Alternative Benefits at Work
November 29, 2017 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Our staff just got the lousy news that our insurance premiums will be going up more than 120% next year. This means a real net loss of compensation, as the benefits themselves are not richer, but people will be taking home hundreds less in cash. The question has been raised, are there ways that we could provide other "give backs" to improve the quality of work life without adding much in cash costs? What are some non-cash benefits your work provides that you love?

The idea of more vacation arose, but it's not that well received because we already have pretty generous vacation and most people have a hard time taking it all already.

We get a parking and transit pre-tax subsidy already, and we have an HSA, and decent opt-in options for retirement.

Any other lo-fi ideas for cheap benefits that could somewhat offset the sting of losing $200-500 per paycheck as soon as the year turns?
posted by Miko to Work & Money (75 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you provide snacks and lunches for people? That'd be an easy way to help everyone save some cash.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:53 AM on November 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

Add a telecommute option!
posted by mochapickle at 8:54 AM on November 29, 2017 [30 favorites]

Negotiate employee discounts with local businesses (like gyms/salons) or larger services (like cable/phone companies).
posted by beyond_pink at 8:59 AM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

YES to the telecommuting! And, when workers ask for this, don't refuse them on the grounds of "we're not sure you'll be working on company time." That's weasely.
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:00 AM on November 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

Do you offer flexible schedules that allow folks to work 4/10 or 9/80?

How about "closures" or "curtailments" when employees use vacation to extend holiday weekends? These closures could create an environment where people feel better able to take their vacation leave.
posted by annaramma at 9:01 AM on November 29, 2017 [18 favorites]

Telecommuting is a big one if it's feasible for your organization because it doesn't cost the employer money but can save employees a lot in terms of gas/transit, meals out, extra hours of child care, etc.

Similarly, what about flextime?
posted by lunasol at 9:01 AM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

+1 to the flexible hours or telecommute option, depending on which is more feasible. or other professional development options is another avenue.

Also look at inclement weather policies (we close when specific schools do in the area making it more predictable for child care planning)
posted by typecloud at 9:04 AM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

If I were losing between $400-$1,000 a month, I couldn't pay my mortgage, so the option to telecommute would be laughable to me as I would not have a home to telecommute from. Telecommuting is also "free like a puppy" - a worker needs dedicated office space, a quiet home during the day in which to perform the work, office supplies, typically a dedicated phone line or an increase in cell phone minutes to accommodate business needs, a boost to a home internet connection, etc.

Sorry to be a downer here, but losing $200-$500 a paycheck is the difference between "making it" and "not making it." You need to prepare to lose staff, because perks don't pay the bills. Start planning now.

Your employer needs to offer to eat some of the increase in cost as a business expense. There is no other option.
posted by juniperesque at 9:07 AM on November 29, 2017 [139 favorites]

have you thought about capping insurance contributions at a maximum % of pre-tax comp?
posted by JPD at 9:09 AM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

we already have pretty generous vacation and most people have a hard time taking it all already.

Find a way to improve the culture/work schedule/policy so that people actually do use all their vacation. E.g. make it "normal" to go on vacation, and support everyone so that you're not working 2x before/after the vacation trying to make it fit.
posted by jpeacock at 9:10 AM on November 29, 2017 [25 favorites]

Our company is largely distributed, but we recently had a 3 days of on-site thing and one of the perks was a coffee cup filled with $2 bills with the instruction that we should take a coworker to coffee, and that the money should be gone by the end of the week.

I don't even know that the company has to pay for it, but I'm pretty sure that the value that came out of getting customer facing folks talking with low level implementers far exceeded whatever was in that coffee cup. And turned what could have been one of those eyeroll-inducing "team building" weeks into a really nice chance to get to know the rest of the company as people.

(And as a result of that learning about skills outside of the company and improving communication between silos, I'm in the office early this morning with a bunch of recording gear to do some audio work with our office manager to improve a product from yet a third group, without any coordination from management other than a bunch of smileys from our collective bosses in the Slack channel where this was proposed.)

So perks which gets cross-pollination of ideas and conversation between departments not only pay off in happier employees, but in synergy between groups.
posted by straw at 9:12 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

flex time is big in my office. stay a bit later most days to get an extra day off every two weeks, making it easier to handle life business, kid events, and all the rest...
posted by acm at 9:14 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

+1 Telecommuting
Summer Fridays off?
Discounts at local gyms
Free healthy snacks in the break room
Lunch & learn sessions
Stipend for professional development
posted by cwarmy at 9:22 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Agreed that I could no longer afford to work for you with this pay cut. Perhaps make some plans around that and supporting workers who will have to leave -- severance pay, or keeping them on the job while allowing them to look for a new job/helping them update resume, find interviews, etc.? Knowing that this will be an issue and planning to support people who can't absorb this would feel a whole lot nicer than "sorry, guess you have to leave."
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:27 AM on November 29, 2017 [23 favorites]

Seconding that losing that much cash in hand is a big deal that free coffee isn't going to offset.

