5 Cool, Low-Cost Trends in Work Perks and Benefits

2 of the 5 Top Trends in HR for 2018 relate to employee benefits and wellness.

Employers are being looked to more and more to help their employees be as healthy and whole as they can be. Companies who are able to embrace this direction are finding success in recruiting and retaining top talent, while those who are unwilling to try new things are getting left behind.

Benefits and perks are necessary for a competitive total compensation strategy. Total wellness approach to benefits and perks is necessary for a competitive culture with thriving talent.

Here are 5 low-cost options your organization can implement to improve your benefits and perks program:

  1. Expand your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs have come a long way. Vendors not only offer mental health and substance abuse help — but also legal advice, financial advice, nutritional advice, and professional development advice. At a rate of $1 – $2 per employee per month, it’s very reasonably priced and can go a long way to helping your employees and their loved ones be totally healthy and whole.
  2. Personal Finance Education. Set it and forget it is no longer an option for your approach to your retirement benefits. You must provide educational opportunities for employees on their retirement plan options. Many plan sponsors are offering personal budgeting and investing programming as part of their education curriculum. Setup some lunch&learn or on-demand webinars for your employees to learn how to better manage and grow their finances.
  3. Pet Insurance. People are opting for fur babies over human ones. Visits to groomers and veterinarians are expensive. Pet insurance is a great voluntary benefit to help your employees who are parents of four-legged children avoid costly expenses and difficult decisions surrounding the care of their pets. Plans are as low as $30-$40 per month depending on the state and type of animal.
  4. Discount and purchase programs. Every bit that you can help an employee keep from spending helps them feel appreciated — which increases their loyalty and respect for the company. There are great discount programs out there which cost $1-$5 per employee per month and will allow your employees to enjoy discounts on event tickets, travel bookings, movie tickets, car rentals, etc. There are others which are NO COST like cell phone discounts, home and auto insurance discounts, appliance and electronic discounts. And there are programs which allow employees to make installment purchases via paycheck deductions, which simultaneously help them build and repair their credit.  Help your employees live their best life at reasonable prices.
  5. Time Off for Community Service & Political Activism.  Your employees are impacted by what they see going on in their communities and their world. They want to get involved and be a positive part of the change. Help them do this by encouraging them to serve their community and be politically active. Coupling this with the company’s community service and brand partnerships is even better. Providing a few days off per year for this is progressive and affordable. In some areas of the country, this is even tax deductible! Encourage your employees to be active, educated citizens thru time off for service and activism.

Your total benefits program should be an extension of your company values and culture. If you value the total health and well-being of your employees, you have to choose benefits and perks that demonstrate this.

Consider these 5 benefits/perks as you look at items to add to your offerings. But most of all, be thoughtful and deliberate in your choices to make sure you offerings give true benefit and perks to your employees.

You’ve Been Notified

Not long ago, I got a call from an upset manager …

“Jack called and said he’s not going to be at work for at least 2 weeks because his girlfriend had a baby. He didn’t give me any notice! Can I write him up for that?”

Um. How long has Jack worked for us?

“Almost 3 years.”

Then he’s entitled to take the time off for the birth of his child under the FMLA.

“FMLA? He’s didn’t say he was notifying me about FMLA. He just said his girlfriend had a C-section.”

That’s enough. You’ve been notified … And so has your company.


We often want employees to formally notify us of exactly what is wrong or exactly what they want so that we know exactly what to do … Sorry! Employees don’t have to sound the trumpets and say “I am notifying you of a serious health condition and wish to exercise my rights under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1992.” That’s not how it works.

Most times, notification sounds something like this …

  • “My wife is in labor! I gotta go!”
  • “My child is sick and I’m going to be out the rest of the week”
  • “My dad is getting up there in age. I’ll need to take a few hours on Thursday to go with him to the doctor”

From that point, it is the responsibility of the manager to know these circumstances are likely going to be covered — and take action accordingly based on the federal and state laws as well as your company’s policy/procedure/practice on handling leave under the FMLA.

These same thresholds should follow for issues of harassment and discrimination and bullying in the workplace. We want and expect employees to make a grand announcement — but instead we get …

  • “He looks at me funny”
  • “If she calls me ‘pops’ or ‘old timer’ one more time, I’m going to scream!”
  • “I really try not to talk to him. He’s so rude and mean”

Once again, you’ve been notified. From that point, it is the responsibility of the manager to ask more questions and monitor the situation — then take corrective action on anything which is improper.

Regardless of whether it is fair or unfair, managers are accountable under the law for this as the threshold for notification. HR has a duty to educate and train our managers accordingly so they are aware and know how to react and act in these situations. Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for liability and failure.

Leadership Lessons from The Grinch

Sigh. The holiday season is upon us. I don’t want to seem Grinch-like, because it’s a wonderful time to reflect on things for which we are thankful, and shines a light on the acts of so many kind and generous people in our community.

Amid the shopping and festivities, the holiday season helps everyone remember the less fortunate. For the organization I lead FACETS, which opens doors for people in need, our appeals are perhaps heard more easily than during the other seasons. This time of year, our nonprofit takes the opportunity to tell our story and the story of those we serve — children, families and individuals of all faiths and walks of life who have no fixed address and who need food and personal toiletries in addition to seasonal gifts.

Because of the extraordinary generosity in our own Whoville, the holidays are a time when we are flush with presents for people who are trapped in the cycle of poverty. But just a few months ago, our pantry was almost bare, reminding us that the needs of struggling citizens continue year-round. As Cindy Lou Who teaches all of us, generosity and the holiday spirit are not tied to gifts or even a specific time of year. Giving is reflected in our actions and sense of community.

