In the competition to hire and retain the best and brightest workers, companies have gotten more creative with job perks and benefits. While high salaries will likely never lose their allure, and paid sabbaticals remain the benefit at the top of many a wish list, employees are also drawn to the little ― and not-so-little ― extras a company provides.
Of course, workers aren’t offered free chair massages and gym memberships solely out of corporate benevolence. Mostly what companies are trying to do is keep their turnover costs down, and they’ve figured out happy workers are more inclined to stay. One in four millennials changes jobs each year, according to a recent Gallup report ― which isn’t a good thing for businesses.
Here are some of the benefits that employers around the country are now offering, hoping to get you and keep you:
1. Help paying off student loans
There are 44 million Americans with student loan debt, bringing the total U.S. student debt burden to more than $1.3 trillion, the federal government estimates. Yet only 4 percent of U.S. companies contribute to employees’ student debt payments, says the Society for Human Resource Management.
PwC offers $1,200 a year, for a lifetime total of $10,000 toward reducing the burden of student loans on the firm’s associates and senior associates with one to six years of working experience. That covers about 22,000 U.S. employees, or 45 percent of its U.S. workforce; more than 6,000 took advantage of the benefit in its first year. The program is especially appealing to millennials, who make up 80 percent of the PwC workforce, the company says.
And since good ideas spread, other companies have followed suit. Health care company Aetna now offers its 50,000 full-time employees matching loan payments of up to $2,000 per year for a total match of $10,000 per person. The “catch,” if you want to call it that, is that employees need to have earned undergrad or graduate degrees from accredited institutions within the last three years.
While the programs are primarily attractive to millennials, they aren’t necessarily exclusive to younger workers. The Aetna program also applies to employees who go back to school and get a new degree.
The Austin-based software and services company BP3 matches up to $100 a month for payments employees make to their student loan balances. The company also offers free credit advice on how to best pay down debt. Chegg, which runs a college connection platform, offers full- and part-time employees up to $1,000 annually to help repay their student loans ― and does not impose a total cap on how much one employee can receive.
2. Free on-site health care centers
We’re not just talking free flu shots here, but a full-service health clinic at the work site. Information tech giant SAS, a global company based in North Carolina, has a 35,000-square-foot medical facility and pharmacy on-site. There is never any cost to employees, their spouses, domestic partners or dependents for care. The center is managed by a staff of 53 that includes doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, physical therapists and lab techs. No co-pays are ever collected ― it’s 100 percent free. Understandably, it is used by 90 percent of SAS’s workforce. In fact, 75 percent of employees use it as their primary care physician. The company estimates the on-site health center saved employees $1.12 million last year by avoiding out-of-pocket co-pays and co-insurance.
It’s easy, free and not a major time-suck to get what ails you looked at.
SAS, which has appeared on pretty much every “best places to work” list, has been at the forefront of providing employee benefits for every life stage. And to no one’s surprise, it has the lowest turnover rate in the tech sector.
3. Help with high housing costs
The San Francisco and Silicon Valley housing markets have gone haywire. In 2015, the cost of living in San Francisco was “62.6 percent higher than the U.S. average,” according to SmartAsset.com. A year later, the same site said you needed to earn at least $216,129 a year to afford renting an average two-bedroom apartment there. San Francisco rents have jumped by almost 50 percent since 2010, while home prices have increased 98 percent since the bottom of the market in 2009.
The area is home to giants in the tech sector. But what good is working for a giant if you still need to share an apartment with five roommates just to pay the rent?
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, came up with one solution: It is buying $30 million of prefab housing for 300 of its employees. Rents for these apartments are expected to be below market. A previous similar project that used modular technology saved tenants $700 a month in rent because of reduced construction costs, reported the Wall Street Journal.
There is definitely a company upside to encouraging employees to live close to the office: It means they are likely to work longer hours.
Addepar, a company that provides investment management software, supplements workers with $300 a month for rent if they live within a mile of its West Coast office, and $150 a month for those who live slightly farther away. Even Facebook has been reportedly paying employees a $10,000 bonus to live closer to its headquarters. It offers its interns free housing and other amenities like shuttle service to and from Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, or a monthly housing stipend of $1,000.
There is a growing consensus that companies located in the high-priced pockets of the housing market need to step up with more housing benefits. It’s that or lose valuable employees who realize they can’t afford to buy homes if they stay working there. Going forward, we may see employers provide loans or mortgage guarantees ― or even put up equity or carry debt behind an apartment developer to bring more affordable rentals to the market.
4. Paid sabbaticals
No matter how much you love your job, sometimes you just need to get away from it. With our phones and devices serving as electronic ankle bracelets, taking a break from work can be harder than it sounds.
Even though workers say sabbaticals are high on their list of desired benefits, paid leaves not attached to parenting, caregiving or bereavement aren’t all that common in the workforce. Only 4 percent of employers offered a paid sabbatical program in 2016, while 12 percent had an unpaid program, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employment Benefits report.
The online real estate company Zillow Group, on the other hand, announced this year that it would offer six-week sabbaticals to employees who have been with the company for six consecutive years. Three weeks are at full pay and the other three weeks are unpaid, but benefits like health care and stock-based compensation will continue uninterrupted. About 10 percent of the company’s 3,000 workers have been employees for at least six years.
5. Flexibility ― in every sense of the word
Go ahead and laugh if you will, but the single fastest-growing benefit in the past five years, according to SHRM, has been providing workers with a standing desk. This benefit grew more than threefold, from 13 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2017. Medical research has associated sitting for long periods of time with numerous negative health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and increased risk of death. So even health-conscious employees who eat right and exercise regularly are at risk if they sit for prolonged periods. Workers want to stand!
Flexibility in other areas is also highly valued.
Three out of five organizations in the SHRM annual study (62 percent) allowed some type of telecommuting, and 57 percent offered flextime, allowing employees to choose their work hours within limits established by the company. Not only has the workplace grown more flexible, but the culture also has become more casual, SHRM found. More organizations allow casual dress every day compared with 2013.
What else should workers care about in their benefits package? Well, you still can’t beat a great salary, generous health coverage and a fully matched 401k ― back to basics.