.

Consider also FlexWage’s WageBank product, a low-cost benefit that allows employees early access to earned wages, thereby eliminating their need for predatory alternative financial services such as payday lenders. Rod Lacey, director of human resources at 1-800 CONTACTS, a FlexWage provider, said his company “has watched the payday and title loan growth frenzy as people are anxious for fast cash.” Recognizing that his company’s employees might have similar needs, it opted to offer them WageBank. “If an employee’s savings don’t cover his/her immediate and urgent needs, 1-800 CONTACTS doesn’t believe there’s a more appropriate and financially prudent product on the market than FlexWage,” he said.

It’s also important to recognize that different generations have different needs when it comes to benefits packages. For example, younger workers tend to be more interested in benefits that help them balance their life and work, such as flex time, telecommuting, and job sharing. To attract younger workers, offer them flexibility, and they will be more likely to accept and keep a position.

Often overlooked are personalized voluntary benefits. However, nearly two-thirds of employees value these benefits enough that they are often willing to pay their entire cost. Voluntary benefits could include anything from dental, critical illness, long-term care, and pet insurance to supplemental levels of life and disability insurance to discounts on gym memberships and the like—the possibilities are nearly endless. Employers can offer these voluntary benefits at little or no additional expense to existing benefits packages. Take a survey to identify what kinds of things your employees feel are missing from their benefits packages and consider offering them as voluntary benefits.

One-size-fits-all benefits packages are a thing of the past. Simply offering healthcare and a 401(k) is no longer enough. Consider the life stages of your various workers and tailor your benefits packages to each group. Also, remember to communicate with your employees on a regular basis regarding what is available to them (if they don’t know about it, they can’t take advantage of it) and find out what they would like to see offered. They will be more satisfied if they feel like they’re part of the process.

1. “Employee Benefit Trends.” MetLife,