While health-related coverage and paid vacation remain the workplace benefits that employees feel are most essential, it's the little perks many businesses offer that enhance company culture and make employees feel valued and invested in. These extras often signal a generosity and enlightenment about the company and its focus on the overall well-being of its people. In turn, they typically yield a boost to job satisfaction and productivity that far surpasses the price tag of any perks programs. These five small business owners share the creative ways they go above and beyond standard benefits to both attract and retain employees and maintain an optimal environment that all are invested in.

 Person's hands holding True Moringa oil and moringa seeds.
True Moringa plants trees as a way to honor its employees' accomplishments while supporting the farmers from which the clean beauty brand’s ingredients are sourced. — True Moringa

Emily Cunningham, COO & co-founder, True Moringa

Who we are: A Cambridge, Massachusetts-based business that works directly with 5,000 small farming families in Ghana to create skincare and wellness products powered by the nutrient-rich moringa tree.

Since 2013, True Moringa has worked directly with over 5,000 small farming families throughout Ghana to cultivate over 2 million moringa trees. The nutrient-packed seeds and leaves of these moringa trees are a key ingredient in our superfood skincare and wellness line. One of the non-monetary gifts we have been offering our employees, customers and corporate partners is the ability to plant a moringa tree in someone's name on our organic, solar-powered moringa farm. Once planted, the recipient can see detailed information about their tree including the location it was planted and the photo and brief bio of the farmer it benefits. Each tree provides sustainable nutrition and income for generations to come. Follow True Moringa on Facebook & Instagram.

 Flynn Zaiger, Founder & CEO, Online Optimism
When it comes to getting creative and personalizing perks to attract talent, Flynn Zaiger of Online Optimism believes small businesses have an advantage over larger companies. — Online Optimism

Flynn Zaiger, founder & CEO, Online Optimism

Who we are: A creative digital marketing agency with locations in New Orleans and Atlanta.

As the CEO of a small business that often competes for talent against much larger companies, we have to be extremely creative in providing offerings to staff. The good news is that smaller businesses can personalize their employee benefits on a far greater level than big companies. At Online Optimism, that means sending customized care packages to staff with their favorite treats, whether they be their preferred snacks, candle scents or cocktail mixer of their choice.

In addition, we've found lots of little surprises (like sending genuine NYC bagels for National Bagel Day) make for a constant stream of happy employees, rather than spending it all on big splurges. And providing fun events frequently on a smaller department basis, like scavenger hunts or escape rooms (done virtually during COVID), keeps employees engaged and improves teamwork. The most important benefit a small business can offer is the easiest to do, and only requires two words: "Thank you." You should never discount the incredible reward that comes from genuine words of appreciation from a supervisor for an employee's hard work. Follow Online Optimism on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

 Almost Famous Popcorn bags of popcorn displayed on store shelves.
Located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Almost Famous Popcorn makes lunchtime a bonding experience for its employees and one that fuels productivity for the rest of the day. — Almost Famous Popcorn

Bill Rieckhoff, general manager & owner, Almost Famous Popcorn Company

Who we are: A family-owned and operated gourmet popcorn, ice cream and vintage soda shop located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

At Almost Famous Popcorn we start with a "fair to you — fair to me" understanding. Our team knows where the company stands financially and that we can't jeopardize the long term health of the company for a short term compensation gain. We seek to find non-monetary ways that connect with what is important to them. Perhaps our biggest perk is a paid lunch hour, technically monetary, but "unseen" on the paycheck. Our team bonds over lunch — the laughter and fun we have is amazing. We also randomly buy lunch for everyone a couple times a month which enhances morale.

A full hour may seem excessive, but we go hard before and after lunch and recharge at lunch. This also gives the team time to make phone calls, set appointments and take care of some of their life issues outside of work. An atmosphere of respect and trust is the core non-monetary perk we offer. Listening is a big part of our company culture. We attempt to hire high character, high integrity people and then train them to do the jobs we need. Working next to people you enjoy is the ultimate perk. Follow Almost Famous Popcorn Company on Facebook & Instagram.

 The employee team behind FPC National.
The FPC National Team keeps it “all about the people” through engaging events and employee recognition programs designed to highlight the accomplishments of its team members. — FPC National

Jeff Herzog, president, FPC National

Who we are: A national executive search firm based in Lake Success, New York, offering job seekers access to a network of professional executive recruiters and job opportunities in over 40 different industries and 40 different disciplines.

Our philosophy is ‘It’s All About the People’: Connecting humans and fostering relationships is the core value of our business and ensures the right individual is placed in the right opportunity.

It’s so important, especially during the pandemic, to be creative in the way you keep your employees happy and feeling like they're valued assets. Aligning with our motto, we established a program called “FPC Finest," where we acknowledge individuals for their standout accomplishments and hard work, both professionally and personally. To publicly recognize their success, we create a personalized digital certificate and highlight them in front of their peers in the FPC system as well as publicly on our social media platforms.

We have also implemented company-wide activities to boost morale. We recently hosted a Pay it Forward event for charity to raise money for No Kid Hungry. Our FPC network of over 65 owners and 150 recruiters broke up into teams of people they didn’t know well and participated in a virtual trivia game. A donation was made in the winning team’s name. Although we were not physically together, we were able to connect through our screens to laugh together and feel a sense of camaraderie.

Lastly, we put a lot of effort into creating content about our industry and the world of work and always make sure to reach out to employees of the FPC system to get their perspectives and use their quotes in our press releases to highlight them as thought leaders. It truly gives them a sense of pride about the company they work for and makes them feel like valued team members. Follow FPC National on Twitter & LinkedIn.

 Collage of web designs created by PaperStreet.
From organizing chess clubs and movie clubs to weekly trivia events, Paper Street has found fun ways for its employees to stay connected while working remotely. — PaperStreet

Peter Boyd, general guru & CEO, PaperStreet Web Design

Who we are: An award-winning marketing agency based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, specializing in digital marketing and web design services for law firms.

Everyone wants to be compensated well with salary, bonuses, healthcare, IRA plan, sick/vacation days and flex time. We have that covered. At the same time, recognition, engagement and fun activities are a great way to build a team. For PaperStreet, we offer weekly “cool” meetings whereby we nominate anything interesting and give thanks to team members for help that past week. It is nice to be thanked and recognized. The more thanks you get, the more chances you have to win the monthly raffle.

We now offer clubs for team members to join, including a chess club, coffee club and movie club that meet monthly. It is great to talk with team members who you usually don’t work with about your favorite movies, try to beat them in chess or just talk. We also offer Friday afternoon trivia, give birthday cards/gifts, hold training and team events (though virtual now) and hope to have our annual company gathering and holiday party later this year. We fly everyone in for a few days and work as a team, then have a party to celebrate. This past year we had to do gift boxes with PaperStreet branded T-shirts, masks, cups, journals and other tokens of appreciation. Finally, when we were in the office, we offered free beverages, monthly events and video games during lunches. Follow PaperStreet on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest & YouTube.

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Published March 11, 2021