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Ashley Cammisuli in her business Glow Beauty Bar in Etobicoke Ont., on Aug. 19.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Some small businesses are trying something new to attract and retain their staff in a tight labour market: offering benefits.

Workplace insurance coverage for physical and mental-health services is not common in sectors such as food services or personal care. But with workers leaving those industries in droves during the pandemic and job vacancy rates still high – 11.9 per cent for food services and 7.8 per cent for industries that include personal care, compared with a national average of 5.8 per cent – some employers say they are getting creative to keep their staff.

Ashley Cammisuli, the owner of Glow Beauty Bar in Toronto’s west end, said she began to offer benefits because she wanted to give her staff of five the same or better perks than they would get at a larger company.

She said coverage for services such as therapeutic massages are important so staff can keep up with the demands of the job.

“This job is physical,” Ms. Cammisuli said. “Even though we’re rubbing faces all day, it does put a strain on your back, on your shoulders. We want to just keep them healthy and show them that we care for their career longevity.”

She said mental-health services have also been important for her team. “We kind of act as therapists for a lot of our clients,” she said. “It can be heavy sometimes.”

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The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association says it has seen an uptick in interest in workplace plans, particularly smaller employers, since the initial shock of pandemic layoffs ended and businesses started hiring back workers.

The association says it is still analyzing its 2021 data but estimates that two to three thousand more employers are offering benefits for the first time.

“Based on what we are hearing from our member insurers, we know that employers have been taking up new workplace health benefit plans, or enhancements to existing plans, to cover therapies like mental-health support in recent years,” association president Stephen Frank said in a statement.

Dan Kelly, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he has also been hearing about this from his members, particularly small businesses in the sectors with the highest job vacancies.

“With the shortage of labour being what it is, smaller businesses are having to go into new territory that they’ve never gone into before in order to attract or retain workers,” he said.

He said working for a small business can have many advantages, such as more influence on its direction, but small employers have generally lagged behind larger companies on compensation and benefits.

He said many small-business owners will have to consider their own circumstances to determine if wage increases, or perks such as matching RRSP contributions, might be more effective strategies for keeping staff.

Of course, the cost of offering benefits can be a challenge for some businesses.

“It has been a struggle for small employers to even find benefits packages that are proportionate and affordable for them,” Mr. Kelly said.

Ms. Cammisuli said she shopped around and worked with an insurance broker to find a plan that cost her about $850 a month and covered 80 per cent of the costs of services for her team. She said she also provides an annual training budget of $1,000 for each staff member.

Thania Mukaddam, the receptionist and spa manager at Glow, said she appreciates having access to dental and vision coverage, which she did not have in past jobs.

“It’s a lot easier knowing that it’s covered,” Ms. Mukaddam said. “Because yeah, glasses are expensive.”

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