Alternative HR Benefits: Housing, Free Preventive Medications, Lead the Way

As companies compete for talent, housing assistance and free medications head a list of alternatives to traditional benefits.

Looking for an employee benefit that will dazzle potential recruits and silence the siren song of competitors trying to steal your stars?

Forget about bonuses, or a company car or credit card. The hot ticket in this increasingly competitive job market is the concept of alternative benefits … perks and pluses you wouldn’t normally think of in a benefits plan. Let’s look at a few of them:


Affordable housing is one of the critical issues in today’s family budget. And though they’ve cooled some, skyrocketing home prices and rents have forced many workers to live far from their place of employment, thus facing a punishing commute that saps their energy before they even walk in your door. Others have turned down great jobs because they simply can’t afford to live in the employer’s area.

But if you can help workers with housing, says SunValleyOnline, employees can “devote more time to work, family, and community … while employers reduce turnover costs and increase their competitiveness in recruiting.”

Several forms of housing assistance have been used. Some companies help with, or even pay, home down payments or closing costs through grants or forgivable or deferred loans.Others offer rent subsidies, sometimes paying the landlord’s operating costs direct. Even companies that can’t afford such largesse are offering training in smart home buying or free publications with this information.

Free Preventive Pharmaceuticals and Medical Tests

As recently reported in The New York Times, several large organizations have begun moving away from constantly increasing the employee’s share of healthcare costs through ever higher co-payments and premiums, at least for some of their workers.

One evidence is programs by Pitney-Bowes, Marriott International, Eastman Chemical, and the state of Maine, among others, offering free medical tests or cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, and blood pressure-lowering medications to employees needing them. The no-cost medications are often linked with programs monitoring employees’ health, offering continuing feedback to workers on how they can do better.

Free pharmaceuticals and tests increase direct healthcare costs, but program supporters feel they’re saving money long-term by helping prevent serious conditions that would cost the company’s healthcare plan much more later on. Of course, they’re saving lives too!

One drawback to the plan: Critics worry that such benefits would draw employment candidates with serious health conditions. But supporters feel the opportunity outweighs the risk. “We’re trying to drive value and target where care is most needed,” says Eastman Chemical Health Program Director David H. Sensibaugh.

Alternate Alternatives

The website delved deeper into the alternative benefits universe, putting together a list of possibilities following this trend. Some of their suggestions:

–Flexible work schedules
–“Flex place” (work from home or somewhere closer to home than the usual workplace)
–Compressed workweeks (longer hours, fewer days)
–Job-sharing (attractive to those with part-time needs)
–On-site daycare
–Sleep breaks (A recent study showed that a short afternoon nap may improve alertness and productivity.)
–On-site fitness equipment or massages

While your company may not be ready to call in a masseur or masseuse, these trends may be an indication that your benefits program thinking should no longer be limited to traditional choices.

Are You Paying Your Workers Too Much?
Just like home prices, pay rates differ by location. So if you’re going by national averages, you may be paying too much … or too little. Find out in your state’s edition of BLR’s Employee Compensation in Your State program. Updates, salary and benefits survey results, and newsletters all included! Yours to try at no cost for 30 days! Read More