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How Introducing New Benefits Can Improve Office Morale


I’ve owned a business for about 20 years, and time and again, I’ve learned that nothing is more critical to our success than happy and engaged employees.

Here are a few ideas for how to keep your employees happy, despite the uncertainty we’re all facing during this ongoing pandemic.

Responsible Paid Time Off

We’ve heard the term “unlimited” paid time off thrown around by a lot of startups, but is an unlimited time off policy really beneficial?

From what I’ve seen and heard, new companies who promote “unlimited PTO” to attract talent tend to follow it with the classic bait-and-switch. Sure, there is no technical limit to how much time you can take off, but the workloads are piled so high to keep staff count low and save money, that it’s not realistic for any employee to take more than a few personal days throughout the year.

When COVID hit and our office shut down, we realized it was harder to monitor our employees’ work hours. They weren’t in the office, so unless we were constantly checking up on them, who’s to say if they were sitting at their computer from 8:30 to 5:00 as they would be in the office.

But you know what happened to their performance? Nothing. Nobody slacked, nobody missed deadlines and nobody presented any work that was less than the quality we’d expect. We learned it didn’t matter if they were strapped to their desk all day. We hired people who were passionate about doing their jobs and doing them well.

With that in mind, we implemented Responsible Paid Time Off (RPTO). Technically, it is unlimited. But we encourage our team to actually take the time off to spend with family or travel or even just take a mental health day. There is a catch, of course. They need to check in with their team to make sure someone is covering any tasks that may come in, and nobody can take advantage of the policy to become an absentee employee while still collecting a paycheck.

It’s all about being responsible with the newfound freedom of time management and work-life balance and treating people like adults is much more powerful than micro-managing calendars.

Health Incentives

When we adopted a high deductible health insurance plan, each employee was able to open a Health Savings Account (HSA). We chose a plan through United Healthcare that offered an incentive program for staying active. Each employee was given a stipend to buy a fitness tracker, and for each day that they met certain fitness goals, like step counts or workouts, money was deposited into their HSA.

Naturally, this led to monthly leaderboards and employees doing laps around the office to hit their step goals, adding a fun and competitive aspect to the workday. Plus, it will help our team in the long run as they work towards their financial goals.

Financial Wellness

I am a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and CEO of a financial advising firm. I decided years ago that any service we offer to clients would also be offered to our employees, free of charge, as part of their employee benefits package.

Each employee has a financial advisor who sits down with him or her, along with a spouse or significant other if they have one and goes through the same regular meetings that we conduct for our clients. We manage their accounts, guide them through big decisions and take the time to help them understand how they can reach their goals.

While it isn’t talked about as much as our monthly happy hours or quarterly retreats, this is the benefit that I feel most strongly about. I want our clients to receive the best service possible and results that make me proud, but I can’t see that happening if my team is overwhelmed with their finances.

Focusing on an employee’s financial wellness means taking a major stressor off the table and helping them be successful both in their life and in their job.

I have been encouraging business owners across the country to implement programs that teach their teams financial literacy concepts and guide them towards financial independence.

Educational Incentives

If you’ve been alive during the last decade, you know that the student loan crisis is increasingly affecting the Millennial and Gen Z generations. Trying to pay back hundreds of thousands in loans that they agreed to at 17 years old means not having the ability to save for their future.

A relatively new change by the IRS is allowing employers to make contributions into an employee’s 401(k), not matching their own deposits, but rather matching the payment they make towards their student loans. This is a policy that, if allowed by your plan provider, should definitely be offered. Instead of putting off saving for retirement by five or 10 years or more, their retirement savings can grow without taking away from their debt repayment plan.

In the same vein, I have always been an advocate for lifelong learning. If one of my employees wants to enroll in a certificate program, take an online course or work towards a new designation that can improve their performance or knowledge in their position, the company will reimburse them for the cost. There is no catch, other than the program needs to be approved in advance.

I have often been asked why I am willing to pay for training when the employee is not obligated to stay with the company, and my answer is that I would rather an employee gain the training and leave than not gain the training and stay.

The lesson:

Keeping a positive work environment is about more than unlimited snacks in the breakroom. Take the time to think about what really matters to your team. Personal time off, healthcare, finances and education are important to almost everyone, so that is where we focus our benefits. Get to know your employees, understand their values and build a package that will not only keep them with your company, but turn them into your brand evangelists.

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