Firms perk up workplace

To keep employees, bosses offer flex time, time off, naptime

Feb 24, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Nationwide Planning Associates Inc. offers its employees a perk that not many Americans enjoy during the workday — a place to nap.

The Paramus, N.J.-based broker-dealer created a rejuvenation center a year ago for its back-office employees to use for short, private rest periods during the day. While it aims to increase worker performance and foster productivity, the center's real mission is to keep people at the firm.

“Turnover is a killer for any company. When you invest so much time in an employee and then they leave, it's demoralizing,” said Michael Karalewich, chief compliance officer for Nationwide and one of the architects of this corporate perk. “The center helps create a fun and dynamic place for employees to work and want to work.”

In fact, many financial advisory firms increasingly are taking a page from the Google Inc. playbook

by offering creative perks designed to gratify employees and keep them from looking for another job.

About 54% of financial planners have established programs aimed at retaining employees that extend beyond traditional compensation and benefits, according to a new Financial Planning Association survey of more than 400 companies. That's up from roughly 49% in 2010.

The partners at BKD Wealth Advisors LLC have an interesting perk built into their careers. They are required to take a 30-day sabbatical every five years they are with the advisory firm, which is a subsidiary of accounting firm BKD LLP.

The advisory firm's president, Jack Thurman, already is looking forward to his third sabbatical next year, trying to decide whether it will include a trip to Machu Picchu in Peru or Bhutan in the Hima-layas. His previous time-off periods included backpacking in Vietnam and traveling through Australia with his family, as well as some weeks relaxing and regenerating at home.

“The sabbaticals have helped people realize where they want to go in their careers, and people come out of them stronger than ever,” Mr. Thurman said.

According to the survey, perk programs include having a very liberal policy for doctor appointments and other time-off needs; allowing employees to work part time at home; throwing employee appreciation events such as baseball games, dinners or monthly lunches; and having half-day Fridays in the summer.


In a services-based industry such as financial advice, giving employees perceived control over their day is important if you want to keep them engaged in their jobs, according to Angie Herbers, a personnel consultant who works with advisers. The way to provide employees with that control is through “lifestyle” perks such as flexible time, continuing-education benefits, time off to volunteer and other such options, she said.

“It allows employees to do the work that needs to be done in their way,” Ms. Herbers said. “If you make your employees happy, in return, they will make you happy.”

One perk that advisory firms may want to consider is pet insurance, which in recent years has become one of the most sought-after and beloved benefits, Ms. Herbers said. It also doesn't cost employers much to provide, because the premiums typically are passed on to those who elect the coverage.

Ms. Herbers doesn't know of any advisers who offer the coverage, but many large companies are making it available to employees. According to Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., the nation's largest pet insurer, a third of Fortune 500 companies now offer employees a policy from the company.

One of the most popular benefits is flexible hours. Seventy-nine percent of advisers offer a flexible work schedule, the FPA survey found. Smaller firms are more likely than larger ones to offer the benefit, with 84% of firms with one to four employees making it available and 62.5% with 31 or more offering it.

About 65% of firms cover the costs of conferences and continuing education, 59% pay for professional dues, 47% offer planning and investment services to employees, and 21% offer telecommuting, according to the survey. About 10% of firms offer wellness programs or health club coverage.


It goes without saying that money also talks when it comes to retaining good employees.

Doug Flynn, partner and co-founder of Flynn Zito Capital Management LLC, said his firm is a big believer in incentive-based bonuses. He wants those who accomplish more to have the opportunity to earn more. The firm provides a quarterly bonus based on measurable goals that can raise an employee's compensation by up to 20%, he said.

“We are probably paying them more than what we should, but we're getting done what we need to get done,” Mr. Flynn said.

The firm has been able to retain employees for a long time by keeping them content through a combination of results-based bonuses and a full complement of benefits, he said.

“Replacing someone of value is much harder than trying to save a few nickels,” he said.


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