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Fringe benefits: Perkonomics in a time of recession Add to ...

To cut, or not to cut? That's the question being bandied about as human resources folks decide what employee benefits and recruiting and retention tools stay ... and what gets the axe in 2009.

Given the current gloom, it's understandable that anything reeking of "perk" will no longer be a celebrated hallmark of top employers, as companies try to slash costs and save jobs.

But can employers slice too deeply?

"What we hear from clients is: 'We need to cut costs in our benefits program, but at the same time there's still this war for talent out there. We can't get the people we need to join us,' " cautions David Willows of Aon Consulting's health and benefits practice in Toronto.

Need help prioritizing? Goodbye Friday afternoon booze carts; hello flextime, job sharing and offering new opportunities to the employees who haven't been canned - yet.

Weekend Workout delved into a number of workplace issues and trends this year. Some of them will stand the test of time - recessionary or not - career pros suggest, while others will become a low priority; still others may or may not be around when the economy eventually recovers.

Thumbs up

Flextime

Flexible hours remains one of the most requested - and cheapest - benefits, particularly among workers with kids, aging parents or, well, a life.

An online survey conducted jointly in November by Canadian networking groups Connect Moms, momcafé and Briefcase Moms, showed that 92 per cent of respondents would like a flexible work environment that includes arriving early or late to the office, working from home, condensed workweeks and being able to bank overtime to take extra days off. Fifty-four per cent said they would even take a pay cut in exchange for flexibility.

Telework

Some employees like it because it helps them balance work and life - and eliminates dreaded commutes. Employers like it because home offices can lower required office space and services they need to provide.

Wing spread

Can't offer a luxury dental package any more? Perhaps it's time to assist promising workers with some professional development. For instance at I Love Rewards Inc. in Toronto, a call centre employee now handles some smaller accounts. "If I were to ask my sales team: 'Who wants to handle our 'C' accounts?' Nobody would put their hands up. But to the call centre employee, that's a golden opportunity," chief executive Razor Suleman says.

Adoption policies

Helping to pay for employees' exorbitant adoption fees may seem like an exotic perk but it is cheap way to gain some goodwill. Who can argue with this motherhood issue? At a whopping $10,000 or even $20,000 per adoption, the cost may seem onerous, but if only two or three workers make use of the benefit each year, it becomes one of the highest-profile, lowest-cost perks.

Pets at work

A proven ability to lower stress and increase joy: Allowing staff to bring pets to work is a cheap benefit that many employees might enjoy.

Thumbs down

Corporate vacations

The ultimate perk: Flying the whole company or even top performers down south this winter costs a lot of cash.

Tacky anniversary gifts

A nickel-plated mallard duck paperweight for 20 years of servitude? Enough said.

CEO retreats

If workers are losing benefits and even jobs, perhaps the chief executive officer should rethink that trip to Costa Rica in January for a week of soul-searching with others of a similar ilk. Optics, dear sir, optics.

Gala award ceremonies

They're costly - no surprise - and some workers dread getting up in front of a crowd to receive an award. Have a small, local get-together instead.

Free food at work

Google serves its employees the whole enchilada by offering free grub all day at its numerous cafeterias; others subsidize cafeteria food costs or stock a free snack cupboard. Given the current economy, it could be argued that simply being gainfully employed is almost like scoring a free meal?

On the bubble

Meditation rooms

Omm. Providing a quiet space to pray is a godsend for some. But if the room isn't being used and is costing the company in rent, perhaps its time has come.

Generous vacation time

Five weeks of vacation? It's a great tool to recruit and retain employees, but if some of your hard workers routinely forgo two weeks' worth, maybe it's time to scale back.

Onsite gyms

Healthy employees make better employees, but dust balls on the treadmill signal that this benefit is no longer a slam dunk.

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