Creative Employee Benefits Ideas for Small Business


Ralph Peters

Sep 2, 2020


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Human Resources

The Changing Economy and Millennial Effect‍

As a small business owner, you know that attracting and keeping the right employees is a challenge. The cost of offering traditional benefits is also expensive, and it's nearly impossible for small businesses to absorb the cost of providing a full range of standard benefits. Owners have to be creative in their candidate attraction and employee retention efforts.

The Millennial generation, who now make up the largest segment of the workforce, is also driving businesses to become more creative in their benefits. Their unique consumer behavior, economic challenges, and cultural values have sparked many of these changes.

They and other Americans have struggled with stagnant wages, a shortage of affordable housing, and the crushing weight of student loan debt. Many Millennials are now running small businesses and, along with owners from other generations, are spearheading creative solutions that meet the needs of a changing workforce.

About Traditional Benefits for Small Businesses‍

Employee Benefits - Paid vacation, meal breaks, social security, perks and bonuses, pay raise, employees allowance, achievement award and health insurance.

Before we discuss creative employee benefits ideas, it is essential to re-cap traditional benefits. Many ideas we cover later evolve from these plans. Adding more traditional benefits to your existing portfolio may energize your workforce and meet their needs. Still, the products may cost up to 40% of each covered employee's base pay, depending on your company sponsors’ depth and benefits.

It is also helpful to know traditional benefits, so you don't make the mistake of presenting a conventional benefit as a creative or groundbreaking solution to your workforce:

  1. Health insurance coverage
  2. Dental and vision care plans
  3. Paid holidays
  4. Pay raises
  5. Flexible schedules
  6. Paid time off
  7. Paid vacation
  8. Retirement plans (401k, pension, etc.)
  9. Short-term disability
  10. Long-term disability
  11. Paid parental leave
  12. Health savings accounts (HSAs)
  13. Flexible spending accounts (FSAs)

It is also important to note these examples do not cover mandated benefits on the federal, state, or local levels. Next, we look at several new ideas that companies are using.

Emerging Trends‍

Economic, health, cultural, and other changes transform the American workforce’s needs at a pace unseen in modern times. This is resulting in new benefits ideas that adapt to these emerging needs.

Woman working from home

Work at home - Even before the COVID_19 pandemic, employers took advantage of HR software and other technological advances to allow more employees to work from home. It not only reduces operational costs, but small businesses have access to a more fantastic pool of virtual workers. Employees benefit from reduced commuting expenses, less discretionary spending at work, reduced stress, and more.

Rewards that build connection and community - Culture and workplace changes (remote work) transform employee rewards and incentives. Experiences that foster connection and well-being are not only nice to have but will become more critical as entire workforces continue to transform into remote work.

Unlimited vacation - Companies are no longer obligated to pay employees for a set number of vacation days and don't have to pay for unused days when an employee leaves the company--taking them off the balance sheets. This enables small businesses to offer unlimited vacation days. The policy provides greater flexibility for both employees and employers.

External life coaching/mentorship programs: Many businesses are offering these benefits because of our culture's increasing openness to seeking professional and personal improvement advice. These programs are tailored to individual needs, helping individuals achieve greater success.

Fitness and Nutrition‍

Yoga Class

There is a mountain of research that proves healthier lifestyles help employees lead happier and more productive days at work. Healthy lifestyles also reduce the risk of severe health complications. Small businesses benefit from lower-cost pressures on health plans.

Following are some ways that businesses are promoting healthy lifestyles using low-cost, creative solutions:

  1. Complimentary fitness classes
  2. Access to free bikes, skateboards, and scooters
  3. Company-subsidized organic meals in an office cafe
  4. Gym membership reimbursement
  5. Free or subsidized health trackers
  6. Deskercise balls
  7. Free healthy snacks
  8. Healthy vending machine
  9. Healthy office lunches
  10. Preventive doctor visit incentive
  11. On-site health screenings and flu shots
  12. Free ergonomic desk equipment
  13. Convertible or stand-up desks
  14. Health premium reduction for wellness participation
  15. Wellness Fairs
  16. Biometric screenings
  17. Home fitness equipment stipends

Mental Health‍

Healthy Mental Health - Brain, heart and a stethoscope.

Society's increasing openness to discussing mental health has encouraged individuals to embrace opportunities that address issues. Qualified third parties deliver the services and are a great supplement to health benefits. Employers can obtain these plans for a flat fee or as a part of existing insurance.

Following are some examples of mental health programs available to small businesses:

  1. Employee assistance programs
  2. Mobile phone-based telehealth solutions (Doctor on Demand, Maven, etc.)
  3. Support group programs
  4. Mental health time off
  5. Creating a supportive company culture for mental health issues


Financial wellness adds peace of mind and helps employees focus better on other matters, including work. Whether it's a discount program or college savings accounts for children, any financial perk can go a long way.

Student Loan Repayment

1. Student loan repayment plans - SLRPs are a popular perk with millennials and other employees with student loan debt. This financial wellness benefit allows employers to make monthly payments to the student loan servicer, who applies the money directly to the principal. Employees continue to make their regular payments. Years of debt can be eliminated with this arrangement.

2. Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement - Beneficial for small businesses, a QSEHRA helps businesses with fewer than 50 employees help close the healthcare costs gap. It supplements existing insurance and covers a wide range of expenses such as premiums, office visits, prescriptions, etc.

3. Identity theft protection - In a changing world where more employees work from home and use even more personal electronic devices, identity thieves continue to exploit opportunities. Personal losses cost the company time and significant interruptions in employees' lives. This is much more than a financial perk.

4. Discount programs - Employees enjoy a wide variety of discounts for their favorite products, entertainment, services, food and beverages, and more through available programs. Many are free, making it an excellent perk for small businesses.

Kids playing with clay.

5. Child care and housing discounts/programs - Two of the most pressing expenses for many Americans include childcare and housing. Employer-sponsored child care programs help multiple-job parents save on the high cost of child care. In places where housing costs make it difficult for workers to make reasonable commutes to work, employer-sponsored housing programs help provide a more stable labor force.

6. Financial advice - Some employees have financial planning needs that a 401k plan alone can't solve. Advice is tailored to the individual employee's situation and needs. The advice can range from savings incentives to teaching employees how to manage their money better.

Other Creative Perks‍

The list of creative small business benefits is only limited to the imagination of every company. In the meantime, here are a few more we found:

  1. Special interest clubs
  2. Personal care services
  3. Pet care/insurance
  4. Learning sabbaticals
  5. Lunch 'n' learn sessions
  6. No designated work hours
  7. Unlimited ice cream
  8. On-site health services

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