Can you bump up their take-home pay in ways that are tax advantaged to them like paying their cell phone and internet bills? In my experience, those have not been treated as taxable income but reimbursement of costs, which means more money in your employee's wallet.
posted by Candleman at 9:29 AM on November 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

I do think your company needs to eat some of this or scramble to find alternatives. Hundreds of dollars less cash is insane for most working people. It's like you demoted all of them; it's like you totally changed the terms of their employment. Can you find a cheaper option? Can you offer a bare-bones level of insurance that doesn't cost 120% more than last year? Can you shop around to make some of their other benefits (insurance, transit) cheaper? Can the top earners help more? Can you freeze high salaries and increase the lowest tier?

I agree some perks are needed but frankly, your company should accommodate flexible schedules and telecommuting anyway. Half day Fridays are great but they won't pay the rent, you know? And companies where people don't take all their vacation time might be unhealthy (unless it's a case where everyone is a crazy diligent work-nerd, which happens I guess.)

Unless you can somehow reduce their expenses significantly, (free breakfast/lunch/childcare?) then new perks might be insulting and will probably wind up benefiting those without financial woes disproportionately. Like working from home is easy for people with great computers and wifi and space and quiet but a pain for those without all that.
posted by kapers at 9:33 AM on November 29, 2017 [18 favorites]

Yeah, you're not framing this right at all. This isn't a minor thing--this is potentially taking a $12,000 per year paycut! That is gigantic. If my employer didn't eat this cost and expected me to be okay with a huge cut to my salary in exchange for snacks and being able to telecommute a couple times a week, I would be insulted.

I'm sorry that you don't want to spend the money to make this right, but you're going to lose staff over this--and you should.
posted by Automocar at 9:33 AM on November 29, 2017 [38 favorites]

I work for a small business and my employer splits the cost of my premium with me. This is what yours needs to do. How would “cheap benefits” (presumably meaning cheap for the company) offset losing up to $1000 a month??? I’d be gone in a heartbeat not least because this seems like such a slap in the face.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'll take some of the commenters here even further.

If you replace a compensation cut (which is what this is) with fancy coffee, I'm going to be more offended than if you just have a compensation cut. The "alternative benefits" indicate that the company feels they can spend my money better than I can, which is flat out offensive even if the amount of money is relatively small.

So, my serious answer here is - do nothing. If you have any spare money, give it to your employees as cash to minimize their compensation cut.
posted by saeculorum at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2017 [34 favorites]

Can you raise the idea of shopping around for a different insurance provider? I suppose it's late in the game for that, and this is definitely outside my area of expertise, but if '$200-$500 a paycheck' isn't a typo (or unless you have really infrequent paycycles or realllllly high salaries), there's truly nothing you can do to offset that kind of compensation hit, aside from raising their salaries. This isn't just 'lousy' news, this is potentially-catastrophic news.
posted by halation at 9:44 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Datapoint: I had a similar increase in insurance expenses at a prior job, and left because of it. I am now at a new job which more fully covers my insurance and offers a higher salary.
posted by slateyness at 9:46 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

You would probably lose me over this, too, unless the company ate a significant chunk of the increased cost. You could not win me over with free coffee, I do not want my company involved in my cell phone bill, parking and gym and childcare benefits are useless to me, more vacation would make me happy one week a year and do nothing for me the rest of the year.

You could mitigate my losses a bit with additional flexible hours and telecommuting, and maybe if your version of "free food" was less "free coffee" and more "fully and diversely stocked kitchen with breakfast and lunch foods and zero guilt trips about me taking time out of my workday to make a sandwich, such that you basically eliminate my breakfast and lunch grocery bills", but at that point maybe you should just chip in more for the darn insurance. Upping your contribution to my retirement account could help a bit, but at that point just put that money toward the benefits in the first place.

Basically, no matter what you do, you may retain a few people if those specific perks are useful for their specific lives, but you can't offer one or two specific perks and expect them to work on the whole workforce.
posted by Stacey at 9:49 AM on November 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

This is a breathtakingly large change to the total compensation for employees, and I agree with all other commenters that 'perks' aren't enough to offset it. To even speak of them as they are related will backfire -- it's a classic case of adding insult to injury.

The size of the increase makes me think that management has dropped the ball. Why were other options (insurers/plans) not investigated and offered? I don't know what your role is in your company, but if there is a way to push for a solution to the problem ...
posted by stowaway at 9:50 AM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Reduce the time they have to work? $60k salary, extra $400/month = $4800 post tax = $6kish pre tax = 10% less pay = 10% less work = every other Friday off?
posted by salvia at 9:51 AM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

If the perks are intended to help with expenses, they would have to help EVERYONE and at that point, it's costly and why not just pay them more or pay for their insurance? For some this would be childcare, for some this would be student loan assistance, not everyone could or would eat the food or work at home, etc.

