Team Management

17 Employee Benefits That Are Actually Worth the Investment

Susan Shain Personal finance writer 

Kombucha on tap. Pet insurance. Fully paid health insurance premiums. 

Gusto makes payroll, benefits, and HR actually easy.

As a small business owner, how can you even compete with company perks like that? By being picky about the employee benefits your team will actually care about—and canceling the ones they won’t. 

In this article, we’ll explain why unique employee benefits matter today more than ever. Then we’ll share an in-depth list of commonly overlooked benefits (and their costs) to help you build the best package for your team.

Why financial benefits are so important these days

Although unemployment is near a 50-year low, the average American isn’t exactly swimming in cash. Sixty-nine percent of employees say they’re stressed about money. And 39 percent of households don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected $400 expense.

These numbers especially apply to millennials, who now make up the largest segment of the workforce. Since coming of age, they’ve struggled with stagnant wages, a shortage of affordable housing, and the crushing weight of student loan debt. Only one-third have saved for retirement, and with the shift away from pensions, many may never be able to stop working. 

Given these challenging times—and the fact that 80 percent of employees would prefer new or additional benefits over a pay increase—it’s high time for employers to give their benefits a facelift. 

If you’re a small business owner, all this data means you should prioritize benefits that strengthen your employees’ financial wellbeing. Then, consider rounding out your package with meaningful, low-cost lifestyle perks. 

Financial employee benefits ideas

1. Flexible access to emergency funds

Most Americans experience financial stress—surprisingly, even workers who earn between $100,000-$150,000 a year. Almost three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the American Psychological Association said they felt anxious about their finances, pointing to a lack of a rainy day fund as the biggest source of that stress.

To reduce anxiety about emergency savings, consider using a payroll service that allows employees to access emergency funds before payday at a low cost. Services like these can help protect your team from credit card late fees and overdraft charges, and build their long-term financial resilience. 

How to get it

  • Gusto Cashout lets your team access money based on wages they’ve already earned without having to wait until payday, if they need it in an emergency.
  • Employees pay a low, 1%1 fee when they use Cashout.
  • Cashout is included at no extra cost in all Gusto plans, and doesn’t create extra accounting or recordkeeping work for employers.
  • Over the next few months, Cashout will roll out to eligible Gusto employers, who will be notified before it becomes available. For now, Cashout will be available in all states except AZ, MA, ME, WV, IL, NV, NH, NJ, ND, OR, PA, and VT.

2. Workers’ compensation

Accidents suck. And not being insured for them sucks even more. That’s why you should get workers’ compensation insurance even if it’s not required in your state. 

Workers’ comp has your (and your employee’s) back when they get hurt on the job. Generally, policies cover wage replacement for the injured employee, as well as medical bills and vocational rehabilitation. 

Cost depends on a variety of factors, including the size of your team, claims history, and industry, but averages around 1.4 percent of an employee’s compensation. 

Even if your state doesn’t require you to offer coverage (check the rules here), it’s a smart investment—for the health of your employees and your business. 

How to get it

3. HSAs and FSAs

Between 2006 and 2016, out-of-pocket healthcare costs rose more than 53 percent. Give your employees a tax-free way to pay for health care expenses by looking into health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible savings accounts (FSAs)

Though just one letter apart, they function quite differently: HSAs are organized by employees, and FSAs are organized by employers. You can offer FSAs alongside a health insurance plan, or as a standalone benefit. While administering an FSA costs approximately $4 per employee per month, you won’t have to pay payroll tax on employee contributions (which could actually save you money!). 

How to get it

4. QSEHRAs

While it won’t get you any points in Scrabble, a QSEHRA (or Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement) could definitely win points with your team. 

If you have fewer than 50 full-time employees and don’t provide a group health insurance plan, a QSEHRA is an affordable way to help with health care costs. It acts as a supplement to health insurance—which your employees can obtain independently—and allows you to cover everything from office visits to prescriptions to premiums. 

You decide what and how much you’ll reimburse (up to a maximum of $5,150 for individuals or $10,450 for families per year). The reimbursements are tax-free for both you and your team. 

