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20 Low-Cost Employee Perks

Even if you don't have a lot of money, you can still treat your employees right.

Sorry, no one is in the office right now: They're all at the movies. Don't laugh--such a response is becoming more plausible as employers find new and enticing ways to attract and motivate employees with a wide range of perks designed to enhance individual effort and, in some cases, promote team building and chemistry.

While large companies have long touted major corporate perks, including tuition payments and daycare on site, many smaller businesses are now providing plenty of attractive low-cost perks that are having some very positive results. If you're thinking of doing something more than giving your "Employee of the Month" the best parking space, here are 20 possibilities for you to consider:

  • Work from home days. While it may not work in a retail setting, for those of you who can offer it, it's a nice way for employees to skip the daily commute and spend some time around their families and get some work done.
  • Family days. For those times when the kids have a half day of school or a snow day, family days allow employees to take a day off without having to use up vacation or sick days.
  • Yoga classes. Bringing in a yoga instructor twice a week to run an afternoon class is relatively inexpensive and will help relax your employees and lower stress levels.
  • Community service days. A Vermont manufacturing company gives employees a few paid days each year to take part in community or charitable activities that they're passionate about but otherwise don't have time for.
  • Pizza Fridays. It doesn't actually have to be pizza, but the idea is to bring in lunch for everyone on Fridays. One New York City-based limousine service has been doing this for years.
  • Movie days. A group movie outing or free movie passes can be a pleasant perk. For the sake of variety, you might also consider an outing to see a community theater group.
  • Shining star: Reward a star employee periodically. The employees at one Westchester, New York, media company vote for the star employee each quarter-that person is then rewarded with two vacation days and a cash prize. This is a particularly significant perk because it comes from an employee's peers.
  • Computer discounts. Buying in bulk typically allows a business to get good prices on their computers and peripherals. One New York City investment group passes those discounts along to employees looking for home computer equipment.
  • "Bring Your Dog to Work" day. Okay, so this may not be the best idea for a restaurant, but it can be a fun morale booster for the right type of small business.
  • Free car washes. The latest in "express exterior" car washes costs around $5 per wash, meaning for $100, you could give 20 employees a shiny car every few months.
  • Discounts on what you do. One of the easiest and most common ways to reward employees is to give them a discount, such as 20 to 30 percent off, on your goods or services.
  • Barter days. Work it out with a local coffeehouse or other business whereby you swap services or discounts on goods once or twice a month. This provides low-cost perks for two businesses.
  • Fun and games. One Minnesota e-business has both a foosball table and a pool table in their break room. Ping pong or pinball machines are also good possibilities.
  • Health club membership discounts. By promising a certain number of members, you can usually get a group discount on membership. You might also want to pick up the cost of a portion of this lower rate, leaving a deep discount for employees who are interested in joining.
  • Flexible hours. Provide options from the standard routine with flex schedules.
  • Placement incentive. If an employee recommends someone who gets hired and stays six months at the job, offer them an extra paid day off.
  • Continental breakfasts. They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, so serve a free breakfast once or twice a week. Bagels, muffins, coffee and similar fare make for a nice way to start the day.
  • Pass the perks. Companies often accrue perks by using corporate credit cards, such as airline miles or tickets to events. Pass these free perks along to your employees.
  • Free seminars. Professionals will often speak for free (to promote themselves) on topics such as investment planning or ways to relieve stress.
  • Holidayfamily parties. A Fourth of July barbecue, a pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner or some other holiday celebration with your staff and their families can boost company unity.

While perks in general can help bolster morale and create a loyal workforce, it's important for employers to match the perk to their specific staff. The company's culture, the needs and goals of the employees and the impact on the business should all be factored into the equation before an employer rolls out the latest perks. And remember, it's not the dollar amount that matters. It's the thought you put into it that will have the greatest effect.

Rich Mintzer is a freelance journalist and the author of several business books. He lives with his family just 30 miles north of New York City in Mt. Kisco, New York.

Rich Mintzer is a journalist and author of more than 50 nonfiction books, including several on starting a business. He hails from Westchester, New York, where he lives with his family.

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