The labor market is incredibly tight. There are millions of job openings and small business owners (and large employers, too) can’t find the right people to meet their hiring needs. Oh, by the way, the situation isn’t going to get any better in the foreseeable future.

Sage advice tells business owners to be prepared to pay people more, that those looking for a change want more meaning in their work and that organizational culture is more important than ever. All this is true. There is no silver bullet that will quickly solve your hiring challenges. You need to get creative. You must understand what potential employees are looking for and position both your business and the role you’re trying to fill as a unique opportunity. Culture is now more important than ever. And that doesn’t mean having your mission and vision statements hanging in your restrooms or lobby. 

Does your mission inspire people to come to work? Does the vision tell people where you want the business to go? Are your core values really the guiding principles that the business uses to manage internal and external relationships? Beyond these, and as an alternative to simply paying significantly higher wages to outbid the competition, elements to consider in creating the differentiation, that uniqueness, are non-traditional benefits. 

Before getting into the details, it’s important to recognize that the “outbid the competition” statement above doesn’t simply refer to other companies in your industry. Our county of 370,000 people here in Northeast Ohio recently learned that Amazon is constructing a fulfillment center that will employ around 1,000 people at an average wage of about $18 per hour. This will have a more profound impact on the labor market than what any small business competitor is doing! Getting creative and getting focused just became way more critical.

We know that healthcare, 401(k) plans, liberal PTO policies and the like are requirements in today’s market; they are the ante in the game. There are a number of no-cost/low-cost opportunities for employers to help entice candidates through first understanding what they want and what their priorities are, and then demonstrating that you understand and are thinking about them by offering value — a difference that others who are competing for the same people do not. Here are some examples.

Health-Related Options

Everyone knows of someone who has been ill, missed a considerable amount of work or even passed away during the past year. Disability or life insurance benefits may be a higher priority in today’s environment, and they may not represent a substantial cost to the business.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), dental and vision coverage also fit into this category. They are typically lower-cost add-ons to existing health care plans.

Sponsoring or providing wellness activities like fitness classes, speakers or online training on health topics, flu shots, online health assessments and health coaching services can show employees that you care about their well-being.

Don’t forget about the opportunity to have healthcare professionals and insurance providers give tips and advice to your employees on how best to utilize the benefits they already have. Negotiate for them to come to your location twice each year to present new information, update people on changes in programs and answer questions.

Community Engagement / Giving Back

Offering to pay regular wages for up to a defined number of hours to employees who devote time to community service is a sought-after benefit, particularly for millennials. (VTO – Volunteer Time Off)

Vendor Discounts

Where it makes sense, leverage your business relationships with suppliers, contractors, partners and perhaps even customers to provide discounts to your employees for their products and services. Is the insurance agent who provides your business insurance willing to offer a discount to your employees on homeowner’s or auto insurance?

Free Food / Employee Lunches

What if you had an employee appreciation lunch every month? The boss could grill hamburgers and hot dogs or provide barbeque for everyone “just because.”

Free snacks, coffee or even ice cream (or healthy alternatives) can be a big morale booster.

Education / Training

There are many options for providing training, advice and guidance to employees on a range of topics about which they might appreciate a professional’s input. For example:

  • Financial planning / family budgeting
  • Financing college education
  • Healthy eating and meal planning
  • Fitness and exercise
  • Motivation and mental health

These can be in-person sessions, online meetings or recorded material that is accessible by your people when it fits their schedule.

Perhaps consider giving employees a learning stipend with the option to participate in an industry certification program or a college class, seminar or other accredited program of their choice. A learning organization is a thriving one.

Employee Referrals

When you hire someone who was referred by a current employee and that new person stays with your organization for a defined period of time (perhaps six months), the referring employee receives a cash bonus. It’s not only a benefit to your employees, but it can be a great source of candidates for your open positions.

Company-Branded Swag

When employees feel part of something, they enjoy sporting branded merchandise. Beyond uniforms or daily work apparel, join forces with local suppliers to source T-shirts, hats, mugs and drink bottles that your people can proudly use.

All these options aren’t right for any one business, so the point isn’t that you should offer every one of them. They are just food for thought, meant to motivate you to do some research. Talk to your people. Find out what other employers are doing. Read up on what’s working for other small businesses. 

There is no replacement for (or higher priority than) a healthy organizational culture. Get that right, reinforce it every day and make it a prominent part of how you sell your business to prospective employees. Beyond that, get creative with some of the low-cost options that exist in non-traditional benefits. The right combination of culture, compensation, benefits and mission will help you attract the right team members.