Nontraditional Benefits, Unusual Perks Growing In Popularity

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Apr. 7, 2014 12:00 am  

Southwest Power Pool built a cafe at its new headquarters as a way of enticing employees to stay on campus during leisure hours.

CGWG pays for membership in a local fitness center and holds a health screening day each year. It pays for 15-minute neck and upper back massages once a month.

Many companies can’t afford services like that, or the time to provide them. DeStafano works for Youth Home Inc., a nonprofit that helps teens with psychiatric issues. In that hospital-like environment, she said, it’s not as easy to introduce flexible hours and other, similar benefits.

Similarly, Southwest Power Pool has had to work around its budget constraints to offer nontraditional benefits.

“We’re a not-for-profit, so we have members who pay a portion of our budget,” said Malinda See, the company’s director of corporate services. “We need to make sure we’re good stewards of our members’ money, so we look for creative ideas to help the employees and also help the manager’s budget.”

One of those ideas was a wellness program that it started this year. SPP spends $5 million to $6 million annually on its medical plan for employees, See said. The wellness program will cost it $50,000 annually. Employees were offered Fitbit trackers, which measure various physical activities, at half retail cost. Employees can use them with a special “health kiosk” installed at SPP.

The kiosk measures blood pressure and weight and sends employees health tips via email on nutrition and health. If they are able to maintain the program’s recommendations, they receive $15 bonuses each quarter.

“But it’s not really about the incentives,” See said. “It’s about feeling better. If you feel better, you’re more productive. If you’re more productive, you’re more engaged in retention.”

The idea is also that healthier employees will use fewer sick days.

She said 315 of the company’s nearly 600 employees have signed up for the program since Jan. 15 and have lost a total of 830 pounds.

“Employees are getting really competitive about it. They’re forming teams and challenging each other, engaging on social media,” she said.

DeStefano said it will be increasingly important for companies to come up with creative ways to augment benefit packages, even if it’s something as seemingly insignificant as a candy bar with an inspirational message.

“A lot of the fun stuff I do here at my work is very low- or no-cost,” she said. “It might be just buying candy bars and stapling on them, ‘You’re worth one-in-a-million,’ little goofy things like that; people seem to like them. Anymore in the workplace, medical insurance, dental insurance — those are just standards. Everybody has that. So you’re not standing out if you just do those things.”



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