This Is What the Best Companies Do to Keep Their Employees Happy

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By Jada A. Graves

Let's say you have a job where you're well-respected for the work you do and where you earn a six-figure paycheck and receive fat bonuses. But ... you're working 70 hours each week in a dank cube farm (would cube farms just die already?) without natural sunlight. Having a request approved to use one of your measly vacation days is met with hoop jumping and a guilt trip. And you don't even have dental insurance. On the bright side, you wouldn't willingly be given the time off to get your teeth cleaned anyway.

Are salary and respectability enough to make the above scenario satisfying? Most people's definition of "a cushy job" involves a high salary, but ultimately other forms of compensation -- such as a flexible schedule, comprehensive health coverage and solid retirement benefits -- might mean more.Studies indicate that there's a reciprocal relationship between benefits and job satisfaction. MetLife's U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Survey, which interviewed 1,510 company benefits decision-makers and 1,203 full-time employees in 2013, found that professionals satisfied with their benefits are more than twice as likely to also be satisfied with their work. "In the 12 years we've been doing this study, employees consistently indicate that their benefits offering is an important reason why they choose an employer," says Michael Fradkin, senior vice president of markets and growth strategies with MetLife.

The makeup of a standard, competitive benefits package has also changed considerably in the past decade. Established companies provide health insurance, paid time off work for vacation, illness and holidays, disability insurance and an option to contribute to a 401(k) or other retirement plan. For startups and top employers with brand recognition and a good reputation, a competitive package offers what Jaime Klein, founder and president of the New York City-based consulting firm Inspire Human Resources, calls "food, water, shelter," or critical options.

"These packages include at a minimum a bonus, or some sort of equity, like stock options," she says. "Retirement options are important, particularly since pension plans are from bygone days. Some companies make their retirement option even sweeter by offering 401(k) matching, which is great."

Lastly, Klein says employers are becoming more creative in how they show appreciation for their staff, whether by offering more autonomy, more on-site amenities or even programs to promote their staff's overall health and well-being.

Flexibility, Please

Interview etiquette of the not-so-distant past warned against asking too many questions about vacation time and telecommuting, lest you appear entitled. Those days are gone. Klein says it's OK to request specifics on culture and benefits once you've advanced beyond the preliminary interviews. Just be sure you're well-versed on what's becoming standard practice within your industry.

In some occupations, telecommuting is no longer a "privilege" but par for the package. And two weeks paid vacation? Pfft -- many companies, such as the presentation software company Prezi, financial services company The Motley Fool and photo-sharing website Pinterest, offer unlimited vacation and honor code sick policies for their staffs. "The reality is people are working endless hours, so they need the option for unlimited vacation," Klein says.

Just Like Home

Take a good look around when you go on your next job interview. Employers are now using decor and ergonomics to entice top talent, and as the lines between work and home meld, so does the ambiance, Klein says. Instead of ramrod straight office chairs and wrist-wrenching office desks, many workplaces now feature ​treadmill desks, standing desks and lounge areas. Companies are even offering more opportunities for play. Dropbox has a music studio at its headquarters in San Francisco. YouTube's office in San Bruno, California, has an​ indoor slide and putting green.

"A lot of companies now create what's called 'a culture club' of employees who help to ensure the workplace is a great place to work," Klein says. "Increasingly, workplaces promote and recruit based on identity."

Staying Well

Healthier employees are happier and more productive, and companies with the best benefits packages recognize this. "What we've seen over the last three or four years is that employers are offering more wellness programs, broader wellness programs and also that employers believe that there's great value in offering these programs," Fradkin says.

At Salesforce, a cloud-computing​ company in San Francisco, employees receive a monthly reimbursement of $100 for nutrition counseling, yoga classes or massages.​ At the organic food producer Clif Bar & Co., employees receive 2½ hours of paid workout time each week. Finding the space to work out is even easier for Clif Bar's staff, since the company headquarters in Emeryville, California, has a dance studio, gym and rock-climbing wall.

"I'm seeing even small and midsize companies that have started to give their staff Fitbits or started programs to get their employees to drink more water," Klein says. "Both benefits and perks have become so creative now that it's easy to forget​ they are perks and not mandatory."

Finding the Right Fit

You can take some agency in the type of benefits and perks your current or prospective company offers:

Before the interview, do your research. Companies with outstanding benefits and a welcoming corporate culture are transparent. Look on the website for an overview of the benefits provided and for office photos. Visit websites like to see how previous and current employees and other job candidates view the workplace and the hiring process.

Before accepting a job offer, find out if the package works for you. Klein says it's important for job seekers to ask for an overview of the retirement benefits​ and to also request information about health care and the employee contribution. "If there are​ levels​ of employee contribution, ask to see a breakdown," she says. "I've seen some companies that lower contribution levels for employees who smoke or have high cholesterol, so you'd be surprised the things you should ask."

Revisit your benefits -- and their benefit to you -- once a year. Most employers audit their benefits once a year, and so should employees. "For example, we've been having severe weather on the East Coast for the last few winters," Klein says. "What sort of policies does your workplace have in place for emergency preparedness? Have they put to paper programs to help employees get their work done even if they can't come to the office, or are those policies just implied? These are all things you can ask your employer about."

Jada A. Graves is the Careers product manager at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter @jadaagraves, circle her on Google Plus or email her at
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