Small Businesses Reveal 5 In-Demand Employee Benefits Besides Health Insurance

We are committed to sharing unbiased reviews. Some of the links on our site are from our partners who compensate us. Read our editorial guidelines and advertising disclosure.

The COVID-19 pandemic overhauled the power balance between staff and employers. Among many employee-centric gains, flexibility is more widely available thanks to the rise in work-from-home (WFH) arrangements. In fact, our recent survey revealed 76% of respondents work remotely at least part of the time.

But other than liberation from the cubicle, what do staffers crave? To find out, we asked 136 business owners and executives for their insights on the most sought-after employee benefits.

Here are the most prominent perks we heard.

Expert Advice, Straight to Your Inbox
Gain confidence in your business future with our weekly simple solutions newsletter.

By signing up I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Flexible work schedules

Many small businesses rely heavily on shift work, so flexible work hours aren’t always feasible. But if you can pull it off, business owners and employees alike tell that this freedom is a prized employee benefit.

Icon Quote  Dark
Within reason, an increasing number of organizations are allowing employees to pick their own schedules.
This usually entails a shorter workweek (e.g., four 10-hour days) or flextime, where employees can work from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Windowed work, which is dividing the workday into several pieces of time to better manage professional and personal obligations, has become more popular this year.

While some small businesses might serve up a menu of possible work hours for employees to choose from, others opt for goal-oriented environments. This means staffers are free to work mostly on their own schedule, so long as solid productivity deadlines are met and meetings are attended.

Icon Quote  Dark
The one benefit that our employees, and most employees really, cannot live without is flexible work schedules.
In the past year, I've seen a lot of increased productivity just because employees are relaxed now. If they have an appointment for something, previously they would have had to plan around work. Now, they plan work around that.
Ben Wallington

Health and wellness programs

Health insurance is typically part and parcel of a full-time job in the United States. However, many employers go beyond the basics and offer non-insurance wellness perks. These benefits can include free gym memberships, instructor-led exercise and yoga classes, and subsidized home fitness equipment, among other extras.

Icon Quote  Dark
Employers are increasingly offering workplace wellness programs as a bonus.
Some wellness programs are modest, with one-time events like biometric scans or step-counting competitions, while others are full-fledged wellness initiatives focused on changing workplace culture and encouraging healthy behaviors. Every business has its own set of objectives and difficulties, and employers can choose from a variety of programs.
Best Small Business Payroll Software
Best overall
Best HR add-ons
Best for growth
Best value
Learn more about our top brands.

Paid volunteering and charitable perks

The concept of Americans allocating portions of their paychecks for charity traces back to the 1870s.1 And while not everyone chips in cold, hard cash, employees still yearn to contribute to meaningful pursuits. According to an April 2021 report from corporate consulting firm McKinsey and Company, 70% of full-time employees report their “sense of purpose is largely defined by work.”2

With this quest for powerful meaning in mind, many businesses formally encourage charitable giving through various means. For example, some workplaces boast paid time off to volunteer for local causes. Other employers match monetary donations to increase the overall amount contributed.

Even if your budget is tiny, remember: it’s the thought that counts. Allowing staffers to volunteer while on the clock can boost morale in ways sums of cash can’t replicate. As a result, this goodwill can reduce turnover and slash hiring expenses long term.

Icon Quote  Dark
The benefit that our in-house surveys have shown is the most revered is team-building with a cause.
We are huge believers in sharing our successes and giving back to the community, supporting worthy causes near and far, and involving our team in these endeavors. [Examples include] getting staff out of the office for community events such as tree planting, beach cleanups, helping the homeless, or designing and manufacturing products that allocate all profits to charity.
Tired of payroll? Gusto handles payroll taxes and more

With unlimited payroll runs and automatic tax filing, Gusto helps small-business owners worry less about payroll and put more time into growing their business.

  • Get automatic payroll tax filing, including end-of-year tax forms
  • Manage workers compensation insurance
  • Track paid time off, sick leave, and holiday pay

401(k) retirement plans

We get it: small business retirement plans don’t sound too sexy. But what is undeniably alluring is how affordable and easy to implement these perks are, even for tiny budgets.

Many small business payroll services, such as Gusto and QuickBooks Payroll, offer 401(k) retirement plans with no setup fees or minimum employee mandates. And if you’re eager to kick it up a notch like a TV chef throwing down spices, then consider small business-tailored IRA and profit-sharing plans so staffers can savor an array of options.

Icon Quote  Dark
We introduced 401(k) benefits to help motivate our employees and make them feel safe at work.
The 401(k) benefits introduced include taking loans or early withdrawals from the 401(k) account, offering automatic enrollment to the 401(k) plans, and setting up new contributions for new hires. Employees are also offered financial safeguard, which helps them in making informed investment decisions. They are also given the option of making after-tax contributions.

Student loan repayment

Student loan debt continues to rise, with an average of around $30,000 per college graduate, according to a September 2021 report from U.S. News. This is an approximate 20% increase from the $24,937 average sum per graduate in 2010.3

And while some forgiveness programs exist, most people don’t qualify for such assistance. For example, the US federal government's Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program requires government or nonprofit employment, along with 10 years worth of completed loan payments.4 This hardly puts a dent in the broader issue of college affordability.

As a result, employees want to break free from this debt burden. And since staffers are likely using their college knowledge as part of their employment, it’s worth considering paying off some (or all) of their loans. Of course, this can involve longevity or performance-based conditions to ensure it’s a worthy investment for small businesses.

Icon Quote  Dark
The one benefit that employees seem to want most is student loan debt assistance.
This is not surprising given that, by some estimates, Americans owe more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. Student loans can cripple people’s finances and, in some cases, even ruin marriages. As a result, I’m not surprised that employees ask for that benefit so much.
Icon Quote  Dark
Many qualified people are just coming out of the educational system.
These potential employees have accumulated a significant amount of debt, which most employees will be unable to repay for decades while meeting their basic needs. Loan repayment help is a tempting incentive for a recent graduate. This would not only provide you with an educated staff, but it would also foster loyalty, devotion, and productivity by reducing a major source of stress in your life. This is regarded as the most important perk for younger employees and prospects.

Want to offer retirement plans to your employees?

Related reading:


At, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don't guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.


  1. Soskis, Benjamin. "The Past, Present, and Future of Workplace Giving in the United States." July 2019. Accessed October 11, 2021.
  2. McKinsey and Company. “Help your employees find purpose — or watch them leave.” April 2021. Accessed October 11, 2021.
  3. U.S. News. "See 10 Years of Average Total Student Loan Debt." September 14, 2021. Accessed October 11, 2021.
  4. U.S. Department of Education. “Public Service Loan Forgiveness.” Accessed October 11, 2021.
Ian Agar
Written by
Ian Agar
Former staff writer writes about human resource administration. His work has been featured in The Motley Fool and Yahoo! Finance.
Recent Articles
Small Businesses Reveal 5 In-Demand Employee Benefits
6 Ways to Find Affordable Health Insurance If You’re Self-Employed
From the Health Insurance Marketplace to insurance brokers, try these six resources to find affordable...
The Hartford, Hiscox, and Suracy offer some of the best workers compensation insurance options for small businesses
7 Best Workers Compensation Insurance Companies for Small Businesses 2023
Safeguard your business with our top seven picks for best workers compensation insurance companies. Best...
Liability-Insurance form
10 Best General Liability Insurance Companies for Small Businesses 2023
Protect your business from costly lawsuits and claims. Check out’s picks for the best...
How Much Revenue Do You Need Before Hiring an Employee?
It’s expensive to hire an employee. Learn how much to budget for a new team...