Benefits and Compensation

Employees Looking for More than Ping-Pong Tables

Exciting and fun benefits like Ping-Pong® tables might be taking a backseat­—at least, that’s what one expert believes.

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Amy Ouellette is the Director of Retirement Services at Betterment for Business and thinks that employees and candidates are more interested in more tangible, financial benefits. “Whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s savings and retirement plans, employees are starting to look at overall, their financial wellness picture,” says Ouellette. She adds, “And they’re looking to see how their employer more than just their base compensation is going to help them there.”

Small businesses and start-ups that do not have the capital to compete when it comes to rewards have real challenges. With tight markets, these businesses have trouble finding quality talent, particularly tech talent. One report found that the third most common reason start-ups failed was their inability to assemble the right teams.

Secure ACT

The Secure ACT comes from the House of Representatives, where it was “passed nearly unanimously.” It is now with the Senate for consideration. This bill’s “largest provision is focused on opening up the availability of multiple employer plans (MEPs) to organizations that don’t have a specific nexus.” The way it works right now, organizations that want to be part of MEPs must be related by industry or market. That can make the actual implementation of MEPs very challenging to accomplish for small businesses for a few reasons. First, they may not have access to a network of similar organizations. Second, even if they do, competition among those businesses might prevent them from cooperating in such a way.

Under the proposed rules, “An advisor or provider can start a plan and allow unrelated companies to join into the same plan,” says Ouellette. The value of such a plan, she says, is “the economies of scale.” Companies that can’t afford quality benefits due to things like administrative costs “could essentially increase their purchasing power” to get “those lower costs investments that are available only to the largest of plans where they’re looking to expand coverage by making the cost and difficulty of administering plans easier.”

Other Approaches

Although the Secure ACT might be headed toward success, there are no guarantees that it will pass and be implemented. But retirement benefits are not the only place where companies are innovating. They are also finding new ways to look at student loans.

Ouellette uses the example of organizations that offer both student loan match-based assistance (whereby they match a certain percentage of your income toward a student loan payment) and 401(k) matching. Each program offers employees great benefits. But if one company has 2% student loan matching and 5% 401(k) matching, a struggling former student might feel compelled to choose one or the other because putting 7% of their income toward benefits might be unaffordable.

Some, like Ouellette, say to these employees that “we understand that deciding to save for retirement versus paying down your student loans can be a tough decision and we don’t want you to lose out on a match.” That is why when her organization’s employees dedicate 2% of their income to their student loan repayments, the employer matches 5% into their 401(k) plan. It’s a blended approach that frees employees from having to choose between paying down their student loans and saving for retirement.

There are additional strategies for attracting employees with student loan debt that are not benefit-related. Ouellette mentions that employers are considering locations for their organizations where the cost of living is lower—even if that means moving outside of areas that are traditionally rich in candidates. She explains that “because if someone is at the stage where they need to live at home to cover student loan and other expenses, then they’re not going to make a jump just because the salary is higher.” City centers tend to trend higher in pay, but that might not be high enough for someone who has to live at home just to make ends meet. If you move that same job to somewhere with more affordable housing, that can open up a number of candidates who would otherwise be stuck.

What About You?

We are always interested in sharing unique benefits and new approaches to established benefits that are designed to attract employees. If your organization does things a little differently, please share with us in the comments or e-mail them to us at with the subject line “Attractive Benefits.”