How to get it

5. 401(k) plans

Almost half of Americans aren’t saving anything for retirement. And while you can implore your employees to open individual retirement accounts, the reality is humans are pretty bad at saving for an event that’s decades away. 

To truly help your team (someday! hopefully!) afford to retire, offer a 401(k) plan that automatically funnels money from their paychecks into a retirement account. Their contributions are tax-deductible, and as the employer, you can claim several tax credits too.

Best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a ton. For instance, Gusto charges $8 per employee per month for its 401(k) plan, in addition to a one-time setup fee of $500. 

How to get it

  • Choose a payroll provider that makes it easy to set up a 401(k) plan. (Cough, Gusto, cough.) 
  • To retain top employees, sweeten the pot with an employer match—which, yes, is also deductible.

6. Identity theft protection

It seems like every other week there’s some massive security breach that reveals our data to hackers on the other side of the world. To show that you’re keeping up with the times—and are concerned about your employees’ cybersecurity—offer free enrollment in a credit monitoring program. 

According to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, 36 percent of employers already include identity theft protection as a voluntary benefit. Given that dealing with identity theft takes an average of 16 hours per incident, you can consider this an investment in employee productivity, too. 

How to get it

  • Scope out business plans at major credit monitoring services like LifeLock or InfoArmor; at the former, employees would pay around $10 per month for a voluntary payroll deduction benefit.

7. Student loan assistance

Want to retain young employees? Then you might want to help them pay off their student loans

It doesn’t have to be a huge investment, either. At current interest rates, an extra $100 per month would allow the average recent graduate to pay off their loans nearly three years early. Even large companies, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Staples, limit their assistance to $1,200 per year for up to three years. 

Need more convincing? In 2018, 69 percent of students graduated with loans, and according to one survey, 86 percent of workers ages 22–33 would commit to an employer for five years if it offered student loan assistance.

How to get it

Unique employee benefits ideas

8. Flexible work options

Some experts say employee burnout is responsible for up to half of annual turnover. So keep stress at bay by allowing your team to build the schedule that jives with their lifestyle.

That includes the ability to work when they want (57 percent of employers currently offer flextime), and where they want (70 percent of businesses allow their employees to telecommute some or all of the time). Not only does flexibility promote a healthy work-life balance, but some studies even show that employees are more productive on the couch than at their desks.

Of course, this is mostly meant for companies that don’t serve customers at a physical location. But even if you face more scheduling constraints than other businesses, you can still find small ways to build flexibility into the workplace. (Making it easy to swap shifts, for example.) 

How to implement it

  • Let your team chart the course. Allow them to come in (and leave) early, or jet to appointments and make up the time at home. 
  • With telecommuting, start slow by allowing employees to work remotely once a week, every other Friday, or several days each month. 
  • Invest in the latest communications tools, such as Zoom and Slack, to make sure everyone stays connected no matter where they are. 

9. Perks for families

Since juggling work and family is no easy task, acknowledging that it takes a village will set your business apart. Consider offering company perks that help all types of family members—including parents, partners, and children—as well as the employees who provide for them. 

How to implement it

  • Strengthen your parental leave package beyond your state’s legal requirements, and offer a meal stipend or pre-made dinners for new parents.
  • Think about creative ways you could help with child care.
  • Plan bring-your-kid to work days.
  • Host a kids’ movie night so parents can (finally) go on an affordable date. 
  • For those caring for family members, offer referrals to trusted eldercare options. 

10. Volunteer time

Want to encourage employee altruism while also supporting your community? Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of companies give their employees PTO specifically for volunteering. Doing so will create a culture of giving back (and generate plenty of warm fuzzies). 

How to implement it

11. Seasonal activities

An easy and affordable way to keep things exciting in your office—even during the doldrums of, say, February—is to offer activities that coincide with the season. If you make a successful event into an annual occurrence, your employees just might look forward to it all year long. 

How to implement it

  • Organize a fall fantasy football league for some friendly competition.
  • Throw an in-office luau to hula away the winter blues. 
  • When the sun starts shining, introduce summer Fridays so everyone can start their weekend a few hours early. 

12. Office environment

No cold-brew coffee or elaborate floral displays in your office? Don’t sweat it. What matters most is that your team feels comfortable. Even if you’re stuck with fluorescent lighting and cubicles, a few small steps can take your space from drab to delightful.  

