Low Cost Employee Benefits For Your Small Business

Believe it or not, employee benefits at your workplace go a long way in ensuring employees stick around.

In today’s working world, employee benefits matter. In fact, a survey by advisory firm Willis Towers Watson showed that an astonishing 78% of employees surveyed stated that they would be more likely to stay with an employer that offered great benefits.

Low-cost employee benefits make for happier long term employees without breaking the bank.

Why Employee Benefits Matter

Employee benefits may technically be “non compensation” perks to employees, but they still have tremendous value, both to you as the employer and to your employees.

Employees consider benefits a sign that their company really cares about their personal and professional well-being. As the study above shows, employers that offer decent benefits are more likely to acquire and retain talented, hard-working employees.

A poll conducted by Unum, a leading financial benefits protection company, found that the most coveted benefits by employees come in the form of “perks.” Perks are benefits that land outside of normal common employee workplace benefits.

As an employer, you’ll offer required and common workplace benefits, such as unemployment insurance or health insurance. Some examples of those benefits are listed below.

Common Mandated Employee Benefits

Depending on the size and type of your business, there are several common employee benefits, some of which may be required by law. Here’s a list of some common employee benefits you as an employer may be required to provide.

  • Unemployment insurance
  • Workers compensation
  • COBRA insurance
  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime pay
  • Family and Medical Leave Act benefits

These types of benefits are mandated by federal or state law. If you have a company that has employees, you’re required to provide these benefits for them in most cases.

However, many employers also offer what are commonly called “enhanced” employee benefits.

Enhanced Employee Benefits

Examples of enhanced employee benefits can include, for example, health insurance. Employers may not always be required to offer health insurance. However, many do offer it in order to be competitive.

In fact, most companies of 50 or more employees are required to offer healthcare coverage to employees, courtesy of the government’s Affordable Care Act.

As such, it’s become standard at most companies with multiple employees to offer some sort of health insurance–even if they’re not required to. However, what employees seem to enjoy most are benefits that count more as perks. Those little extras that make working more enjoyable.

And they’re vital to attracting new, young talent to your business. Here are eight enhanced employee benefit options that will help ensure your employees love working for you and plan on sticking around for the long term.

Related: 6 Ways To Attract Young Talent To Your Small Business

1. A Flexible Daily Work Schedule

One of the things employees dislike about the 9-to-5 grind is inflexible it is. Day in and day out, start at 8:00, get off at 4:30 with a half hour for lunch. No room for life’s surprises. No lunches with friends. No stopping by your child’s school to help out in the classroom.

If you want to make for happier employees, consider a flexible daily work schedule. For instance, some companies allow employees to make their own daily schedule as long as it covers the busiest or most vital hours of the day.

Flexible Schedules That Work Around Vital Work Hours

Let’s say you consider it vital that your employees are at work between 1:00 and 4:00. Why not give them the option to create their own workday as long as that workday meets two basic requirements:

  • They have to be at work during those vital hours of 1:00 and 4:00.
  • They have to work an 8-hour day

Some employees might stick with the traditional 8 to 4:30 work schedule. However, others might want to start at 7:00, take an hour and a half lunch and leave at 4:30.

Others might want to start at 9:00 and leave at 5:30. I heard about one employer who had an employee that was late every single day. He was scheduled to start at 7:00 but never came in until 8:30 or 9:00.

He was a great employee other than that one annoying quirk. So, when his boss got the idea to change his start time from the traditional 7:00  to 9:00, he solved the problem.

The perpetually late employee became a timely employee that worked until 5:30 instead of 3:30. Happy boss, happy employee, efficient workplace.

Assess your business and see if a flexible daily schedule option would benefit your team.

2. An Alternative Workweek Schedule

Another option for enhanced employee benefits might include an alternative workweek schedule. As with a flexible daily schedule, you can customize your alternative workweek schedule to fit your company’s needs.

For instance, maybe you could offer a 4-day, 10-hour a day schedule where employees get Monday or Friday off every week. Another option is a 9-hour schedule where they get every other Friday or Monday off.

