Quirky ‘bennies’

Quirky ‘bennies’
Creative benefits help retain valued employees

By Steve Jagler, of SBT

Imagine a workplace in which the employer offers its employees free use of a resort condominium on the beach in Mexico. Or how about a paid trip to Europe to learn more about the economies in Belgium, Hungary, Spain, France and Poland?
Better still, how about an employer who actually provides loans for down payments for employees to become first-time homeowners (see accompanying article)?
As the costs of health care continue to skyrocket, forcing employers to shell more of the burden for insurance premiums onto their employees, more companies are looking for creative perks to keep and motivate their best people.
"That is true. Some of these things are very inexpensive to do, and yet have a great deal of value," said Arvid "Dick" Tilmar, chairman and chief executive officer of T.E. Brennan Co, a consulting company in human resources and management issues. "These types of benefits are easy ways to do that. A lot of these can be used as incentives, you know, ‘Here’s your carrot.’ The return on investment is there."
Tilmar refers to such extra perks as "De Minimis Benefits," referring to the Latin for "nontraditional."
Marshall & Swift/Boeckh (MS/B), a building cost information consulting company in New Berlin, may be offering one of the perkiest of employee perks in southeastern Wisconsin.
The company owns a condominium in the Terra Sol Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Employees are encouraged to use the resort, free of charge, according to Ron Quimby, MS/B’s human resources manager.
The resort condo is becoming a hit with the company’s employees.
"Of course I wanted to take advantage of the condo. It’s a really unique opportunity, not just for MS/B employees, but for a Milwaukee employer," said Clay Rice, a national accounts claims customer support representative at the firm. "The condo was great – two swimming pools, grass tennis courts and 90 degrees every day! There was never a shortage of things to do."
"It was fantastic! And it’s also a fantastic way to reward all the employees, not just the executives," said Jim Adams, a national sales consultant with the company. "Of course, being a Milwaukee boy, it’s also hard to turn down warm weather and sunshine in the middle of winter!"
Strong Financial Corp. in Menomonee Falls takes advantage of its worldwide scope of business by offering an annual educational tour for select employees.
Last year, a handful of Strong employees joined company chairman Richard Strong on a whirlwind tour of Europe, visiting Belgium, Hungary, Spain, France and Poland to better understand the European Union.
"It is something that Dick picks a number of associates each year, and it’s educational," Strong spokeswoman Meredith Evans said. "It is, for employees, a nice learning opportunity and a chance to spend some time with our chairman. It is something employers look forward to."
Faced with a nursing shortage and a competitive employee market, the southeastern Wisconsin health care industry also is creating unique perks to retain competent people.
Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee provides a "Seven-Seventy" program, in which employees can choose to work seven consecutive 10-hour days, followed by seven days off. The program also provides a benefit to patients, because it minimizes the turnover of nursing staff over the course of a one-week stay, according to Froedtert spokeswoman Karen LeSage.
Covenant Healthcare System Inc. in Milwaukee has created an "employee life crisis fund," in which employees give time off and money for other employees in need.
Covenant also provides surprise employee gifts, such as beach towels and sunscreen, and employer-sponsored shopping trips, tickets to events and a trip to New York City.
"In light of the intense competition for health care workers, it’s vital that we value our employees and respect their need for a work/life balance," said Anne Ballentine, regional vice president of Covenant. "Even more important than financial compensation, studies show that appreciation and recognition are the keys to keeping quality employees. People want to work at a place where they are cared for in many ways."

June 13, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display