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R.L. Polk & Co.’s Ask the Industry Looks at Unique Employee Benefits and Incentives

As companies compete to hire and retain talented workers, employee benefits can become a critical dealbreaker when a job applicant is trying to decide between working for your company or a competitor’s. Many U.S. businesses are becoming more creative with their employee benefits and incentive programs.

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As companies compete to hire and retain talented workers, employee benefits can become a critical dealbreaker when a job applicant is trying to decide between working for your company or a competitor’s. Many U.S. businesses are becoming more creative with their employee benefits and incentive programs.

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What kind of unique incentives/benefits do you offer your employees?

Garry Hinson, Owner, Eastside Enterprises, Paris, TN

We give a yearly bonus that is one percent of what the tech has made throughout the year. That encourages them to be at work each day and not goof off. The more they work, the bigger their bonuses are. We also give them a Christmas bonus based on what the business has done that year. They get two weeks of paid vacation, as well as seven paid vacation days.

Dedra Selby, Director of Administration, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Bethesda, MD:

AAIA offers an employee benefits plan that we feel is quite unique. One of the most appreciated aspects is the wellness program where we provide fresh fruit, vegetables, juices, cereal bars and other healthy choice items. We have also set up an employer funded Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for all staff members. In addition, entrance into the health insurance plan occurs on the first day of the month of hire. We offer entrance into the 401K program within 90 days, as opposed to the typical one year waiting period.

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Tim Zorn, Vice President of Human Resources, Affinia, Ann Arbor, MI:

In 2006, we are offering a health risk assessment including a biometric screening, for all of our U.S. employees and their spouses who are covered under our health insurance plan. As an incentive to participate, we offer our people a substantial reduction in their annual health insurance premiums. This risk assessment is done by a professional health educator, who offers each person the opportunity to participate in a follow-up health risk reduction program. People identified as having diabetes, asthma or coronary artery disease are enrolled in a personal care support program to help them to manage their chronic conditions.

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DENSO recently announced that it partnered with a medical company to provide an on-site pharmacy at its Battle Creek, MI manufacturing facility. What kind of unique incentives/benefits do you offer your employees?

Gail Holt, Vice President of Administration, Beck/Arnley

With rising health care costs, Beck/Arnley looked for a health care solution that would be beneficial to both employees and to the company. By using a higher deductible plan, the monthly premium was actually reduced for both employees and the company, while providing the same health care benefits and providers as in the past. Even though the monthly premiums were lower for employees, we were concerned about employees being prepared for the higher deductible. To help offset the initial increase in the deductible, Beck/Arnley gave a cash gift to each employee equal to half of the new deductible. This money has been set aside in a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for each employee, and is completely controlled by the employee. They also have additional investment options with the institution handling the FSA and the money earns interest. Our new program gives employees lower premiums, as well as more flexibility and responsibility in managing their health care options.

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Summary by Amy Antenora, managing editor:

Health insurance is among the most important employee benefits any workplace can offer, and according to national reports, rates are continuing to rise. In 2005, the national average for annual healthcare coverage for an employee was about $7,089. The average healthcare cost per person in the U.S. is more than $3,000 per year and preventable illness makes up 70 percent of the total cost of illness, according to Employee Benefits News.

While these numbers are expected to rise, many companies are using incentives such as employee wellness programs as a way to stave off some of the costs.

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One aftermarket manufacturer, Freudenberg-NOK, this year launched a number of wellness initiatives to help address the issue of rising healthcare costs. In addition to offering reimbursement for Weight Watchers and other fitness programs, the company developed a program called “Walk for Wellness,” through which employees earn incentives for logging a certain number of miles walked.

Not all employee benefits these days are entirely centered on wellness, however. Some, such as the increasing return of ‘concierge’ services, are also designed to improve productivity in the workplace. For example, in September, DENSO Manufacturing Michigan opened an on-site pharmacy to serve its more than 2,500 employees and their families. The advantages of having an on-site pharmacy, according to the company’s General Manager of Corporate and Community Resources Karen Cooper-Boyer were: lowering the company’s rising healthcare costs, passing savings along to employees and offering them the convenience of handling pharmaceutical needs during their workday.

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From something as simple as offering fresh fruit instead of junk food in the office vending machines to something as intensive as biometric screening, thinking creatively about ways to keep your workers happy, and healthy, has advantages for both employer and employee.

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