Nontraditional Perks Paying Off for Forward-Thinking Employers

By Lisa Beyer

Jul. 29, 2011

Employees of Domino’s Pizza Inc. enjoy some unusual benefits, in addition to discounts for a large cheese and pepperoni pizza.

Among the innovative benefits offered by the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based pizza chain are Pie Perks, which provide discounts on everything from oil changes to high-definition TVs at various retailers nationwide. There’s also an extensive wellness program designed to increase employee engagement.


Additionally, Domino’s 12,000 corporate employees receive holiday gift boxes, can access adoption assistance programs, are treated to extended time off during holidays and participate in a bonus program.

“Every team member participates in some type of bonus plan,” says Joe Abraham, Domino’s vice president of Total Rewards & Shared Services. “This links with our high-performance culture, and we see a very high return on investment in these programs.”

Nontraditional benefits are playing a bigger role as employers look to add staff and retain key talent, says Carol Sladek, a principal with Aon Hewitt, who helps clients implement work-life solutions. The perks often are inexpensive and help boost spirits in the workplace.

“When an employee wants to add a benefit, or benefits, they are usually addressing a particular problem or opportunity, such as productivity, absenteeism or talent management,” says Sladek, who is based in Lincolnshire, Illinois. “Many of the solutions for these issues come in the form of nontraditional benefits programs that are low-cost and high-value.”

Sladek says her group often works with employers to enrich traditional benefits programs, such as paid time off. That includes pooled time off, which employees can gift to each other, or sabbatical programs.

“The key is to marry the business needs of the organization with the needs of the workforce,” she says. “Traditional benefits may not be suited for a diverse workforce, and that’s where you can expand upon what you have to meet the needs of the group.”

Sladek believes flexible working arrangements and telecommuting programs that give employees more control over their time are highly valued and yet are inexpensive while providing a benefit for the organization, such as more coverage in the morning or at night.

“We see a wide range of programs that help employees manage their time, such as flex time to on-site cafeterias and day care, fitness classes, dry cleaning and car washing services,” she says. “Some of these programs cost little or nothing, while some require a significant investment, however, helping employees save time during their workday can be a win-win for everyone.”

One employer, Oklahoma City, Okla.-based American Fidelity Assurance Co., has benefited from an extensive flex time and telecommuting program.

“We have a family-oriented environment and wanted to find a way to help colleagues balance work and life,” says Heather Henshall, human resources specialist and project coordinator. Henshall says the majority of the insurance firm’s 1,490 employees are women who are balancing work with family.

Henshall says 48 percent of the workforce takes advantage of flex-work arrangements, starting work earlier or later, which allows the insurer to staff its call center longer without incurring overtime.

About 40 percent of its employees telecommute, working from home one to five days a week, Henshall says. Employees who want to telecommute receive extensive training on everything from expectations and guidelines to information technology so they can troubleshoot computer issues on their own.

Chris Morris, a marketing consultant for Benefit Communications Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee, says many of the nontraditional benefits he sees being used by his clients focus on wellness, on-site gyms and cafeterias.

“In this case, the employer is usually trying to drive a behavior change geared toward a healthier lifestyle,” Morris says.

One client has an on-site cafeteria that offers low-cost, healthy meals. Another client runs a call center in Nashville that rewards employees with a break room that has games, including a Wii. And yet another has an on-site health clinic designed to increase employees’ use of health assessments while decreasing time away from the office for doctor’s appointments.

Morris says the increase in nontraditional, often low-cost employee benefits can have a tremendous impact on employee morale, well-being and loyalty.

“However, there needs to be an incentive to use a program, or you won’t see participation … or change,” he says.

Several years ago, Minneapolis-based accounting firm Lurie Besikoff Lapidus & Co. decided to make life more bearable during the tax season for its 120 employees.

“We started bringing in catered meals for lunch and dinner so employees can have time to eat and relax instead of running out,” says Tom Morin, human resources manager. “We now have ‘chocolate Fridays,’ Wii tournaments, on-site massages, drawings for housecleaning services, and have even created survival kits with healthy snacks and wellness products. Anything to lighten the mood and give everyone a break, because we are working six or seven days a week during our busy season.”

Morin says that in addition to traditional benefits, his firm has a flexible schedule program, pays $100 for each year of service toward a dependent child’s college education and offers bonuses to employees who bring in new business.

Another employer trying to “lighten the load” for its employees is San Diego-based ACI Specialty Benefits, which offers work life, wellness and concierge services to employers. Employees, many of whom tackle challenging issues in the call center, can take advantage of a Zen room, complete with a massage chair, lavender-filled eye compresses, and calming music and yoga classes.

“Our goal is to increase retention, because call centers have a high turnover,” says chief administrative officer and head of human resources Gilbert Manzano. “We try to keep our environment fun, with wellness warrior team challenges, and teams that compete on fitness and weight-loss goals. We believe happy and healthy employees are good for business.”

Workforce Management Online, July 2011Register Now!

Lisa Beyer is a writer based in Florida.

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