September has arrived and those with kids are getting back into the school routine.  Your employee’s schedules and mindsets may have shifted to new schedules and priorities.  For many, these shifts are subtle – maybe a day off or a slightly later start time – while for others the preparation for back to school creates some stress and possibly chaos in their lives.  This time of year is a good reminder of how family and work intersect with each other and what a small business can do to help improve an employee’s ability to balance between the two.

One of the core values of Equinox is “Respect” and this translates into a respect for the whole person and his or her needs.  From the outset, family has been important to me.  Equinox provided me, as the owner, the flexibility to pick up my kids from school and make dinner.  Over the years, this message has grown as new employees come on board.  Each person in the office has their outside priorities and we really try to respect that.  This flexibility is a valuable perk for our employees.

In addition, we really work to give our team the benefits we can afford.  We offer 401K and a generous paid leave policy.  We have struggled over the years to find ways to offer medical insurance.  Last year, we finally were able to do so; but just barely since we have so few employees participating in the plan.  Recently, Washington State has mandated further programs for employers to enable employees to safely and securely take leave from work through the mandated paid sick leave and the more recent mandated paid family leave laws.  I struggle with these mandates because as a mother I value not having to trade off wages against time with a new child or sick parent, but as a small business, these can be costly.  Even a small increase in payroll taxes hits the bottom line and, in turn, negatively impacts my ability to increase overall wages and bonuses.  However, I know that regulation can be important in advancing the greater good.

In this extremely tight labor market, employers are already feeling pressure to increase wages and benefits to keep their employees and attract new ones.  These are market pressures that are driving the overall costs of being an employer up.  Strong and sustainable businesses know that they must provide benefits to compete, and these come at some cost.  Usually, though, the business gets to choose policies that attract individuals who fit the business’ culture and values that align with its benefits offerings.  Government mandates limit a business’s ability to do so.  Instead, they increase pressure on the bottom line and limit a business’s ability to differentiate itself — without further cost.

An employee’s family and work life cannot be separated.  Employees will choose their workplace in part due to their employer’s benefits offerings and your opportunity to differentiate yourself as a business is more and more limited.  You have more compliance and fewer levers to use in crafting a set of benefits that really work for your business and your employees.  It’s a good time to take a look at your overall benefits offerings and, given what you don’t have control over, determine what benefits are valuable to your employees and affordable to the business that will differentiate your company from your competitors to keep you ahead of the game in attracting the best employees.

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