Benefits Packages for Shop Employees

A few years back, one of our key shop guys and his wife were expecting their second child. A premature delivery ensued, and a very difficult one at that their little boy was born with cerebral palsy. Several years and several hundred thousands of medical bills later, the little guy passed on peacefully and painlessly, thank goodness.

If our company had not had medical coverage in place for these folks, it would have meant a huge financial burden for them.

This sad case is hopefully not the norm, but things like this do happen. Because of it, part of working at a good shop is being able to receive a measure of protection against calamity as well as benefits beyond just drawing a paycheck.

What level of employee "perks" and benefits you decide to provide is up to you. Just remember that your benefits package may be one of the best ways to retain your most valuable asset your people. It may be what will stop them from leaving just because they could get a couple of dollars an hour more somewhere else.

Health and time
Do you provide health benefits at your shop? A few years back, a survey in K&BDN revealed that about half of the shops polled provided health coverage probably a national average for trades in the construction industry. Usually, the better and more established companies do offer coverage, some with a dental package, as well.

Most shops that provide health insurance are facing spiraling costs. In fact, many are turning from private plans to Health Maintenance Organizations usually a less expensive option. Some HMOs offer different levels of plans, with different associated costs lower or higher co-payments for doctor visits or prescription costs.

Still more shops are requiring larger employee contributions to offset the costs of health coverage, with the employee often paying up to 25% of the total. And, not all shops are willing to pay for family members, since it's now so costly.

How about paying your staff for holidays, such as the Fourth of July or Christmas Day? Here again, the better shops will often give their employees pay for national holidays. The average seems to run around six or seven paid holidays a year. It's up to you to decide which ones. Perhaps National Arbor Day should be included for us woodworkers?

For this paid time off perk, and for other benefits, you may want to consider some kind of waiting period, or probationary time, before your employees are eligible to receive these "extras." A standard probationary period after a person's hire date is 90 days.

A few shops pay their employees some version of sick pay. This can get complicated, with employees "banking" days that are not actually taken, or simply calling in sick to take advantage of excess sick days.
Perhaps a better way would be to call it all "personal paid time off." That way, your people can use it for sickness, vacation, their kids' field trips, whatever is needed.

Make sure you're clear in your Employee Manual how you define what it is you're offering and how it works.
And, speaking of vacations, quite a number of shops offer paid vacation time usually after a certain period of employment. In our case, the employee gets six days after a year's full-time continuous employment, 12 days after five years, and 18 days after 10 years of service.

Here, you may also want to have a policy in place that requires that people have to take the time off (or the money); in other words, they cannot "bank" time.

Pensions and Perks
Pensions can be an affordable way to encourage your employees to save part of their paycheck tax-free. Your people can sock away pre-tax dollars at minimal cost to your company, and at no cost to them.

Ask your insurance broker if he or she can help you out. Much depends on the size of your shop, but there are some excellent options even for small one- and two-person shops. You can also match the contributions your people make to their pension funds. This is a huge perk for your employees, assuming you can afford it.

Other pension plans can have a profit-sharing component to them. This is a good way to get money out to your people if you have the occasional "banner" year.

It may be in the area of "other perks" that your shop's true benefits lie. Often, it's how far you can go beyond the regular comp package that represents the true value for your people.

One example might be working a nine-hour day, with a shorter day on Friday, or even every other Friday off. You need to be aware of state and federal regulations here, and it may take an employee vote to ratify such a change without your shop being obligated to pay overtime. But, more flexibility in your working hours can be a big plus for employees.

The use of the shop for personal projects is a great perk, too. Watch out for insurance requirements, and keep an eye out for employees who try to make money from side projects. If that's the case, you should charge them for use of the shop.

Providing a truck, gas, tools those, too, can represent a significant benefit to your people. This, if offered at all, should probably be limited to key employees only.

Don't overlook insurance as a benefit. Some shops provide some kind of inexpensive life insurance coverage to their employees. It may be available as an optional rider with your health coverage package. There's also disability insurance, although that is usually rather expensive, especially for older employees. There are other forms of insurance, too such as the kind that provides some form of deferred compensation for your key people.

Then, there are the little things, such as company tee shirts. It may not sound like much, but it's relatively inexpensive, appreciated by the lesser-paid shop folks, and it looks good to potential clients.

Your benefits package essentially is representative of who you are as a shop. If you have a fair and generous deal, your people will stick around.