As the effects of COVID-19 caused offices to close and send workers home, they lost access to many of the perks they might have relied on for comfort and well-being. Given that employees routinely say that benefits play a large role in their job satisfaction, this deficit can lead to a loss of productivity, especially considering that employees today need every support they can get as they navigate the current reality. That’s why offering some substitute perks can build goodwill and help employees feel valued.
Worried that you might be losing money? Obviously you can’t put a price on your employees’ satisfaction, but you also might be saving money as employees shift their work to home from a central office. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics estimates a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 annually per half-time telecommuter.
Now’s the time to take a look at the benefits you are currently paying for to make sure you aren’t being charge for items you can’t offer and redeploy those funds to areas that employees can use right now.
Here are some suggestions for keeping your benefit program intact, even when your team is distributed.
- Trade a gym membership for streaming services.
Health and wellness perks are among the most coveted by employees, and often that includes a gym membership or on-site fitness classes, depending on the size of your staff. While gyms are beginning to open in some locales, the experience is often not the same, and employees might struggle to sign up for the slots they need. A better option to help them keep their health top of mind is offering access to a streaming service where they can take classes on demand. Look for one that offers a wide variety of classes, from high-intensity cardio to relaxing yoga. And, don’t forget the mental health component, which is increasingly becoming a key part of any wellness program. Offer access to a meditation app for them to keep in touch with their mental wellbeing.
- Trade onsite snacks and lunches for delivery.
Many companies consider shared meals and regular celebrations an important part of their office culture. While you might not be able to have a potluck or catered meal all together now, you can replicate the concept of a group “dine” by organizing an all-office Zoom. Offer each team member a stipend to order their choice of cuisine for delivery and let everyone share their dining delights together. You also could consider ordering snack packs for occasional delivery from an online service or send coffee cards so employees can have a cup on you. The element of surprise will make this perk especially welcome.
- Trade group volunteering for individual or virtual volunteering.
One favorite perk for many employees is the chance to volunteer with their team: In fact, one study found that nearly 65% of workers said that volunteering as a group strengthened their relationships with coworkers. If you typically hosted a group volunteer activity, such as a visit to a food bank or beautifying local community spaces, they might be missing that outlet. Put together some suggestions for activities that employees can do on their own or in a socially distanced fashion and encourage them to choose one to perform during a specific time frame. The team can then reconvene and share photos and discuss their experiences to make it seem like more of a group effort.
- Trade vacation days for planned time off.
Yes, employees may need an extra push to take their vacation time now. You might find many feeling as though they don’t want to “waste” vacation days if they can’t go anywhere, preferring to wait until actual vacation destinations are more feasible. However, employees who don’t take time off are at risk of burnout. You might consider urging them to take an afternoon off here and there to decompress and re-energize, without docking their actual vacation time. Your workplace will benefit from an employee who’s refreshed—and quite possibly is already working more hours than normal from home.
- Trade in-office for camaraderie for online group meets.
You might not have known that office chit-chat was a perk, but it turns out that small talk had an “uplifting yet distracting” effect on workers, finds a new paper in the Academy of Management Journal, which found it helped them feel more recognized and acknowledged. The author suggests in a Q&A with the New York Times that leaders replicate this virtually by starting meetings with a little casual conversation. “Build that time in, just to greet everyone and exchange pleasantries. The loss of these rituals is really profound.”
- Trade flexibility for…flexibility.
Working at home is already flexible, isn’t it? Well not always. Many workplaces might find themselves overcompensating for not having employees in the office by micromanaging—even if it’s unintentional. Work with leaders to help employees develop a cadence that works for them by allowing them to get the work done that they need to, but on their own time as long as it doesn’t interfere with team goals. Remember that many employees are also shouldering caregiving and maybe even teaching duties while at home with kids, so it’s important to cut them some slack on their “workplace hours” when you can.
Have you found a way to replace a cherished work perk with a virtual substitute? We’d love to hear what has worked for you.