Struggling with staff retention? Try offering one of these 10 employee benefits that your staff will genuinely appreciate.
With employee shortages and retention issues widespread, dance businesses—studios and retail stores alike—need a competitive edge in order to make them attractive places to work. One way to keep your staff happy and productive? Be picky about the benefits you offer, choosing ones that your employees genuinely want and appreciate, from big-ticket items like health care to an occasional free meal.
“It’s an investment,” admits Misty Lown, longtime studio owner and dance entrepreneur. “But you know what’s more expensive? To continually have to recruit, hire and train people. I’d rather invest in people than the churn.” Choosing to invest in her employees is part of what’s afforded her excellent retention rates—one employee has been with Lown for 25 years. And it has what Lown calls a “warming effect” on other areas of her business. “It means there’s a continuity of service and care, there’s consistent branding, and kids stay here longer and build lifelong relationships,” she says.
The Standard Offerings
- Health insurance Offering health insurance coverage to your employees is perhaps the single biggest draw you can offer staff members—after all, 41 percent of working-age Americans have medical-bill problems or debt, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).
- How much will it cost you? To cover an individual, KFF reports that the average premium cost in 2021 was $6,440 for a small business. (To cover a family, the average cost for employers was $16,253, annually.)
- Tax incentive Under the Affordable Care Act, if your business: has fewer than 25 employees; has average wages of $52,000 or less; and covers at least 50 percent of your employees’ premiums, you can shave off up to 50 percent of the costs, thanks to the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit.
- 401(k) plan Future-planning is an important piece of the retention puzzle, and it’s a popular one, too: The Society for Human Resource Management cites that 93 percent of businesses today offer a retirement plan for employees.
- How much? Setup and initial administrative costs might run you as much as $5,600 for the first year (not to mention matching costs—the average match last year was 4.5 percent, according to Vanguard).
- Tax incentive Thanks to the SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act, small businesses that start a new 401(k) plan for employees can receive a tax credit of up to $5,000 per year, for the first three years of the plan’s existence.
- Scaled benefits “We do something that’s fairly unique: scaled benefits,” says Lown. “We have three categories of employees: full-time, part-time and a mid-level category, which we affectionately call the MomForce. You don’t have to be a mom to work in this category, but it’s primarily women with families, who work 25 to 35 hours a week.” Lown’s MomForce employees get the same benefits—like paid time off, for example—as her full-time staff, but at a rate of 75 percent.
- Student loan assistance Many younger employees have significant student debt looming over their heads, so offering to contribute to student loan payments could be a powerful draw. Jon DeMott, president of DanceWear Corner in Orlando, is currently in discussion with an employee about loan assistance, as the pandemic winds down and student loan payments may no longer be on hold.
- Tax incentive Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, employers receive a tax-free provision on employees’ direct student loan payments, up to $5,250 per year, per employee.
- Childcare subsidies To help employees shoulder the cost of childcare—the average monthly cost is $1,230 at a childcare center, according to the Center for American Progress—consider subsidizing your staff’s childcare bills. It’s something that DeMott is on the verge of offering to his full-time employees, since several have young children. “It’s a nice perk—not something your average dance store could offer,” he says.
- Tax incentive You can claim between 10 and 25 percent of the cost you pay toward your employee’s childcare each year—up to $150,000.
Ad Hoc Ideas
- Professional development fund At Lown’s studio, full-time employees are eligible to apply for professional development funds, to be used toward continuing education, for up to $500 per year. (Her MomForce employees can use up to $375 per year.)
- Wellness program Lown’s administrative-team members opted for a different benefit: an onsite massage therapist once a month, to reduce strain associated with computer work.
- Gas and toll reimbursement “We have a lot of toll roads in Orlando, plus the price of fuel has gone through the roof,” says DeMott. For key employees, he offers a $75 weekly reimbursement for gas and tolls. “It makes the difference for my key people,” he says.
- Flexible hours “Our best benefit is our ability to accommodate unusual hours,” says DeMott. “We have a lot of performers, especially with Disney and Universal nearby, who always have gigs or rehearsals, so schedule flexibility is a tremendous plus.”
- Lunches DeMott will occasionally buy everyone in his building lunch for the day, via UberEats or DoorDash, as a way to keep morale up and show his staff some spontaneous appreciation.
The Bottom Line
With a little creativity you can make your business a more attractive place to work by offering benefits in tune with your employees’ lives and your budget. Considering how costly it is to replace employees, it’s more than worth the investment.
Former Dance Teacher editor Rachel Rizzuto is an assistant teaching professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.