Sure, there's the obvious medical, dental, life, disability, 401(k). Over time, things such as legal, auto/home and, yes, pet insurance, have been added to the list of employee benefits.

But should our view of what constitutes a benefit be limited only to those that require premium payments and pay commissions?

Not as far as our clients are concerned, I can assure you of that.


Expanded view

For example, I was meeting with a client a couple of weeks ago and the client said that they were interested in establishing a "best practice" policy for their employees to help those who had been out on extended leave - particularly maternity leave - acclimate back into the work force. And, they expect my team and me to help them do that.

As they should.

For nearly 20 years of my professional career, I have been involved in an award program located in Northern Virginia that was designed as a way to recognize local companies as great places to work based on all of their workforce policies.

Yes, there absolutely is a baseline requirement of standard benefits companies need to offer their employees to even be considered for the award. However, many employers offer those traditional benefits at levels well above the standard baselines.

But where the true differentiators often lie is in those areas that you'll never see captured on a traditional "benefit summary."


Opportunities abound

The potential touch points are seemingly endless, whether it's by promoting healthy lifestyles, giving back to the community, recognizing (in a truly meaningful way) employee achievement, enhancing employee engagement, various green initiatives, flexible work arrangements, new twists on old existing benefits and almost anything else a creative HR professional can conjure up - hopefully, with the help of their adviser.


Health reform's effect

You may have read comments from me on the BeAdvised blog ( about the "guardrail" effect of health reform, where rich benefits will have to become less rich to avoid the 2018 excise tax and skinny benefits might have to become more rich to avoid the 2014 shared responsibility penalties.

Everyone's benefits are going to be squeezed more toward some middle ground and competing for talent through traditional benefits is likely to become more difficult.

Employers will be looking for non-traditional ways to set themselves apart from their competitors as they fight to attract, and even just hold onto, their key talent.


The sky's the limit

When it comes to creative, non-traditional "benefits," no idea is a bad idea. Wellllllllll, let's just say some ideas are better than others. But our creativity could be the most valuable asset we can bring to our clients.

OK, I do stand corrected. "Bring Your Snake to Work Day?" Bad idea!

Lane, a principal at Mercer, is based out of the consulting firm's Washington, D.C. office. He is also a member of Employee Benefit Adviser's Advisory Board. Reach him at or (202) 331-5222.

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