As part of the 2007 Top Small Workplaces competition, 437 organizations shared extensive information about themselves. Winning Workplaces analyzed this data to understand measurable best practices and the critical qualitative and cultural elements among these firms, especially the 15 winners. The result is our 2007 Top Small Workplaces Data Report.

One of the things we look at in our Data Report is benefits, including health insurance, profit-sharing and stock ownership plans, and work/life initiatives. Although we had only the data the applicants submitted to work from, which are by no means exhaustive, one of the things we noticed is that, while many organizations have cut or are heavily weighing cuts to benefits in order to offset falling revenues in an uncertain economy, our applicants are to some extent bucking this trend. While they feel the pain of ever-increasing insurance costs, they also cling to the notion that a good workplace is one with generous employee benefits.

Health Insurance

may08fea_medins_chartConsider: While only about 70 percent of firms with 500 or fewer employees surveyed by Business & Legal Reports in 2007* offer health insurance, over 98 percent of all 2007 Top Small Workplaces applicants offer insurance. (100 percent of the winners offer health insurance; see the chart at right.) In addition, over two-thirds of the 2007 applicants pay at least 80 percent of the insurance premiums for employees – only 57 percent of the similar-size firms surveyed by Business & Legal Reports do. (Nearly three-fourths of the 2007 winners do.)

Expert Tips on Implementing or Re-evaluating: Health PlansTwo key qualities to look for in health care providers are:

  • Stability of package provided. Will they be there when your employees need them? Look at the networks that they offer.
  • Variety. Most companies today only offer a PPO, but many current and prospective employees are looking for the flexibility of a PPO or an HMO and a Health Savings Account.

– Dean Klassman, Founder of Arlington Heights, IL-based Klassman Strategic Insurance Services, a provider of group employee benefits and insurance

401(k), Profit Sharing and Employee Stock Purchase Programs

These organizations also provide funding for retirement, and there is little difference between the 437 applicants and the 15 winners: Over 93 percent of applicants offer 401(k)/profit sharing/employee stock purchase programs; 100 percent of the winners do so.

The design of the programs is far from uniform, however. For some the company contributes a percentage of the employee salary to a profit sharing plan, which rewards company-wide and/or business unit-wide performance. For others, there is a company contribution to a 401(k) plan, with or without a match to employee contributions. Finally, for some of those organizations that are employee owned, the contribution becomes an investment in the company stock.

The patterns follow the broad trend of moving away from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans that encourage, if not require, employee investment and reward organizational performance.

Expert Tips on Implementing or Re-evaluating: 401(k) PlansWhen 401(k)s first became in vogue, I would see dollar-for-dollar matches of anywhere from 3 to 5 percent. Now I see the 401(k) match being the first thing that is cut when benefits are paired down, if not eliminated in its entirety. However, if you were to compare your cost of turnover company-wide against the cost of the match, you would see that the match, in most cases, will come out less.– Benjamin Bleadon, President of Skokie, IL-based Bleadon & Associates, Ltd., a health insurance specialist firm

Work/Life Balance

Many of these organizations reported in their applications that they have developed plans, programs and practices aimed at sustaining a great work culture. For example, to support healthy and productive workforces as well as respond to continually growing health insurance costs, eight of the 15 Top Small Workplaces offer employee wellness benefits. These include:

  • Fitness centers/subsidized health club memberships/fee subsidizations
  • Wellness classes/wellness day
  • On-site health screenings
  • Flu shots
  • Weight management/smoking cessation programs

The opportunity for flexible work arrangements is common at the Top Small Workplaces. Eight of the 15 companies identify flexibility as an important benefit that they offer in order to help employees balance the demands of home life and work. For example, at Alaska Wildland Adventures, their employees are allowed to have personal time off (“powder days”) to go skiing in the winter months, the off-season for the business. And Summit Aviation has instituted four-day work weeks to save commuting time and costs for employees with long commutes.

Expert Tips on Implementing or Re-evaluating: Wellness ProgramsI know a company that gets a membership from Life Time Fitness and will reimburse you for your membership if you go at least 12 times a month. That to me is where the future going to be. If we can get people to be healthy, and even charge more premium for those that don’t take advantage of these things, that will be better in the long run.Wellness has to start at the top; it really has to be engrained. It’s hard because people have their own agendas, but if you make incentives it can work.– Dean Klassman

It is clear that many Top Small Workplaces have put generous benefit plans in place in order to attract and retain employees. Those that use these employee-focused investments to optimal advantage have integrated them into the broader purpose of the business. These employees strongly identify with the business, and the benefits reinforce that sense of purpose.

In this way, the investment in benefits helps develop the cultural core of the organization, and employees join the business not just because the benefits package is generous. They join because there is a match between the focus of the business, its core mission and values and the benefits that come with employment.

* 2007 Survey of Employee Benefits, Business & Legal Reports, January 2007.