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by Jill Witty | March 10, 2009

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An experienced IT recruit is offered a new car as a signing bonus.

An executive thinking about leaving his company is promised a $200,000+ bonus to stay.

In this tight job market, desperate and expensive measures seem to be a sign of the times when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. But for companies that can't afford such expensive extras, there are ways to offer retention-boosting perks to all employees without breaking the bank.

Increase retention without paying a cent!

Some of the best perks are also the cheapest, and in some cases they are even free. According to a recent study by human resources consulting firm Ceridian, one of the most oft-requested perks is a casual dress code. Employees consider this a real benefit to the job, allowing them to save money that would otherwise be spent on suits. Casual dress means a higher level of comfort in the office, which can lead to happier employees and increased productivity. While it may not be a practical move in all industries, employers who can offer even one casual day per week are likely to see a positive effect on recruitment and retention.

Another valued benefit that comes at little to no cost to employers is flex-time. Flexible schedules can help with work/life balance, especially for employees who have childcare or eldercare needs. For offices that regularly open early and stay late, offering flex-time options can be an extremely low-cost method of increasing employee satisfaction.

Low-cost perks to improve the workplace

Although foosball may not appeal to everyone, dot-coms know what they're doing when they buy games and toys for the office. On-site perks make an office environment a more enjoyable place to spend time.

Does your company offer free coffee to employees? According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, 23% of U.S. adults say they drink coffee daily at work. Free coffee at the office is a benefit that enjoys high utilization, in addition to increasing productivity and keeping employees happy. While not all companies have the means to match Microsoft's famous free unlimited drinks and snacks, a coffeemaker is a promising start.

Game rooms, of course, may just be what your company needs. Did you know that foosball tables cost as little as $199? Other inexpensive workplace perks could include an on-site ATM, reading or nap room, and dry cleaning pick-up and delivery. These extras help employees get through their days without some of the stress associated with a regular nine-to-five job. ~

Quality of life perks

One of the hottest new trends in company perks is the concierge service. These services, which save employees valuable time by running errands and doing chores for them, often cost less than employers realize.

Best Upon Request, a concierge service based in Cincinnati, can do everything from buying birthday gifts to researching vacation spots. Tillie Hidalgo Lima, president of Best Upon Request, reports that the number one request from employees is "finding household help, such as a plumber, petsitter, contractor, or landscape architect." The second most requested service is personal shopping, which is especially useful during the holiday season. "A lot of people don't have time" to do their holiday shopping, says Lima. "They come to us."

According to Lima, a company that retains Best Upon Request sees an average of 83% of employees take advantage of the services. Moreover, the typical employee uses the concierge services six times per year. Best Upon Request offers flexible plans, allowing employers to customize the service according to their needs and budget. One such plan calls for a small employee fee per actual hour of usage, thereby charging only those employees who make use of the benefit and keeping service costs low for the employer.

A concierge service is only one way to help employees make the most out of their time and money. More standard perks that should not be overlooked include discounts on gym memberships, local restaurants or theaters, or discount shopping clubs. These benefits come at very low cost to employers but can often be the little touch that shows an employee that the company is really looking out for his or her well-being.~

Picking the right perks for your company

One very basic objective to keep in mind when deciding on perks is the target audience. A foosball table might hold large appeal for Generation X dot-commers, but put one in at an older, more traditional company, and you may find you've wasted the company's money. If you are not sure what kind of benefits your employees would most like to see, conduct a survey. Employees will be happy to see that their input counts, and you may well be surprised at the results.

Employees' preferred perks often depend on their ages. Older employees will tend to favor expanded health-care coverage, less expensive co-payments, and the possibility of part-time or flexible schedules. Baby boomers may prefer to see a beefed-up pension plan, training possibilities, or tuition reimbursement. Generation X employees will likely be interested in more vacation time, performance-based incentives, and casual dress. Each employee is different, as is each company, so find out which perks your employees are most interested in, and work with the company to see how they can best be implemented without breaking the bank.

With the cost of replacing an employee typically ranging from $10,000 to $30,000, any effort that helps retain even one employee will be very valuable. By reducing turnover, perks can save a company a great deal of money in the long run.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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