My premiums just went up like $12 a check and I was pissed even about that and elected a lower tier of coverage, which I resent but not enough to quit. But unless your company pays everyone millions in a low cost of living area, this is really not a morale problem to solve, this is a bad benefits decision.
posted by kapers at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Personally, I would like some combination of the following types of alternative benefits: telecommuting, flexible schedules (option to work four 10s if desired), catered meals, option to bring my (well-behaved!) dog to the office, and student loan assistance.

However, I am also acutely aware of the fact that those benefits won't appeal to everyone. Some people don't like working remotely, are on special diets that require them to bring their own meals, don't have student loans, don't have super-chill elderly dogs, etc.

And for that reason, I would quit my job even if you "made up" my lost wages with these alternative benefits. I wouldn't want to work for an organization that treated its employees like this.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:03 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

My suggestions: make all the things that you’re employees buy cost less money. How? I don’t know. In the short term, be very honest with your employees about what is known and when it was known. I’d be really pissed if the company sat on this information for more than a day or two, but even more pissed if I heard about it ‘through the grapevine.’ I also want to know what the company is doing to fix the insurance costs rather than making it the new normal. I want this cost increase to be temporary and embarassing for the company. I do not want them to just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and say ‘it is what it is.’

Next, ask employees what would help them. As some mentioned about, not every assistance is universally good. I don’t drink coffee. Don’t bulk order starbucks cards at a discount and then be mad when I’m not grateful for ‘free’ overpriced coffee. But maybe there is someone who wants that.

Next, let your employees be mad, or have whatever other emotions they’re going to have about this. Don’t tell folks it will be ok, or even that you know how they feel. Hear them, demonstrate that you hear them. Practice this among the management. Like, deep role playing. Because it’s possoble someone will cry when they hear this. It’s also possible some people will quit right when they hear it. It’s defintiely likely that folks will begin using company time to find new jobs. Don’t make that harder. Begin the hiring process and be honest about why you’re hiring. Yes, that makes it harder to fill the position.

For a long term suggestion that does not fix your immediate crisis but will help in the future:
Change the culture of your workplace so that people can take their vacations. I will bet you a dollar that one of the reasons people aren’t taking it is because when they get back, everything is a disaster. This means your office is either understaffed or poorly trained, or both. Offer an officewide bonus for vacation scheduling success. This means that by Feb 15(or some other date) everyone has planned and received approval for their vacations for the year. If you get to the end of the year and nobody has made any changes to their vacation time, and everyone has used it all, everyone gets a bonus. In a medical practice, if the doctors change their own vacation time, everyone below them fetsbthe bomus amd none of the doctors do. Adjust as necessary for your job. This does not have to be a large reward, but it has to be something people want. Also reward people for not requesting vacation during the super busy/stressful time (like back to school or pre-camp physicals at a pediatricians office) so that you can have a full team that’s happy to be there.

If folks are coming back from vacation and their external clients are pissed at them, or their workspace is trashed, or they have the past week of work to do, plus today’s work, they will forgo the ‘free money’ because they know they’ll be worrying about it the whole they time they’re in Hawaii or whatever.

But there’s also the notion that some folks get that they need to save the good China for special occasions, and the brain does this with vacation time. Two nights at home seems like a waste when someone miiiiiight invite you to...something amazing.

If your company has an unpredictable production or event schedule, set vacations also alllows all staff to plan appropriately, makes delivery promises realistic, and lets decisions about ‘approved’ vacations feel less arbitrary (having to give at least two weeks notice, but sometimes some people get approved on shorter lead time, overlapping holiday requests can be determined by seniority or earliness of request, or something else.) The worst was being told once that my months planned absence was being cancelled because someone higher up needed to attend a wedding. In two days. Gaaaah.

Also, don’t just offer the flex time, make it easy to take. Provide the internet connection/security, laptop for home use, etc.
posted by bilabial at 10:06 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I worked for cash-strapped companies that carefully protected people from insurance cost increases, but that meant they couldn't give raises for a very long time. As a way of just providing a slightly more pleasant environment:

—At one place, everyone got $100 in fake money that they could spend on anything that would make their office or their work environment better. Approval was required but I never heard of an ask being refused. People bought space heaters and fans for their desks. They took coworkers to lunch. They pooled money and threw a staff party at a restaurant — the kind the staff would throw, not the kind that management would throw. They bought gifts for other staff that had passed a huge milestone or reached a big goal, or which were clearly overworked. They had baby and wedding showers. They bought art for their walls. They paid to paint a common space something other than Corporate Beige. They bought going-away gifts.

—No timesheets! Nobody was required to keep timesheets. Oh my god. That was the best one ever. Legal requirements were protected by automating the process, or taking people's word for it. "Does this match the hours you worked?" Check box "yes." Done. Ten seconds. A lot of good faith was fully repaid with this one! The abusers were few, very few.

—Dog Fridays! Mostly fine. A few accidents, a little barking. But dogs!

—Free coffee and tea. This is not always a given at every company.

—Not only parking but primo parking: there were a few spots nearest the building that each person could use for one week a year. So nice to roll up next to the door on those crappy days.