Consider A Seasonal Alternative Work Schedule

I know of one employer that had employees work an extra half hour Monday through Thursday during the summer months. This allowed them all to be able to leave at noon every Friday throughout the summer.

The effect on the employees was amazing. They felt as if they were kids skipping out on school early. They could leave at noon every Friday and enjoy the summer sun while most of their friends and family members slaved away at work until 5:00 or 6:00.

And since they were still working 40 hours each week, company productivity didn’t suffer a bit.

3. Working Remotely

A popular enhanced benefit in today’s technologically advanced world is the ability to work remotely. If you have the type of business that allows employees to put in some remote work hours, consider allowing it.

Letting employees work from home one or more days per week, if possible, gives them a break from office life and can be a refresher that increases employee morale.

4. Paid Family Leave

Paid family leave was the top coveted enhanced benefit employees suggested in the Unum study we mentioned above. People have babies, adopt children, or need to take time off to care for parents or other family members in need.

And of course, they worry about how to balance the needs of their family with their responsibilities at work–and their need for a paycheck. Offering annual paid family leave time is one way you can partner with your employees to help them take better care of their families.

Happier Families Equal Happier Workers

Employees who have the time to create balance in their families have a higher chance of being happier, more productive workers.

And offering paid family leave doesn’t have to break the bank. Offer what your company can afford to offer, whether it’s three days per year or three weeks per year. As your company grows, you can increase the amount of paid family leave time you offer.

4. Professional Development Training

Professional development training is another coveted benefit “extra.” Development training for employees can cover a wide variety of topics and doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

The type of development training you offer could be as simple as having a local speaker come in and teach on productivity or managing stress. Or, you could offer to pay for work-related classes at a local community college where tuition is more affordable.

Learning Stipends

Another popular professional development benefit is the learning stipend. Learning stipends are cash benefits given to employees to pay for professional development or continuing education.

You can offer in-house learning platforms for employees to take advantage of, or give them the freedom to find classes or workshops on their own. Some companies even build a personal development option into learning stipend programs.

For example, you might offer to pay for 100 percent of development or education classes that are directly work-related (up to a certain annual dollar amount) and to pay for 50 percent of classes that are non-work related.

Other Affordable Development Training Options

YouTube or TED talk videos are another option you could use to help employees tweak professional development. For example, you could offer a mandated in-house lunch hour where you share a video and serve lunch and beverages.

Or, have an afternoon hour-long meeting and offer snacks and bottled water. The goal need only to be helping your employees develop professionally and personally, which benefits the entire team.

5. Sabbatical Leave

Sabbatical leaves as a workplace benefit likely won’t be used often, but employees like knowing the option is available. In the Unum study, 38% of poll participants said they’d like the option for sabbatical leave as a part of their benefits package.

Sabbatical leaves are long-term, unpaid leaves where employees focus on health and/or personal growth. Some companies offer sabbatical leaves of three to six months; others offer them for longer.

Another option might be to offer sabbatical leave time as a benefit to employees once they reach a milestone–such as the five-year employment mark with your company.

Why Employees Take Sabbaticals

Employees might use a sabbatical leave for many reasons. They might use them for extended travel, to attend college, to focus on mental and physical health, or for other reasons.

Because they’re unpaid, your only cost is to find a way to delegate their workload to the rest of the team. Paying a temporary employee to pick up the workload is another option.

However, since sabbatical leaves are somewhat uncommon you might find this a benefit that pleases employees without too much damage to your bottom line.

6. Gym Membership Or On-Site Fitness Center

Do you have room to create an on-site fitness center at your business? A workplace that promotes good health has a powerful ability to generate more productive employees.

Giving employees built-in opportunities to work out on their lunch hour or before or after work shows that you care about their health and their stress level. If you’re running a smaller business, don’t feel the need to install a comprehensive workout facility.

Offer A Few Good Options

A couple of treadmills and bikes, a few weight machines and a TV or two will work just fine. A second option would be to pay for a membership for employees. Research low-cost gym memberships, such as the type that SNAP Fitness and Anytime Fitness offer. See if you can get your local franchise owner to give you a multi-member discount to save even more money.