Does this happen in our own organization? Do we have seasons of the year when we give our employees so much and then forget about their needs year-round? As leaders do we only practice certain traits when we think they are needed the most, like during a crisis? Forgetting that the gifts of transformational leadership are not seasonal.

As a nonprofit leader I often have the privilege of seeing how year-round giving of gifts works well and benefits all. We often get dubbed as charities with our hand always out. The reality is we are organizations deeply rooted in the community that not only help people in need, but people who have a desire to give their gifts to help others.

So let me suggest ways we can give gifts throughout the year through time, talent and treasure; while developing our employees and the community. I’ve attended a lot of workshops on Corporate Social Responsibility and the overarching theme has been in order to recruit and retain employees organizations must offer a comprehensive philanthropic and volunteer program.

  • Give the gift of paid time off for employees to volunteer individually or as group. Volunteering can be a great team building activity and can develop or hone skills that will benefit the nonprofit and your organization.
  • Train and encourage employees to serve on nonprofit boards. The skills needed to serve on a board often are the skills employers are looking for in leaders. Resource and organizational development, communication, and financial management just to name a few. Why not create a unique program or partner with your local volunteer center to create a win-win for your community.
  • Don’t limit philanthropy to a season and encourage a program that allows employees to choose areas where they want the company to focus their philanthropy and volunteerism. Employees will be empowered and organizations will continue to give their staff critical skills in decision- making and leadership.
  • But don’t be afraid to make corporate social responsibility about philanthropy and doing what is right for your business. How can you train and educate the next generation of employees for your business or reach a new market of customers through giving back?


As I face the season, it’s time for me to revel in the community’s generosity and harness their real zeal to make a difference not just for their business, but for the surrounding community all year. After the frenzy of  holiday philanthropy/volunteerism dies down, there is still work to be done to develop current leaders and the next generation of leaders. Most importantly, we can all remind ourselves that: “Christmas doesn’t come from a store … maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little more!”  Like giving the gift of our talent and time to help others and learn about ourselves. Happy holidays — and thank you, Mr. Grinch.


This post was written by Amanda Andere. Amanda serves as Executive Director of FACETS, an organization dedicated to responding to the diverse and multiple needs of homeless and people who were  living in poverty in Fairfax County,  Virginia. Follow Amanda on Twitter at  @amandaandere and follow FACETS on Twitter @facetscares or like FACETS on Facebook.


Healthcare Reform — So What? Now What?

Thursday, June 28, 2012 was a history-making day in the United States when the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was constitutional. It was a decision that shocked many — including me!

For the record, I believe the US system of healthcare absolutely needs reform. And I believe all Americans should have access to affordable care. It baffles me that this battle is still being waged and is so fiercely debated in one of the richest, most powerful countries in the world … However, I also recognize the potential fines on employers could cripple and permanently shut the doors on many already struggling businesses. So I understand why the legislation makes corporations nervous. That reality often makes the legislation feel bittersweet for me.

Ultimately, we’re a long way from full implementation of all aspects of this legislation. Although 2014 is the goal, it isn’t a hard and fast deadline; I suspect there will be lots of modifications to the timeline as the infrastructure is put into place on how this will work. In the meanwhile, I choose to have faith that things will work out for everyone’s good — and I focus my energy on what is going on right now as it relates to the PPACA instead of what could or might be. I encourage you to do the same.

Now that the SCOTUS has ruled in this matter and the PPACA will press forward, it’s time to think about “what’s next” for the organizations we serve. Here’s my tips on that:


  • Strengthen your benefits program. Work with your broker/reps/consultants to find options that will strengthen the options your organization offers. Add new benefits or make enhancements to existing plans where you can. Use caution in making any changes to plans that might cause you to lose grandfathered (GF) status, if you’ve already received a waiver from the Department of Health & Human Services. Once you lose GF status, there’s no turning back! But there are lots of enrichments you can make to your programs that won’t force a forfeit.


  • Monitor full-time and part-time designations. Employers are only in danger of being penalized for failure to provide adequate coverage to full-time equivalents (FTEs). The standards for “adequate coverage” still haven’t been defined and a definition isn’t expected until some time in 2013. However, FTE is a definition that we already know within our state and our organization. Audit to ensure your current workforce is properly designated and make changes if necessary. Keep in mind that designation changes might qualify adversely impacted employees for unemployment benefits and/or might persuade employees to seek employment elsewhere — not to mention general complaints surrounding fairness and employee morale overall. Anticipate issues and make sure you have a plan to address them. Discuss it with your attorney or union as well.


  • Educate yourself. Business leaders, especially HR, cannot afford to rely on television and printed news to gain knowledge about this issue. It is far too complex and politically charged. Instead, we need to find ways to learn about it on our own from sources that are as neutral as possible. I am already seeing free webinars, conference calls and seminars popping up to discuss the impact of the ruling on employers and benefits plans heading into the 2013 enrollment season. Sign up and listen up — for more than just one. If you can’t find anything, check with your insurance broker or with your attorney; I am sure they can point you in the right direction. If not, check with me — I am absolutely willing to help!


There is no doubt that Healthcare Reform is one of the top 5 “Issues of Our Time.” And it gives HR another opportunity to be front-and-center and shine, as we help our organizations to navigate through it.

That’s an honor and a privilege. Don’t screw it up.

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