4 employee benefits that will improve retention

Benefits are one of the biggest ways companies attract and retain talent. In addition to high-profile perks such as free food and flex time, do your employees even know about the more traditional benefits your company offers?

Benefits that will improve retention
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Most businesses offer no shortage of benefits to employees, but what happens when your employees aren't aware most of those benefits exist? While free lunch and snacks in the break room are easy enough to spot, and appreciate, there are plenty of overlooked benefits hiding in your onboarding handbook.

Dean Aloise, global HR consulting leader at Xerox HR Services, a division of Xerox focused on HR consulting, says that businesses are looking for more "value" in their benefits beyond flashy perks that get people in the door. But what employees value is going to vary depending on factors like age, demographic and personal view point. Aloise says the only way to understand what most your employees want from their benefits package, is to ask them and then communicate those benefits regularly to the workforce.

The benefits your employees are interested in might not be flashy or even involve major changes to the company culture. In fact, most of them might be more traditional than you think. And in plenty of cases, your company probably already offer these types of benefits, but it's just a matter of educating your employees on the fact that they exist and how to take advantage of them.

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Marriage and home-life benefits

A lot has changed in this country in the last few years -- we've seen a greater push for things like better paternal and maternity leave. And with the 2015 ruling that legalizes same-sex marriage, plenty of your employees are gaining access to benefits that didn't exist for them in the past.

However, navigating these benefits and figuring out what your company offers can be a challenge and if it's something personal, a worker might not necessarily want to email a HR person for clarification. Aloise says the best way help people understand their benefits, especially ones around new laws or growing trends, is to "develop and implement strategic, multi-channel communication programs that deliver the information that employees and their families need." This is also a great way to give partners and spouses access to benefits information.

Whenever new laws like pop up, or when there's a push to create better paternal or maternity leave for new parents, HR departments need to make sure the message gets out. Especially for employees who have been with the company for a while -- it's natural for a new worker to check out all the included perks, but someone who has been with the company for years might not think twice about it.

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"Having great benefits doesn't move the needle if employees don't know about them or don't use them. Employers should use multiple methods to communicate benefits to employees, including new-hire training, having an online portal that houses all benefits information and making HR accessible for employees to ask questions," says Adam Ochstein, founder and CEO of StratEX, which focuses on automating the HR ecosystem.

Student loan assistance

College graduates entering the workforce are often saddled with debt with student load debt. And financial strain is a huge productivity killer. According to the 2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey from Willis Towers Watson, a company specializing in risk management and insurance brokerage, employees under financial strain are not only more likely to express higher levels of stress, but also report overall poorer health.

If your business relies on millennials, student loan assistance might go a lot further than free bagels or discounts on a smartphone plan. Ochstein says with benefits like student loan assistance, you need to consider your audience and overall demographic. If the majority of your workers' college days are far behind them, loan assistance might not be as big of a perk, but for entry-level workers and new grads, it's a huge deal.

Don't older generations either: There are plenty of workers who decide to further their education to help grow their career and they'll want to know about any assistance programs as well. As Aloise says, the only way to know what your workers want, is to build an open line of communication and gain a better understanding of the general consensus.

Offering student loan assistance, ensuring employees have access to it and helping them understand how to take advantage of it can also send a message about your corporate values. "With the war for talent and tight job market, employees are empowered to seek out companies that align with their values and stand for the issues they care about. Benefits like PTO to volunteer, family leave and student demonstrate what a company values," says Ochstein.

Mental health benefits

The corporate world has seen a major push behind mental health awareness and general wellness in recent years. The survey from Willis Towers Watson found that high levels of workplace stress can be correlated to higher absenteeism, while healthy employees are far more engaged. The study also found that, employees who felt they could trust their employers were far more likely to take advantage of wellness benefits. Whereas, "resistant" employees were more likely to feel weary or negative about their employer having a role in their health.

If your company prides itself on wellness and mental health initiatives, but you find employees aren't taking advantage, it might boil down to building trust. It can be daunting for an employee to disclose a mental health diagnosis to an employer. Even though the Disability Act can protect them, there is still a social stigma that can seep into the office. Ochstein says that he feels the most important aspect in building this type of trust with your employees starts at the top.

"Leadership needs to be speaking up and advocating for employees to seek help if they need it. I tell my employees I see a therapist, and being transparent with them about that helps let employees know that there is nothing wrong with getting help," Ochstein says.

Employers need to build an environment that underscores how common it is for people to struggle with mental illness or emotional distress. "In fact, emotional distress to the point that work productivity is impacted is experienced by most people at some point in his or her working life," says Aloise.

Leadership programs

Employees who feel bored, restless or stagnant in their roles are not only more likely to kill time at work, call out sick or put in minimal effort, they're also more likely to accept a new opportunity if it comes up, according to a survey from Gallup. Leadership programs are pivotal to overall employee retention, but you should make sure those avenues are open for your employees. If there isn't a structured program in place, they might not know who to turn to for leadership advice.

Leadership programs and advancement are easy enough benefits to offer, they don't involve much overhead, and according to Ochstein, they are vital for staying competitive in the workforce. He says with the growing focus on building personal brands, workers are more invested than ever in growing and developing their own professional identities.

Leadership programs might not feel like a typical benefit -- especially when grouped with things like healthcare, salary or wellness initiatives. But Aloise says, a strong leadership program helps bring more value to what you offer your employees.

"The important point is that programs like mentoring provide value, so we would include anything that offers value to employees in their 'total rewards' framework. We look at it more through the lens of how can we deliver value to employees more efficiently to help them with their lives," he says.

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This story, "4 employee benefits that will improve retention" was originally published by CIO.

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