—Relaxed dress code.

—Even more time off. I know you said you already have too much, but just in case, these extra days included heat warning days, weather days, last-minute announcements ("No need to come in on Monday! We're having carpet put in. No need to work from home!"). Those kinds of surprise days can feel amazing, although you obviously can't make meaningful personal plans around them.

—Stopped requiring all employees work all events.

—Stopped the hypocrisy where only senior management was allowed to do things like drink alcohol at customer-facing public events but other employees were not. This was fine! Turned out to be a non-issue.

—Provided bike racks.

—Gave employee families free tickets/passes/product.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

losing $200-500 per paycheck

What is that as a percentage of their salary?

People will quit as soon as they can find another job. You'll be left with the people no one else wants to hire. So... the company has to eat the difference or see a real crash in talent and morale.

Barring that:
  • If the company offers telecommuting, it has to include a fast network connection that the company allows and encourages employees (and immediate family) to use for entertainment after hours. And throw in NetFlix or equivalent.
  • Drop dress codes to a minimum. If you don't face the customer, and maybe even if you do, you can wear jeans and t-shits, for example. Stuff you would wear on a day off. No half-naked stuff that will cause trouble, but otherwise screw the dress code. Suits are stupid and expensive.
  • Cut back on required hours while maintaining pay levels. Maybe you work 7 hours and you go home as if you had worked 8 hours. No arguments. No pressure from bosses to stay later. In fact, just the opposite. If you start at 9:00, you stop all work at 4:00 or you are in trouble for staying late. Or maybe you don't work at all on certain days, and no telecommuting allowed on those days. Or employees arrange a personal equivalent that helps them in particular, such as coming in late every Tuesday and Thursday because of something with a class or kids or whatever. How many work hours is $200-500 per paycheck?

posted by pracowity at 10:14 AM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

The option to work from home one day a week is a HUGE benefit in most people's eyes that costs the company nothing. It saves me an hour a week in commute time, plus however much gas that is. Plus, the fact that my boss is flexible about letting us occasionally WFH more than one day a week, if necessary, has saved me and others having to use personal time for situations where we need to be at home, but were able to work. Like, say, waiting for the cable guy. Or a "upset stomach" where I needed to be near my own bathroom, but was able to work between runs. And really, it could save using sick days all around if those people who normally drag to work with colds, flu and pneumonia were able to work from home and keep their germs to their own damn selves.

How about a jeans day, if you don't already have one? This was a most-requested perk on our employee survey, and it was a lot of bang for zero bucks on the company's part.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:18 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

With $1000/mo less, more vacation or flex-time wouldn't matter because I wouldn't be able to afford to go anywhere or enjoy myself anyway. Fancy coffee or lunch would be an insult and are you going to accommodate everyone with food allergies/preferences? I'd see if you can get a bulk discount on some kind of training/certification that they can put on their resume while they look for another job.
posted by AFABulous at 10:20 AM on November 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

How about paid lunch hours so an "8 hour workday" is actually only 8 hours long?
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:26 AM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

+1 on a telecommuting policy. The policy will have to be specific about how that will work and ensure workers are still productive from home, but skipping the commute and working from pajamas is great sometimes. Being able to cook at home and save money is a bonus.

+1 on snacks and beverages available in the office. I worked at a company that actually gave employees vouchers to order lunch from a set of businesses they set up partnerships with. Sort of like you might see "campus cash" accepted at restaurants near a university. I'm sure that gets expensive, but not as expensive as providing health insurance, which this company didn't at the time. Alternatively, sometimes a company I worked for would cater lunch on Fridays as a morale booster.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:27 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

More vacation time is a joke when you’re too broke to travel. More work from home time isn’t all that appealing when you have to skimp on heat.

You’re talking about anything from a $2,400 (at $200/monthly paycheck) to $13,000 (at $500 per biweekly paycheck) pay cut. That’s appalling. Anything an organization did to “offset” that would feel like a slap in the face (why aren’t they spending that money on benefits?!). And an org that can’t afford to fix this problem properly is so mismanaged it can’t possibly thrive.

Get ready to lose all of your smartest people (who can read the writing on the wall), unless they all have trust funds or wealthy spouses and are merely working for shits and giggles.
posted by amelioration at 10:28 AM on November 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

Dogs in the office are not a benefit. Some people don't like dogs. Some people are afraid of dogs. Some people are allergic to dogs.

Also, snacks and meals are going to be a problem unless you work with employees' dietary restrictions.

Aside from that, count me among those who would be really angry if I were told, yeah, your pay is going down $500/month (you don't say how long your pay periods are), but free coffee.
posted by FencingGal at 10:29 AM on November 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

You’re talking about anything from a $2,400 (at $200/monthly paycheck) to $13,00 (at $500 per biweekly paycheck) pay cut.

Yes, can you please clarify?
posted by salvia at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2017

You need to prepare to lose staff, because perks don't pay the bills. Start planning now.

