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Small businesses compete with big benefits by offering unique amenities

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Budgets and resource constraints don't mean small businesses can't entice employees with great perks. They just have to be creative.
Budgets and resource constraints don't mean small businesses can't entice employees with great perks. They just have to be creative. - ()

Many large corporations offer impressive benefits like large bonuses, free child care, and large matched contributions to 401(k). But smaller companies, whether family-owned businesses or brand new startups, don't always have the resources or capital to augment salaries with such perks.

However, what may at first look like a weakness is being turned on its head by some small companies, becoming a strength bigger ones simply don't have.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that some small companies are providing unique amenities like "free beer Fridays," telecommuting on your own schedule, the occasional "pets allowed in the office" day, a technology stipend and more.

These benefits have several advantages over more conventional perks. They may cost less, even in cases like a $400 technology stipend for buying gadgets, than programs that run year-round or require continuous investment. They may also be easier to provide from an efficiency perspective, lacking the administrative overhead of fancy benefits available at larger firms. Finally, they provide the opportunity for immediate enjoyment and feedback.

Personally, when I set up a 401(k) with an employer, I try to make sure that I've chosen a rational investment plan and I try to keep an eye on things. But day-to-day, it's just not very exciting to hope for a single-digit return on investment in a pre-tax investment fund.

Free health care for parents of employees, on the other hand, probably gives many of Englewood Cliffs-based GeBBS Healthcare's Indian employees a proud sense of accomplishment. While U.S. health regulations prevent the company from providing a similar option to employees in New Jersey, CEO Nitin Thakor told the Journal the majority of is employees are in India, and therefore able to make this unique contribution to their parents' well-being.

That should be the focus of any small business looking to entice and retain employees with unique benefits that don't require a huge ongoing investment of capital and administrative work: instant gratification. The chance to bring the dog to work once a week will dramatically increase the quality of work for dog owners. A one-time annual gadget stipend will be a big draw to the folks who always eagerly await the latest and greatest electronics (and we are everywhere...).

Most high-end benefits are focused on long-term goals like retirement savings, fitness, raising a well-adjusted child and meeting certain criteria to earn a large annual bonus. The key in coming up with affordable, low-overhead perks more suited to small companies is to focus on the present and the "wow" factor.

If employees are excited to tell friends and family about the unique perk their new employer provides each week or month, you are contributing to good morale and making workers more likely to stick with you.

Bring-your-dog-to-work-day is no golden parachute, but it's one example of the sort of creative perk that can help small companies keep employees happy and productive.

Digital content editor Joe Ross is @joeross on Twitter.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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