Consider tying the benefit to gym usage to avoid wasting company revenue on unused memberships. If employees don’t use the membership a certain number of times per month, they lose the benefit.

7. Onsite Healthy Snacks

More than a quarter of survey takers in the Unum survey said that they’d love to have low or no-cost healthy snacks available at work. As an employer, you could offer this enhanced benefit in a couple of different ways.

For instance, you could install an on-site vending machine that offers only healthy snack choices. Another option would be to offer a selection of healthy snacks for free or with an “on your honor” box for payment.

Healthy Snack Options

Some healthy snack options could include choices like:

  • Bags of nuts or trail mixes
  • Fresh fruits or dried fruits that don’t contain sugar
  • Bagged popcorn that is non-GMO and has oil and salt
  • Bottled water
  • Granola mixes or granola bars
  • Baby carrots
  • String cheese
  • Yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Plain oatmeal packets

Of course, the snack options you choose to offer your employees will be based on the type of setup you choose. For instance, if you choose string cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese, you’ll need refrigeration. Fresh fruit will require frequent re-stocking.

But the goal is that the snacks don’t stick around very long. Instead, employees enjoy them over less healthy choices such as candy and fried foods.

8. Group Volunteer Events

One way to increase your company’s team mentality is to organize occasional group volunteer events. These types of events, where employees work together to help the less fortunate, can really help coworkers bond – even coworkers that previously didn’t seem to click.

Some ideas of group volunteer events you could organize for your team include:

  • Packing food at a food distribution center such as Feed My Starving Children
  • Painting or building houses for the less fortunate with a company such as Habitat for Humanity
  • Planning a trip to a nearby weather-devastated area to help clean up with the Red Cross or local churches
  • Working for a day at a food shelf or homeless shelter

Group Volunteer Events Have Multiple Benefits

Although volunteer events might not seem like a benefit at the outset, these types of events increase employee morale and unity for several reasons:

  1. People love to feel needed
  2. It feels good to work together to help others
  3. It helps team members to connect outside of work
  4. Volunteering fosters authentic relationships

Search the internet to find volunteer opportunities for your workplace, or ask employees for their ideas. The time you need to take away from production to volunteer will be well worth the bonding it can create for your team.

9. Miscellaneous Personal Perks

Many companies are offering miscellaneous benefits or “perks” that are simply geared to make work and life more enjoyable. These types of benefits can be anything that will enhance an employee’s overall life. For example, as a business owner you could:

  • Hire a massage therapist to come in monthly during lunch and give neck massages
  • Have weekly drawings for perks such as movie tickets or restaurant gift cards (check out Costco for discounts on those items)
  • Plan monthly entertainment gatherings for employees where you leave early on a Friday and do something fun as a group (i.e. escape rooms, semi-pro baseball games, entertainment centers etc.)

Another perk idea is to offer cash bonuses for various personal work-related goals or company-related goals. Greg, 49, of Minneapolis works as a driver for a large waste management company.

The company offers cash bonuses for drivers who train new drivers in. If the new driver stays on the job, both the trainer and the trainee get bonuses:

  • $1,000 in cash after the new driver is there 90 days
  • $750 in cash if the new driver is still there after 180 days
  • Another $750 in cash if the new driver is there for a year

The goal? Increase driver retention and encourage trainer drivers to do well at training new drivers. Greg has cashed in on the retention program big time, earning enough money to pay off his consumer debt. Now he’s using the program to get his home paid off early.

The program is a win-win, both for Greg and his company. Greg gets the chance to earn some extra cash, while the company earns well-trained drivers that stay at the company longer.


Enhanced employee benefits give employees–whether potential or current–the feeling that they are indeed a valued member of your company. An employee that feels valued, appreciated and well-compensated will be more prone to working harder and to staying with your company.

Enhanced benefits such as the ones mentioned above are a vital part of ensuring your employees have a positive employee experience at work each day. Consider adding enhanced benefits to your business’s compensation package.

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