I'm totally down with the "rah rahs" on this, but assume this is a struggling nonprofit already running a deficit, the institution has also increased its contribution and already covers 70%, we have a high-risk pool, and this is pretty much the way it is. This is the best of 3 detailed quotes, and a number of insurers (who are quite limited in our state anyway) refused to quote us because of the nature of the pool. I am sure the higher-ups know they will inevitably lose some staff. This is to find ways to lighten the burden on those others of us who don't have the array of choices that would allow us to just leave.

So helpful responses will be those that have some concrete suggestions for things the org can do to improve work culture in the meantime.
posted by Miko at 10:41 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I worked for a company that decided, due to financial issues, to reduce all salaried employees pay by 5%. I immediately began looking for another job, because when a company gets to a point where that is needed, something is being mishandled above. (And I was right. I left the company within a year; they closed their doors due to lack of money less than a month after I left.)

Someone dropped the ball here - insurance rates don't suddenly more than double a month before they take effect. The company should be working to figure out how to shield their employees from a significant pay cut.

One other avenue, (and unfortunately it's rewarding this behavior, but survival comes before lessons) is that for employees who have benefits at your company but a partner who could get them onto benefits at their company... ask HR. My family had all our benefits though my wife's employer. After my company did their annual enrollment, her company did their and announced that spouses would cost an extra $100 a month on the benefits plan - imposed by the employer, not the insurer. I contacted my HR and they were happy to issue an exception to annual enrollment to allow me to have benefits through my employer, while my wife and kids stayed on her plan.
posted by neilbert at 10:41 AM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also, to make it completely clear: I am not the boss, it's not "my" company, this was not my decision, I am one of the people this is happening to, and while I consider my own personal options, I am trying to make the organization show that it is aware and accountable for what's happened and make some steps to acknowledge that visibly. If it sounds like something that would make you angry, be assured, all of us are angry, too. I'm just trying to get them to fully realize that they decreased our pay and cancelled out many people's years of slow salary increase aggregation in one fell swoop and need to do something about that. That's why I'm asking for constructive suggestions - it's a bargaining moment.
posted by Miko at 10:48 AM on November 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

So helpful responses will be those that have some concrete suggestions for things the org can do to improve work culture in the meantime.

Repeat exactly what you just said to your organization. Treat them as adults.

"This is the situation the organization is in. These are the steps we took to try to minimize the impact. We recognize this is a poor situation, so we're not going to try to sugar-coat it. We're not going to spend even more money trying to provide other benefits for you, because we're already providing sub-par core benefits. Instead, we're going to put our effort towards maximizing the cash-equivalent compensation we can give you."

Anything else you do will make the problem worse. If there is $1 that the organization has that isn't going to compensate the employee for the employer's failure to provide adequate benefits, you're making the problem worse. You do not fix subpar compensation by decreasing compensation (by increasing fringe benefit compensation).
posted by saeculorum at 10:51 AM on November 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

Repeat exactly what you just said to your organization.

Assume this has been done by a large and vocal number of people.

Assume that the org has said "please suggest other ways to support the quality of work life."
posted by Miko at 10:53 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Assume that the org has said "please suggest other ways to support the quality of work life."

Make a progressively more expensive list of suggestions, copying the ones from this thread. Rank them by cost - option a (cost), option b (cost), option c (cost), etc.

Your employer will approve some number of them.

Now say, "great! We have $x to spend on fringe benefits. Spend them on decreasing our insurance cost instead, which is what people actually want!"
posted by saeculorum at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

4-day workweek for everyone. Half the org gets Mondays off, the other half gets Fridays. No change in pay (other than the obvious), no 10-hour days to make up for it. Just a flat 4-day workweek.
posted by current resident at 11:10 AM on November 29, 2017 [16 favorites]

Can you cut the vacation and put some of that toward paying benefits? Because with a 10k pay cut, nobody's going anywhere anyway.
posted by kingdead at 11:10 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

[A couple comments deleted. Please take the "nothing but money will fix this" point as having been made.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:18 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ooh, since you're a nonprofit, you may be in a position to do ticket/pass/admission swaps with other nonprofits. One of the companies I worked for got a ton of requests for free tickets for other nonprofits to use in their raffles or silent auctions. In return, we often got big stacks of passes from those other organizations, which we then distributed to staff. Particularly those of us with families found it refreshing to save on admission to cultural attractions like museums, which can cost a family of four more than $50.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think the problem with perks that cost the company money is largely symbolic. If you provide free snacks, whether it makes sense or not, people will just naturally think that they'd rather have the money.

So can you give them the money? Probably my favorite perk is an Amazon gift certificate.

You said that the idea of more vacation was not well received. I'm wondering whether that's part of the initial shock and anger. After that dies down a bit, maybe people will be more open to it. (And is there any way to restructure the workload so that people can take their vacations?)
posted by FencingGal at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

—When equipment was being discarded, including computers, we often let staff have first pick before we sold it, gave it away, or trashed it. Book shelves, desks, chairs, books, and similar things were often gratefully received.

