Perks will attract candidates; showing you care will keep them.

Share story

Not every organization can offer the compensation of an Amazon or a Microsoft. Many of my executive-search clients tend to throw up their hands, admitting they can’t compete with the big guys, so why try?

The fact is, smaller companies can have just as much to offer as the large organizations with deep pockets. The secret is to recognize your company’s strengths and leverage unique benefits to attract talented employees who understand that, when it comes to the best fit, it isn’t all about the cash.

Companies have been getting creative with benefits since the first dot-com boom in the ’90s. Unheard of perks suddenly became almost commonplace: On-site massage, pet-friendly offices, free beverages and a gym membership, for example.

Today, the competition for not just attracting but retaining talent has reached a new level. Companies are getting wiser about what they can offer that the competition can’t — like work-life balance and a focus on employee well-being.

Wellness programs

Wellness programs increasingly are part of a competitive benefit package, and vary enough in content that even the smallest company can provide some level of this benefit to employees with very little impact to the bottom line.

In fact, research by RAND Health sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown that wellness programs actually benefit the bottom line by reducing absenteeism and health-care costs.

Most wellness programs typically include health-focused services such as screening activities to identify health risks, preventative interventions to address health risks (counseling for smoking cessation, fitness trackers to encourage exercise, stress management, etc.), and health-promoting activities like healthy cafeteria options, on-site vaccinations, group guided meditation and yoga.

Wellness programs can be established through the company’s health insurance provider, or through a third party like Limeade, a Bellevue-based company that offers software applications that promote employee health and well-being.

Unlimited paid time off

One of the more interesting trends in company perks is an unlimited paid time off (PTO) policy. With technology keeping us connected at all times, the hard line between being on the clock and off it is gone — and some companies believe that the old standards of time off no longer apply. In a recent study, one small company decided to test drive unlimited PTO for one year and found that, surprisingly, employees generally took about the same amount of time off as they had the previous year when the policy wasn’t offered. And yet, the unlimited PTO policy was ranked by their employees as the third-highest among the benefits offered, behind health insurance and a 401(k).

Employees weren’t abusing the time off, but still considered it one of the company’s most attractive perks. Why? Because of the messages the policy sends to employees: We get that you have other responsibilities; you are an individual with individual needs; and we trust you.

Unlimited vacation isn’t for every company. In order for it to work, it must fit within the company’s core values, the policy must be written clearly — How does time off get communicated? How is work covered or handled? — and the company culture must be capable of switching from a focus on how much time an employee works to how much an employee contributes.

Focus on fit, employee needs

When considering your company benefit policy, make sure the unique benefits you select make sense for your culture. REI, a local retailer, made the stunning decision to close its doors on Black Friday, traditionally the most important day of the year to a retailer, with its #OptOutside program., another local company, offers its employees $500 towards adopting a pet. Other hot topics include parent leave programs and child care subsidies ­— particularly helpful for companies looking to attract management-level talent.

The common theme throughout these benefits is a focus on the employee’s needs, as opposed to what the company finds most affordable or attractive, and the establishment of mutual trust and respect. Perks will attract candidates; showing you care will keep them.

Karen Bertiger advises companies throughout the Puget Sound area as a managing director of the Seattle-based firm Herd Freed Hartz Inc.