As Employers Try To Bring Joy To The Job, Perks For Workers Go Way Beyond The Basics

By Cindy Krischer Goodman Miami Herald

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Onsite meditation, yoga and mindfulness programs that help workers de-stress, are the latest workplace benefits that employers are rolling out as they try harder to keep their employees happy.

Miami Herald

It's dinner time, but instead of heading home from work, employees at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach are seated in the hotel's event space with their eyes closed, learning how to breathe and clear their minds. A half hour later, when they open their eyes, they are handed a sticker by an Innergy Meditation instructor that reads "I meditated today."

Among the participants is Silvia Pereda, who announces she is pleased that the hotel's newest perk has been so well received.

"Doing these things drives our organization," says Pereda, vice president of human resources for the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. "If our employees are happy and engaged, they are more likely to stay here."

Onsite meditation, yoga, mindfulness, programs that help workers de-stress, are the latest workplace benefits that employers are rolling out as they try harder to keep their employees happy.

Recent research from Glassdoor.com, a California-based jobs and recruiting website, found that more than half (57 percent) of people said benefits and perks are among their top considerations when considering accepting a job, and that four in five workers say they would prefer additional benefits over a pay raise.

During the recession, companies pulled back on perks as they cut costs. But now hiring has resumed, salaries are rising, and the fancy perks are back and more creative than ever. A growing number of employers are introducing enticements such as cooking classes, student loan assistance, spot bonuses, standing desks, paid leave and free snacks or meals.

Andrea Lubell, cohesion captain with Innergy Meditation, soon to open in Miami Beach, says employers are looking for ways to keep their talent engaged and happy. Her company travels to workplaces around South Florida, helping employers bring onsite meditation classes to their workers. "When employers offer perks, they get something back: They get happier, more focused, more productive employees," she says.

At minimum, most employers offer the basics, medical, dental, vacation, 401(k). Those benefits are offered at the same level as they were 20 years ago, but the number and types of additional benefits that organizations offer has grown, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2016 Employee Benefits Survey, a comparison of employer-offered benefits from 1996 to 2016.

The challenge for employers is providing the additional benefits their employees will use. For working parents, that could be onsite childcare, paid time off, maybe even dinners to go. Younger workers are attracted to fun benefits like fitness classes or workplace contests. And older workers often want perks like multiple retirement savings plans and onsite financial planning.

At the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, where a staff of 2,400 employees keeps the iconic hotel open 24/7, Pereda continuously adds offerings and gauges what gets workers jazzed by polling them once a year. Regardless of their shift, employees can eat a free meal in the hotel cafeteria, or attend a monthly class in how to form a bow tie, make a terrarium or cook a whole turkey.

Sometimes, it's the small things that get the best reaction from certain groups of employees: When the company was distributing bus passes to employees that gave them a month's worth of free rides, "there was a line in the cafeteria, and employees even came on their day off," Pereda says. "It's a little thing, but it's big to them."

The three top benefits employees say are important to their job satisfaction are paid time off, health care/medical benefits, and flexibility to balance life and work issues, the SHRM survey shows. But employees also say they appreciate extra perks such as generous paid parental leave, unlimited paid time off, and the ability to bring their pets to work. "Employers are looking for new and innovative benefits that are cost-effective and best fit their workforce," says Evren Esen, director of workforce analytics at SHRM, which is based in Alexandria, Va.

Esen said it can be difficult to predict what various workers value, which is why employers need to ask. Baptist Health System, which has been on Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work 15 times, surveys its 16,000 workers with 20 questions each year and also takes input from an employee advisory group as it adds new perks. "We want to spend our resources in a way that provides benefits to the most people," says Margaret Marshall, assistant vice president of human resources at Baptist Health South Florida. From listening, the health care organization has tweaked what it offers to allow workers to cash out of unused time in their Paid Time Off banks, tap interest-free loans for unexpected financial crises, and use back-up care for loved ones of all ages. Additional perks include adoption assistance, team performance bonuses, discounts on public transportation and a 24-hour online store with discounted household items.

It's not just big employers ramping up offerings. Small employers are introducing some cool perks, too, like monthly happy hours at Quest Workspaces, the company that operates co-working spaces in South Florida and New York.

To create a "fun" environment for her 25 mostly millennial workers, CEO/founder Laura Kozelouzek has come up with perks to help them bond with co-workers and develop their skills. Quest offers a shadowing program for all levels and social events such as picnics, an annual weekend cruise, a manager getaway and, yes, monthly team happy hours. Kozelouzek discovered her young workers prefer short-term financial incentives, which is why she shells out quarterly rewards and Amazon gift cards rather than year-end bonuses. Kozelouzek says perks also include a paid volunteer day each year and a paid birthday day off, on the condition that her young staffers use it to do something on their bucket list. "We realize we have to offer the right benefits to keep them engaged and make the workplace fun," she says.

Of course, low-cost perks like a paid birthday day are easier to introduce. When a bigger investment is involved, some employers are piloting the benefit first, says Jessica Rohman of Great Place to Work, a California consulting organization that compiles that annual Fortune list. "When you are dealing with human beings, getting a sense of what the obstacles might be goes a long way," she says.

Kaufman Rossin, with close to 350 employees in four South Florida offices, has gone that route to pilot its newest benefit, onsite physical therapy. Now, along with subsidized massages, staff can get treatment for their aches and pains from a therapist. Kaufman began rolling out the perk first in its main office, gauged its popularity, and will soon offer it in the firm's other locations. The accounting firm also beefed up its online learning culture, offering 1,600 courses, and hiring a nationally known consultant to put on "people management" workshops.

"We ask our staff what they like and don't like," says Janet Altman, marketing principal at Kaufman Rossin in Miami. "They like spending time together having fun, so we added more social events and contests." Altman says the firm has even started offering onsite lunchtime or evening workshops on cooking, caring for orchids and making beer.

In accounting, a field where competition for talent has intensified, Altman says Kaufman recognizes it needs the core benefits that create a good workplace culture and the wow perks that attract new hires. Says Altman: "This has to be something you care about, not just something you do to look good." ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life.

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