—Extreme flexibility with hours, since employees may be working second jobs. I was often surprised by the number of people who, like me, had other jobs. I'm talking letting them come in at 6 a.m. and leave at noon, or do split shifts, or work three 12-hour days so as to have four completely off.

—When one employee is leaving, hire from within! This is one way to get pay raises for employees with no change in budget.

—Alternatively, consider letting someone do two jobs (or one and a half) when an employee leaves, with a relevant increase in pay.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:30 AM on November 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

OP, I hope you are building your network and polishing your resume.

This is really kind of a board level problem. Your organization is underfunded for the number of staff. Probably they should be looking at layoffs instead of this move, although of course no one wants that. But the books don’t balance. This is a fancy way of hiding that.

I think a reduction in hours /and expectations/ is how this has to go. So which aspects of everyone’s job can be eliminated? Because just fitting the work in around 9/10 days or getting extra vacation only works if the work is reduced. This is a mission-and-services discussion.

If I wanted to make a point, I would suggest a company-run food bank and shelter support.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:33 AM on November 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

...for the staff.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:34 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can you clarify the pay period you're talking about?
posted by tristeza at 11:37 AM on November 29, 2017

We are paid biweekly. The 126% increase applies to those subscribing for employee, partner + family - that's the worst case scenario and impacts a number of people who secure all their family insurance through this employer. My personal increase as a subscriber at employee + spouse level about 70%, an additional $173 per paycheck. Over the course of the year, my increase in contribution over last year totals $4498.

From my personal perspective, additional time off would be most valuable, because I can make money consulting. But since there may be other things I wouldn't have thought of, and since I'm working with a range of staff on advocacy, a range of suggestions is welcome. So it's not that I'm looking at how to get a new job, I know how to do that, but given that these are the current conditions here and that's not negotiable, how can we support staff better in the meantime in additional ways. Some folks will certainly leave. But others, due to geography, family needs, specialty area, or other conditions won't be able to find an alternative job all that quickly. So while "get another job" is sound advice, there's no reason not to use this moment to explore some other gains and needed changes to work culture.
posted by Miko at 11:56 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some combination or all of the following:

• Cut the work week drastically to make up for the pay cut. Give the staff the time to find a second job if they need one--so at least move to a 30 hour week for everyone.

• Have the leadership team all take a X% pay cut and allocate that to the benefits line. If everyone is paying the same premium, it will take a lot more from the lower-paid employees as a percentage of their wages. Spread the pain in a fairer way.

• Light a fire under your board's ass to fundraise.

• Meet with foundations you have good relationships with to brainstorm/get some bridge funding to cover the increase this year and help you figure it out for next year.

• Don't replace people as they quit.

• Negotiate deliverables with your granting agencies to make up for the shorter week.

• Close the office with pay for a period of time. A month over the holidays?
posted by Stewriffic at 11:57 AM on November 29, 2017 [13 favorites]

Provide a quiet place for people to go to make a personal phone call. I would use it maybe 3 times a year, but I would enjoy not having to listen to others' phone calls every day =) Free coffee and tea should include filtered cold water, juice and soda. People drink a variety of things and I for one will not drink hot stuff unless it is winter. Have a website and/or publication with lists of discounts that you all qualify for because you work at a non-profit. Ask everyone to contribute to the list when they discover new ones and keep it up to date. An ongoing effort to get morale suggestions from the workforce (and evaluate and implement them) should be formed if one doesn't exist.
posted by soelo at 12:25 PM on November 29, 2017

I was worried this was a nonprofit. :(

Is getting "bought out" by another larger nonprofit an option? This is what happens when nonprofits are financially sinking and can't afford their expenses (staff, programmatic needs, etc.) but still perform vital work. Your leadership is looking down the barrel at a mass exodus of employees and they won't be able to operate without the employees, so positioning yourselves for a buyout of operations would be smart. This problem will only get worse with time because you're underwater.

Another high level option would be to lay off everyone - literally everyone - and hire you all back as contractors, paying you an increased wage that will allow you to buy insurance on the open market. They would just have to be careful about labor laws since as contractors there are boundaries that can't be broached as though you were employees.

Layoffs are another option, and you can let people offer themselves up to be laid off with a nice severance. There are folks who will take up the offer. That's fewer people to involuntarily separate when the time comes. Again, this is an avenue where leadership will need to connect with a labor lawyer to build a layoff plan, since you want to avoid the appearance of eliminating people based on protected class.
posted by juniperesque at 12:37 PM on November 29, 2017

Rumor is the IRS is about to majorly crack down on "perks" and if they need to be treated and taxed as income. Everyone I know who works in HR at a large company is freaking out about it.

