Out-of-the-box benefits

Jun 19, 2022

Getting creative with perks that go beyond the office can help you retain and attract employees and improve your culture overall.

We’ve all heard of the extraordinary, creative perks and benefits offered by the latest big tech company or hottest small business upstart: free lunches, unlimited paid time off, onsite childcare, game rooms, nap rooms, and the list goes on. While these are certainly exciting benefits, they don’t make sense for all companies, whether it be a matter of space, finances, workforce, or production. That doesn’t mean, however, that some creative benefits can’t be added to your organization that can fit any budget, space, or culture – especially when the benefits occur outside of the walls of the office.

As a civil engineering, landscape architecture, and surveying firm of 64, we at Choice One Engineering have implemented some benefits that both retain and attract employees and contribute to our culture of enjoyment and fulfilling lives inside and outside of the office. Our employees repeatedly cite some of our out-of-the-box systems and benefits as some of their favorite contributing factors for finding satisfaction in their work and personal lives. Below are some of the more uncommon benefits, from smallest investment to largest, that can help you start thinking of ways to provide benefits to your employees that go beyond free coffee and a ping-pong table. Included with each benefit is an approximate investment per employee:

  • Paired lunches. This initiative combines free lunch, culture enhancement, and individual appreciation. Each month, those who participate in paired lunches are randomly paired with another employee and are instructed to go out to lunch together on the company. Not only do employees get uninterrupted time to build relationships (often with someone they don’t typically work closely with), but they are appreciated with free lunch and time to support other local small businesses near our offices. (Investment: $15 per employee per month.)
  • Cell phone plan. Providing a cell phone for employees is nothing new, but Choice One does it with intention and purpose that may not be the intention of many other organizations. First, employees get to keep their personal number and get to choose their phone type and carrier. Employees can use the phone for any and all personal uses in addition to company use. The only requirements are that the voicemail greeting includes a reference to Choice One and the employee’s protective case is the provided Choice One branded case. Not only do employees get unlimited data and quality phones, but clients, friends, and family notice the branding and ask questions, leading to great conversations about working for and with Choice One. (Investment: $460 per employee per year.)
  • Company trips. Every two years, the company invites all employees and significant others on a trip to a drivable metropolitan area for a three-day expenses-paid adventure. Along with a day of paid time off for the long weekend, employees are treated to all meals, transportation, lodging, and organized tours/activities. While this trip does not include specific team-building activities, it gives employees a chance to mingle with their coworkers outside of the office, meet significant others, and develop relationships that go beyond CAD tips and waterline design. Indeed, even a three-hour traffic jam on the most recent trip to Pittsburgh provided extra opportunities for employees to interact on the charter buses that everyone remembers (thank goodness for the bathroom onboard!). This perk may not, on the surface, fit every company’s budget, but we would argue that the relationships and shared company legends that develop from the trips are worth the investment. Employees grow deeper in relationships, families become involved and intertwined with each other and the company culture, and the shared experience provides endless advantages in trust and camaraderie. In fact, Choice One employees look forward to the trip every two years and try to schedule family weddings and birth of children around them. (Investment: $650 per person or approximately $1,300 per employee every two years.)
  • Anniversary trips. Rather than a plaque or fancy watch, Choice One sends employees away for every five years of service with extra paid time off and a bonus that must be used to travel. Every additional five years earns more PTO and a bigger budget, and the only stipulation is that the employee provide a photo from the trip and a brief description of how they spent their time. Employees have travelled abroad, visited national landmarks, or taken their family for a weekend at a nearby indoor waterpark. The experiences are then posted on an oversized map near the copier for all to see and appreciate. Recognizing everyone’s continued dedication to our company with years of service and seeing proof of enjoying some time with family or friends improves everyone’s morale and keeps everyone dreaming of their next destination, compliments of the company. (Investment: Five-year anniversary per employee – 16 hours PTO and $1,500; each additional five years includes eight more hours and an additional $500.)
  • Increased company 401(k) contribution. The general standard for a company’s 401(k) contribution to an individual’s account is 4 percent for their contribution of 5 percent. We increased this to 5.5 percent for their contribution of 8 percent for several reasons. First, it is a direct way to impact an employee’s compensation and future in appreciation of their commitment to our company. Second, it helps many employees save more for the future when perhaps they would not do so on their own. Our company purpose is to “provide fulfilling lives for a lifetime,” and what better way to provide for our employees’ futures after they leave Choice One than by providing means for a fulfilling retirement that can include financial stability? (Investment: $1,000 per employee, average, per year.)

While traditional benefits cover must-haves like healthcare and time away from work, the out-of-the-box benefits presented here have developed culture and relationships inside and outside the walls of the office. Providing benefits like these allows us to invest in our people in a way our culture supports and our people appreciate. At the end of the day, these investments amount in total to approximately $2,800 per employee per year. Said another way: way less than it would cost to go through turnover-induced offboarding, recruiting, and onboarding. 

Matt Hoying, P.E. is president of repeat Best Firm To Work For winner Choice One Engineering, a civil engineering, landscape architecture, and surveying firm in western Ohio. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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