Employers think outside the box for ways to show their appreciation ... and to retain their best and brightest.
At Northwest Bank, a massage therapist gives back rubs while playing soothing music in a dimly lit conference room.
At SwedishAmerican Hospital, a gofer arranges to pick up flowers to salvage an employee’s forgotten wedding anniversary.
At FatWallet.com, a pool table and pinball machines provide downtime for workers who need a break.
Throughout the Rock River Valley, employers increasingly offer offbeat perks to keep their best workers. While full-time employees expect a certain level of benefits — competitive wages, health insurance, paid vacation — more companies are coming up with dozens of creative perks to boost morale and avoid employee turnover.
After the excesses of the dot-com boom in the late ’90s — think Hawaiian shirts in the office and bring-your-cat-to-work day — employers dialed down quirky perk policies. But some of those benefits are making a comeback as employers brace for a shrinking work force when the massive baby-boomer generation retires.
But lavishing workplace-provided perks beyond the core benefits can pay big dividends, says Harvey Lightbody, vice president of human resources at SwedishAmerican.
At SwedishAmerican, employees can use a concierge service to pick up or drop off their cleaning, take the car in for an oil change or shop for groceries. Employees pay only the concierge’s mileage; the gofer’s time is free.
The service has been hugely popular, Lightbody says, used about 500 times a month — not surprising when you figure that 80 percent of the hospital’s work force is female and women still manage the majority of household affairs.
The company also provides a free in-house clinic for minor ailments and is building an on-site center to provide day care and educational services to employees’ children starting in September. The health system gives college scholarships, adoption assistance, even $10 gas cards on employees’ birthdays.
Piling on the little perks pays off, Lightbody says. The annual turnover rate in the health care industry is 17.2 percent, but only 11.9 percent at SwedishAmerican.
“We want to establish an environment where we’re able to recruit the best employees in the marketplace for health care. When we look at what it costs to train employees, it’s hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”
Many employers are making the same calculation.
In May, Northwest Bank hired a massage therapist to give free 20-minute massages to any employee who wanted one. The therapist went all-out: soft music, aromatherapy candles and mood lighting. The company offered the perk, along with a catered lunch, at a different branch each Tuesday that month.
“People in general were kind of leery at first,” says J.T. Quillen, assistant vice president and branch leader at the Phelps Avenue bank. “But I think everyone was really kind of pleased with it. People are excited to come in to work knowing the bank is trying to do something a little different.”
Another office that generates a little excitement is FatWallet.com, an online bargain-hunting portal in Rockton. Employees enjoy a lobby equipped with a pool table, a foosball table, a pinball machine and arcade games; a kitchen area is stocked with snacks, a soda fountain and a fancy coffee machine. When he opened an office and hired employees, owner Tim Storm wanted to retain the same at-home atmosphere he enjoyed when he started the business in his spare bedroom eight years ago.
“When I needed a break, I took a break,” Storm says. “When I was hungry, I got something to eat. When I was thirsty, I got something to drink. I didn’t have to think ... ‘Is there something to eat? Is there something to drink? Do I have change for the vending machine?’
“Retention of quality employees is enough of a return on investment to justify all of it.”
Nate Legue can be reached at (815) 987-1346 or email@example.com.