Not to say you shouldn't provide perks but you may want to also talk to a tax consultant about if and how you would go about taxing any extra perks.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:40 PM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't know the answer to this question, but would be actually be cheaper for most/all employees to purchase individually on the marketplace? Like, could you, as an organization, drop the insurance coverage and take that portion you are paying now and provide it to people as salary?
posted by Stewriffic at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

When I worked at a small nonprofit, I really wished we had better paid time off around holidays--days we were fully closed, especially because we had evening and weekend hours. So maybe close Wed-Sunday of Thanksgiving week, the full week between Christmas and New Year's including Christmas Eve off entirely, closed Sat-Mon for Monday federal holidays. And as someone who is part of a family with non-Christian members, sanctioned closures or a solid block floating holiday days for non-Christian holidays would be amazing (with org level support to actually taking those days off).
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:52 PM on November 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

With all the talk about reduced workweek make sure to also reduce workload. Since your organization no longer has a functional business plan perhaps your organization needs to look at reducing what they accomplish to what they can now afford. I agree that layoffs should be on the table and possibly winding down the organization. I'm sorry, this really sucks and I am sure your organization fills a need in the community.
posted by saucysault at 1:30 PM on November 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

You need to ask your staff if there is anything that would make up this shortfall. You mentioned cheap benefits and others have said offering tea and coffee. If my employer floated the idea of giving me a free cup of coffee and that it would be expected to make up for losing $500 a pay check, I'd probably quit on the spot. Involve them in the conversation and be prepared for the answer to be 'nothing.' You're basically asking them to donate $12,000 a year to your organisation and have the utilities switched off at home for the privilege of working for you. Would you do this? I'm very sorry, I know this situation sucks. I think you need a grander plan that doesn't involve asking staff to wear your costs.
posted by Jubey at 2:39 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

As Stewriffic said above, look into stopping providing insurance, and giving your employees what would be spent on their insurance directly. They might well be able to buy insurance - plus being able to pick exactly what they need - for less on the marketplace. Be sure to make sure they'd be eligible to buy it after the open enrollment period, if that's when their work-provided insurance went away.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:48 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

As others have already driven the point home, I’ll merely echo that your top brass’s salaries should be first on the chopping block. Belt-tightening doesn’t work when all the real fat is above the squeeze zone; I have known enough nonprofits that failed to make this distinction, and their reputations and work quality decayed accordingly. If leadership wants private-sector wage scaling, they can always jump back into the rat race and let better stewards take over. (Your budget people are either incompetent/complicit, or they would be marvellous dogs of war.)

On a lighter note:

All these vacation days no one can ever seem to use...what happens to them at year-end? Are they “use it or lose it,” or do they roll over until a cap is met? Are they paid out upon termination?

I ask because (a) obviously, if vacation rolls over and pays out, you’ll have a LOT of staff making their own semi-precious parachutes in the face of this, but/and: (b) could you let employees with gobs of unused vacation sell those hours back to the company?

Folks who deeply love the organization (or hate job hunting) might be willing to delay an exodus if they had a means to fill the gap. That’s just the “labor of love” folks, of course; at this point, they’re the ones management needs to listen to and fight for.

Good luck. Keep your own parachute in mind.
posted by armeowda at 5:35 PM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

I know this point has been made, but it sounds like you're talking about $150k annually here, which might not be completely out of the question as a mid-range fundraising target. I mean, you can't get a grant to "pay staff's insurance rate hike," but is there any chance of carefully going back to a few of your most loyal donors to help cover unexpected cost increases? Were there any recent unfunded labor-of-love projects that you might still retroactively seek donations to cover? Sometimes foundations have a little extra left over at the end of the year, and of course now is when people are making their year-end gifts. And could management tell staff that they will do their very best to make this just a one-year impact, because going forward, grant project budgets will reflect the higher staff benefit costs? Is the board aware of this serious threat to morale and the organization's most valuable asset (committed staff members)? There isn't an endowment that you could draw upon to buffer this, is there?

Have you fully exhausted creative insurance solutions? One NGO I know buys catastrophic insurance ($5k deductible, I think) but then pays for the majority of deductible for those who use it, if that makes sense. (I think I have that right.) Enough of its staff use only minimal health services that I'm under the impression that this approach leads to significant savings while allowing them to still have good health benefits.

For morale and bargaining, I'd suggest that management really devote themselves to figuring out what staff would value and what would save staff money, both to demonstrate concern and to get this as right as possible. Maybe take a poll of staff, seeking what would be meaningful and what would actually save them money.

For myself, I'm shite at bringing my lunch. If the organization bought a variety of frozen meal options at Costco for $3 apiece but saved people from having to go out to lunch at $10/lunch, it really might save me more than was spent.

Also, working from home truly is cheaper: no bus fare or gas, no wearing out your good clothes and certainly no drycleaning costs, easy lunches (no "oops, I forgot my lunch" eating out). Those with kids might be able to save money if flexible WFH schedules made it possible for them to use less daycare (e.g., working 4 ten-hour days but with two of those hours being after the kids are asleep, or working 8:30-3 and then taking care of the elementary school children before finishing up from 9-10 pm). If they can work from home 3 days / week, people can live further away where housing might be cheaper. Also, you could look into how to help staff who are working from home take the home-office deduction if that still exists. (There is, or used to be, language about it needing to be for the convenience of your organization. Maybe rent out the vacant desk space and use that rent to reduce benefit increase
costs -- that's convenient to the organization!)

