How to recruit and retain great employees with your benefits package

51435679_sTech companies like Google and others have increased their focus on employee benefits and perks to a whole new level of intensity. And, this heightened awareness has made benefits and perks more important than ever before.

A new report from MetLife, “Beyond Medical: Why Small Business Owners Offer Added Benefits – and How They Do It” cites an important finding from a CareerBuilder survey: 55 percent of employees now consider affordable benefits more important than salary while job hunting.

At first this seems surprising, but let me tell you why you shouldn’t be all that surprised: Salaries for professionals fall within certain ranges and those are well known. Generally speaking, when talented professionals start shopping around for a new job, they know what salary they can expect to land.

What often makes the difference to job seekers – and this is where small business owners can leverage great influence – are benefits, perks, and company culture. Further, because Millennials have been raised in a world where Google-like benefits and perks have been the source of much publicity, I suspect they are even more influenced by benefits and perks.

If you object to me holding out Google as an example because you think your small business differs greatly from the tech giant, I want to make some quick points. First, Google (and other tech companies) don’t offer these great benefits packages just out of the goodness of their hearts. They realized early on that they needed the best talent to become industry leaders and that kind of talent is scarce. Therefore, they started to use benefits and perks as a way to differentiate themselves in the job market.

As a small business owner this is important to understand because these moves by big businesses raise the bar for everyone! For the last few years, one of the primary challenges holding back small business growth has been a lack of talent for job openings. This is reflected in surveys and in my contact with small business owners across the country. If you want to achieve the success you dream of, you need the best and brightest on your team and to do that you need to proactively differentiate yourself in the “help wanted” employment listings.
Competing with bigger firms
In fact, the MetLife report cites small business owner Bill Carr, the CEO of Jacksonville, Florida’s Retirement Strategies, Inc., on this point. Carr says that although his firm has long offered medical and disability, he found that he needed “a benefits package that looked more like what you find at bigger firms.”

If you comb through comments employees at firms like Google make describing what they like about their benefits, you’ll see that many mention the great gourmet food, haircuts and company culture, but there’s another more important common thread you need to pick up on: They feel that the company cares about their families.

Benefits that improve family life and help assure the security of the family are extremely important to employees and job seekers today. Honestly, family security has always been what “employment” is all about. In more simple times, that meant a decent salary and maybe health insurance. However, today with life expectancies much longer and job pressures much higher due to the online-email world that never shuts down, protecting family life is more complicated.

This increases the importance and value of benefits and perks such as:
*  Employer-paid disability insurance,
*  Dental and vision coverage,
*  Life insurance,
*  401(k) matching plan,
*  Personal time off and/or more vacation days, and
*  Generous maternity and paternity leave policies.

I want to share another observation with you that will help you shape your benefits package; it starts at the previous point I made about the importance of offering benefits that support and protect the families of your employees.

A Millennial perspective
At the top I mentioned Millennials; I recently had a conversation with a young woman who is about to graduate from college. Like many young people, she has a piercing or two along with a few tattoos. One of her biggest passions is Techno music. But when she started to talk about her future and her concerns, her thoughts are quite conventional indeed. Here is what’s on her mind and shaping her life decisions:
*  She’s getting married soon and they are planning to move to another state where they can afford to buy a home, and
*  She’s already considering how they will be able to retire and not have to lower their standard of living.

While outwardly Millennials may seem like they have less direction in their lives than previous generations, the opposite may be true. They have come of age in a time of economic uncertainty. They don’t want to become victims of the next “Great Recession.” Therefore, they want to work with companies that care for them and their families. (I might add this this is really a traditional value, and one that perhaps too many employers have lost in recent decades.)

Let me leave you with one final word of advice. If, for example, the Millennial I described above would be someone you’d like to bring on your team, the important thing is to be listening to her, and others like her, to understand what is important to them. Use that information to shape your benefits package.

With help from and the tools available at sites like MetLife, it’s likely that you’ll discover ways to tailor your offerings to suit your employees without significantly increasing your cost, and in many cases, not increase your cost at all.

Editor’s note:  This post is sponsored by MetLife.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.