How to implement it

13. Peer recognition

Here’s a clever (and virtually free) way to reward top performers: Ask employees to recognize each other. Not only is it a stronger motivator than rewards delivered from managers, but it could help improve relationships across your team.

How to implement it

  • Give each employee a gift certificate to a local business, then have them hand it to a peer who’s acing it. 
  • Throw a monthly event (think: mixer or catered lunch) where teams honor each other for reaching big milestones. 
  • Use employee feedback software like Officevibe or TINYPulse that integrates peer-to-peer recognition into its platform. 

14. Health and wellness

Cue the down dogs. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of companies with 50+ employees now offer wellness programs. Luckily, it’s affordable for small businesses to promote healthy workplaces, too. 

In fact, wellness programs have the potential to save money from lowered health care costs, increased productivity, and tax incentives.

How to implement it

  • Rally a walking group to take a weekly lunchtime stroll. 
  • Contact local gyms and yoga studios about team discounts. 
  • Offer monthly in-office exercise classes, which are inexpensive to host and sure to leave everyone feeling recharged. 
  • Organize quarterly fitness challenges, and hand out small prizes to those who meet their goals.

15. Career development opportunities

Every good employee wants to expand their skill set. And since investing in career development can benefit your business, finding innovative, low-cost continuing education strategies is a win-win. 

How to implement it

  • Pay for memberships to professional organizations and online training courses like Lynda and Udemy. 
  • Host monthly lunch-and-learns where employees or external experts teach the team about a specific topic. 
  • Introduce a tuition reimbursement program (it’s tax deductible!) or annual learning stipend. 
  • Launch a (totally free) mentoring program that pairs junior and senior employees. 

16. Free snacks

Hanger is a real thing—and growling stomachs can stifle productivity, too. So join the 32 percent of companies who provide free, healthy snacks that feed their team’s body and mind. While it might seem like small potatoes (or potato chips), one survey found that providing snacks really does boost employee happiness.  

How to implement it

  • Stock up on the essentials at your local warehouse store. Or use an app like Boxed to help you avoid those Costco trips altogether.
  • As a special treat, bring in a barista to whip up lattes once a month. Or hey, learn how to do it yourself so you can surprise the team with your new skills.
  • Always, always buy birthday treats.

17. Employee discounts, rewards, and freebies

The only thing people love more than a deal? Free stuff. 

Branded swag can increase team pride, incentivize employees, and spread the word about your products or services while your team is out and about. When combined with discounts and rewards, you’ve got a perk that will please literally anyone. 

How to implement it

  • Hand out laptop stickers and backpacks to new hires, T-shirts at launches and events, and one-off prizes like group movie passes or baseball tickets. 
  • Ask phone and insurance companies, as well as local dry cleaners, salons, parking lots, and daycares about potential team discounts.
  • Or contact a company like Fond or PerkSpot, which will do the heavy lifting for you. 

Kick these employee benefits into action

Your small business benefits package says a lot about you and your company culture: what’s valued, what’s rewarded, whether you think outside the box. And with many people struggling to get by, and many businesses struggling to attract the best talent, your choices matter more than ever.

Spend some time figuring out which mix of company perks would best serve your team. Consider the challenges your particular employees face, and the peace-of-mind and loyalty that extra financial security could bring. Then start rolling out more meaningful benefits—and watch the thank-yous (and talent) roll in.


1APR varies based on the term of the loan. For a loan amount of $400 over an 8-day term until the next payday, the APR would be 45.63%, and the repayment amount would be $404. Based on a typical loan amount of $400 over 8 days, Cashout is a less costly alternative to credit card late fees, overdraft fees, and payday loans. U.S. News, 2019 Credit Card Fee Study: What’s Normal and What’s Not?, 2019; Center for Responsible Lending, Unfair Market: The State of High-Cost Overdraft Practices in 2017, 2018; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, What is a payday loan?, 2017.

Updated: August 9, 2019

Susan Shain
Susan Shain Susan Shain is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance.

Comments

  • Janet Blackwell

    These are great if you make enough to benefit from them. More pay and affordable health insurance is all. I want.

    Reply

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