Just a few other scattered thoughts: could the fundraising team seek "employee discounts" for your staff at places they tend to spend money? E.g., if you're a bike advocacy group, could local bike shops cut your staff in on the employee discount? If you do outdoor education for children, would REI / EMS give your staff a discount? (Patagonia used to let some environmental nonprofits in on the pro deals; I don't know if they still do.) Even if your staff isn't doing a lot of shopping for themselves, maybe they can save on family gifts.

Speaking of vacant desks, do any of your staff want to take a sabbatical? If the most burned out staff took some unpaid time off, that might generate a bit of savings that could help address this. And yes, if at all possible, don't rehire following the first staff departure (depending on the program's immediate needs). If two staff left and you managed to reduce the workload enough to stay at that level, you could cover the insurance costs for everyone else.

Oh, do the organization's credit card purchases rack up credit card points that could be gifted to staff so they don't have to spend on holiday airfare? I'm totally brainstorming here -- all of this sounds like a chaotic mess to administer fairly -- but maybe a little bit of chaos and individual customization could make it possible for the organization to help people meet their needs as much as possible. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 8:50 PM on November 29, 2017

I think more time off and less work is the only serious answer given your constraints, since that’s what you’re paid for.

I think the suggestion to close down longer than planned at the end of the year is sound— give some time off from the stress, some time for everyone to start to get their ducks in a row (though the holidays now are a rough time to job-hunt), and you’ll save some operating costs.

If there is a big salary disparity, and maybe even if not, the higher-ups who caused this and who won’t suffer as much don’t get the extra days.
posted by kapers at 8:52 PM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have worked for many a struggling non-profit. I get it. But I agree with those who say there is no meaningful way to mitigate this pay cut.

Having said that, I would be willing to take a slightly lower paying job if it had more PTO and there was a culture where people HAD to take their vacation (meaning the boss takes their vacation for one) and had adequate coverage when they did take it. I know many people would also take a pay cut for the option to telecommute.

Frankly I'd find a free gym membership kind of insulting in this context.

I'm just sharing my honest personal perspective here.
posted by latkes at 9:18 AM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Closing between Christmas and New Years is one way to force people to take time off.
posted by latkes at 9:19 AM on November 30, 2017

I totally hated it when my non-profit closed for the holidays to force us to take vacation. It seems rude to say "we'll give you 3 weeks vacation" but then force one of those weeks to be at a time of the organization's choosing. If I were a new employee or trying to save up vacay for a trip or maternity leave (or to get paid out when I left), I'd be particularly ticked. Plus, the fact that you don't have enough people to get the work done doesn't change just by declaring the office closed. The stressed-out program staff will just end up getting special permission to work anyway (speaking from personal experience), so the people who really lose flexibility are admin staff. It's just far better to create a culture of vacation-taking via other means.
posted by salvia at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2017

When I talked about closing for a few weeks at the end of the year, that was meant to be IN ADDITION to the already existing or increased vacation days, not as a way to make people take vacation. Because of what salvia just brought up.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:14 AM on November 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

We can't close for a week anyway, we're public-serving.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2017

I feel that the only thing they can do is to cut work hours to match the cut "pay." I don't see any alternative that isn't awful. This sucks and I'm sorry.
posted by tristeza at 12:37 PM on November 30, 2017

Patagonia used to let some environmental nonprofits in on the pro deals; I don't know if they still do.

They do, in case that's relevant for your org, Miko.
posted by lunasol at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your organization might have gotten itself into a tricky situation that all too many NPOs get into, where you don't have enough money to fund all the work you're doing plus operational costs, but can't cut any programs because the funding you do have is contingent on running those programs. So they try to cut operating costs. It's a serious issue with the way NPOs are traditionally funded, and it requires really careful financial management and creative fundraising to avoid this.

If you are in a position where senior leadership is listening to you, you might suggest that they find ways to cut some areas of program work in such a manner that would not result in losing the funding for those programs. This might mean laying off some staff. Which sucks and is not something to be done lightly, but is often the better solution for everyone: at least it's a clean break, the cut staff get severance and unemployment, and you avoid the slow, morale-killing attrition of staff leaving one-by-one as they get other jobs. Oh, also, when you leave it to staff to leave on their own, you often end up losing the highest performers and people with the most marketable skills first, which just makes your problems worse. Ask me how I know.
posted by lunasol at 1:49 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, there has been and will be more of that kind of budget cutting as well.
posted by Miko at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2017

I tend to agree with lunasol that finding a way to lay off 1-2 staff members could be preferable to cutting everyone's pay in a way that means you lose the top performers. Then you still have the other 90% of your staff intact with all of the built-up knowledge etc. Once people start leaving, then you lose time to hiring, training, and getting up to speed.
posted by salvia at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Proactively offering detailed letters of recommendation to all employees who leave the company.
posted by aniola at 4:53 PM on December 5, 2017

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