Photo of employees at work.

4 types of employee benefits to help keep your business competitive

Quick takeaways

  • Businesses must be agile in how they work to serve customers but be led by consistent values in why they work to better demonstrate lasting value to all stakeholders.
  • Most businesses are maintaining or adding employee benefits in a competitive economy, which helps employees feel appreciated.
  • Both employers and employees can benefit from personalizing communication and career paths, a fuller spectrum of employee benefits, and extra time to recharge.

As a business owner you’re barraged with advice about how to be agile and adapt.

Yet you’re also supposed to stay true to consistent business values.

This balancing act between agile practice and steady purpose is familiar to Herbert Watson, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. The CEO and co-founder of professional services contractor Seventh Sense Consulting has learned to manage the difference between how his employees work and why they work.

The flexible how:

Photo of Herb Watson.

Herb Watson, CEO and co-founder of Seventh Sense Consulting

  • Seventh Sense, established in 2012, was ahead of the curve when it abandoned its office space before the pandemic to give employees back the time they’d been wasting in the clogged commuter traffic of Washington, D.C. “I thought, why are we spending all this money—you know, rent, furniture, utilities—when we can take that same money and return it to our people?” Watson says.

The dependable why:

  • At the start of 2021 Watson challenged his employees to do just one thing to make a positive difference in somebody’s life—some small act of kindness or outreach beyond their jobs. “These are the things beyond benefits that make sure people are happy,” Watson says.

Mark West, national vice president of business solutions for Principal®, agrees that genuine gestures from a business owner can help the average workforce feel more like a cohesive team.

“Employees feel good when their employer cares for them personally,” he says. “They’re key to the success of your business.”

Here are four ideas for reimagining your business’ approach to employee support and benefits to address both the how and why of work:

1. Talk to your employees personally.

Watson sends a weekly email to his 200 employees that includes a range of updates—whether a reminder about the upcoming company picnic or cybersecurity tips. But he also prioritizes personal conversations.

“I like to just pick up the phone and call people randomly,” he says.

Casual chats with a few employees daily also inform his handwritten birthday cards. Watson treats his employees with the same respect as a client whom he gets to know personally to strengthen the business relationship.

The more you see your employees as an investment, the more you’ll be inclined to implement employee programs and benefits that may improve their work lives while benefiting your business.

What you can do next: Spend at least 10 minutes of any 30-minute one-on-one session talking about topics of interest to the employee other than work. The key is to open the door for the discussion—and then listen.

2. Make sure your employee benefits span the spectrum.

Seventh Sense, which is a minority-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small business, offers 401(k) retirement savings and other types of employee benefits. The company caters to workers who join the private sector after a long career in government (by contributing 85% of the cost toward medical and dental) as well as younger employees building their skills (through robust education subsidies).

Earlier this year our Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM showed most businesses boosting or maintaining benefits, with specific benefits most popular for certain needs:

  • Telehealth: COVID-19 response
  • Health care: employee satisfaction and well-being
  • Generous vacation time: recruitment
  • Disability insurance: retention

Less conventional benefits, when consistently deployed, also can help employees feel more appreciated. For instance, Seventh Sense distributes ad hoc bonuses ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And employees receive the day off for their birthday and work anniversary.

“We share our revenue in unique ways, like tickets to concerts and athletic events as part of our morale, welfare, and recreation program,” Watson says.

What you can do next: Explore a variety of benefit offerings beyond the basics in this quick chart.

3. Personalize your employees’ career paths and goals.

A new yearlong study from software firm Citrix Systems Inc. shows that workers want their employer to be more sophisticated about measuring their productivity—emphasizing outcome over input, value of work over volume of work. Employees want to see how they contribute to holistic business goals.

Seventh Sense foregoes standard annual performance evaluations in favor of a continuous bonus plan and “investment dialogue” customized to each employee.

“The manager and direct report shape the dialogue and the direction of the employee’s career, so we can figure out ways to invest in that person as they progress,” Watson says.

What you can do next: Key employees and your business may benefit from bonus and incentive plans, West says, that give high performers more incentive and keep them focused on top goals.

4. Let employees be vulnerable and take time to recharge.

The pandemic intensified focus on employee mental health and well-being, and that greater attention with reduced stigma may be a lasting positive outcome of the crisis.

Watson acknowledges to his employees that they work in a tough industry and allows them to take more spontaneous vacation days—"time on the bench,” he calls it, as if they’re on a sports team.

“Take whatever you need to kind of recuperate and refresh yourself so that you're ready to get back in the game and give us 100%,” he says.

What you can do next: Learn about more ways to support employee mental health in our series of articles.

What’s next?

Seventh Sense is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group®.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professional or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.