Are You Doing Enough to Keep Your Employees?

There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to create benefits and perks to keep employees engaged and happy so they won’t run to the competition over a buck or two

Are You Doing Enough to Keep Your Employees?

Anja Smith

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A tough labor market is changing the dynamic between employer and employee. Jobs are a dime a dozen, making it seem like in-demand employees hold all the power.

More than a few employers miss the days when you could threaten a worker with their job to keep them in line. Ruling with an iron fist was never a good practice. It just used to be easier to get away with it.

But things aren’t as dire as they may seem. Jobs might be plentiful, but good jobs — just like good employees — are harder to find. Skilled workers are wise to this truth and want a job that makes them happy.

The crazy thing is, the bar isn’t very high. Researchers say job security and financial stability are the largest factors for job satisfaction. It can’t possibly be that easy, right? Job security and competitive pay?

It’s not. Humans are hard. Everyone brings their own insecurities, baggage and assumptions into any relationship, including work. Actions matter more than words. The best way to show an employee you care about their well-being, want them to work for you, and want them to succeed is through benefits programs.

Benefits are all the things — aside from money — you offer employees to compensate them. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, aiming to improve employees’ quality of life. While it matters that you pay employees fairly, it doesn’t always have to equal the biggest paycheck on the block.

A few years ago, we had three employees leave in quick succession. It was a hard blow. Each one got lured away by the promise of a few more dollars. They left on good terms, serving out notices and returning their work gear in good condition. Good thing, too, because within three months two of the three had come back asking for their jobs. Their reason? The little extra money wasn’t worth it because they weren’t being treated well. They missed all the little things that make our company a pleasant place to work.

We hired them back and have had no voluntary turnover since. It was the ultimate testimony to the rest of our staff. The grass is not always greener, and money isn’t the most important thing. Still, employees will come to you seeking raises.

Let’s assume you pay your employees above poverty level. If so, the effect of a raise is very short term and negligible in employees’ overall perception toward their employer. Research shows money doesn’t motivate employees or earn loyalty.

The reason is everyone — and I mean everyone — thinks that they could and should make more money. So, we expect pay raises. We aren’t grateful or surprised by them. We think to ourselves, “Finally, I’m getting what I deserve.” Our positivity lasts all of a few weeks until we adjust to our new reality — and the new car payment — and seem just as poor and undervalued as we did before.

Honestly, you can’t make everyone happy. But if you can identify, articulate and advertise the benefits and perks you offer, it will attract the right people to your job postings. Play your cards right, and you might even get some extra productivity out of your efforts.

Everyone appreciates (and often expects) things like paid time off, insurance and holidays. These are very expensive benefits and not every business can afford them, especially at the beginning. The trick is figuring out what you can do, instead of focusing on what you can’t.

For example, if you can’t afford paid time off, you can still attempt to help employees manage work-life balance. Don’t always ask them to put the company before themselves or their family. Invite their families to take part in celebrations. Paying for a few extra people at a Christmas dinner is a heck of a lot less expensive than a vacation policy. While it doesn’t replace it, the effort will go a long way.

Before you offer any perk or benefit, try to understand its true cost and account for it in the budget. Time off — paid or not — affects your bottom line. The option to take your truck home will change the wear-and-tear expenses. Some things are easy to put a dollar amount to, while others take some imagination.

Costs come in different forms, too. For instance, a uniform rental service with laundry is a nice perk. Employees don’t have to do their own laundry. It also means that your dress code is presumably very strict and limits personal expression. Depending on the culture and image of your company, you may opt for a wider array of uniform wear options. That, too, is a perk. Which is better? Well, that’s up to the employee’s perspective.

Before you spend big on well-intentioned benefits that might not matter to employees, talk to them about your ideas. Be transparent about the costs and let them know what they might give up instead of that option. An open dialogue can reap big rewards and help steer you in the right direction for how to spend your limited resources wisely.

When you add new benefits or perks — even small ones — celebrate them. Make sure the employees know why you offered this and that you hope it will improve their lives.

It’s easy to take things for granted, so don’t be afraid to spell it out for them when you are doing something for the sake of being nice. We calculate the total cost of employee benefit packages, all the way to their free ice and Gatorade. We correlate this into their true hourly rate, which gets discussed during annual reviews. It’s not something to throw in their faces, but rather to help them understand the value that we add as an employer in reward for their hard work.

It doesn’t take too much thinking to see that getting to the root of employee happiness is about caring about them as human beings. We all want to have our basic needs met, feel safe and get better. Those are simple human conditions.

About the Author

Anja Smith has worked in the plumbing industry since 2012 in Greenville, South Carolina. You can find her on LinkedIn at


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