NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- How often do large employers offer free waffle breakfasts to employees?
Probably not that often, but it's something a small employer could give at minimal cost that can go a long way toward keeping morale high -- a "benefit" enhancing workplace fun, excitement and joy. That can cross over into productivity.
It's an example of a benefit raised by Derek Winn, a consultant at Business Benefits Group in Fairfax, Va.
The main thing is "to attract and retain talent," he says. "If you're not offering benefits, you're not going to find that second employee a lot of times."
Business owners should look to offer more than just health insurance -- they should offer creative, cost-effective reasons for employees to work for them, he says. But of course applicants come looking for health benefits for themselves and their families much more than they do waffle breakfasts, and offering health benefits can be scary for small business owners. The insurance is seen as costly and confusing.
That doesn't have to be the case.Owners who plan on growing a business will probably face the problem eventually anyway; once a business gets to a certain size, varying by state, owners are required to offer minimum levels of health insurance. Winn says there are "magic numbers" to group plans: Employers with just two workers are eligible for benefits plans. At 10, employers can usually take advantage of reduced rates and enhanced benefits for life insurance, disability, dental and sometimes vision. With 25 workers enrolled, employers are eligible to move to a new underwriting process in which carriers use a "group risk screener" and get rid of individual medical applications.
Winn says even businesses with just two employees can have sound, cost-effective benefits plans, and good packages need not be daunting or too costly. TheStreet offers five suggestions for small-business owners when it comes to benefits:
1. Hire a consultant.
The health insurance industry has seen major change and consolidation in recent years, including at such major players as Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth Group
"Consultants should represent all carriers and not just traditional health care, but also consumer-driven
Benefits consulting firms can help firms benchmark plans against other local businesses, as well as comply with health care reform laws.