Balancing Benefits

Julie Shenkman
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It's been a wild, crazy ride these past few years for employees and employers alike. In the aftermath, resumes are littered with quick stops at failed dot-coms, and company phone lists are actually staying the same for more than 2 weeks. Now, as the dust begins to settle and the workforce is more concerned with job stability than company-sponsored happy hours, employers are finding it's time to re-evaluate their benefit programs.

Gone are the days of game rooms and catered meals, much to the dismay of some pampered employees. Employers are getting back to basics, and the rules are changing once again. Though some employees will find it hard to admit, this is a good thing for a few reasons (and yes, I did say a good thing).

First, the frivolous extras that often distracted us from doing good work are gone. Sure, those mid-week movies and game rooms were fun, but admit it - many co-workers (if not ourselves!) abused the system and wound up spending more time away from their desk than behind their computer. It's a temptation that many of us couldn't handle, and a break in the TV room or walk outside will have the same stress-reducing results, at a much lower cost for the company (both in terms of dollars saved and work produced.)

Second, we no longer have to accept lighthearted benefits as a valid commodity in negotiations. If a job seeker is concerned about salary and work hours, she doesn't want to accept the fact that catered lunches and free tickets to the game make up for a $10,000 pay discrepancy between two positions. Many of us are concerned about the benefits that really matter. We want to spend time with our families and earn what we're worth-gourmet sandwiches and box seats don't do it for everyone and they certainly don't always equal an annual bonus or better commute due to flexible hours.

And finally, this evolution of benefit programs has resulted in some significant positive-and relatively permanent-changes to workplace rules. Many of the "new ideas" HR departments developed have become mainstays in benefits packages, including flextime, telecommuting and even little perks like memberships at the local gym. These benefits can improve the quality of life for employees, and are appreciated as truly valuable programs by staff. If not for this recent time of exploration, employers may have never found out how useful some of these smart benefits could be in increasing productivity and the happiness of employees.

We may have enjoyed the creative (and often frivolous) perks while they lasted, but this return to a more standard workplace is not a bad idea. In fact-dare I say it-this change may do companies a world of good when it comes to balancing quality of work and quality of life. And isn't that the point of a good benefits program after all?

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