Budget Friendly Benefits: How Small Businesses Can Offer Big-Time Support Part Three

We discuss the bottom line—money—in the final installment of our series on budget-friendly benefits small businesses can provide their staff.


Photos by Joshua Vasko at Amelie’s French Bakery in Charlotte, N.C. 

A 2016 Aflac Workforces Report found that workers who are satisfied with their benefits program are six times more likely to stay with their employer. Sixty-one percent of employees surveyed said that they’ve made healthier choices due to their companies’ wellness programs. Nearly half of the companies participating in the survey estimated that their average productivity loss stemming from employees’ concerns over personal issues dropped to between 11 and 30 percent. Moreover, 58 percent of employees say they’re at least somewhat likely to take a job with slightly lower pay but a more robust benefits package. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It pays to take care of your people!

Opening a business means being frank about tough issues like money.

In the first two parts of this series, we explored ways that small cafes could support the wellness of their staff and how they could actively participate in the enrichment of their employees’ lives. In this third and final installment, we’ll discuss the elephant in the room: money.

First Things First

Pay your staff a living wage! Unsure of what constitutes a living wage in your state? Consult this handy online guide created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If you can’t afford to pay your staff a living wage, perhaps it’s time to reconsider how you budget for your expenses and/or structure your schedule. Employee compensation can be the single-most expensive item in your budget, but to skimp in this area can destroy your reputation, your staff morale, your employee retention, and the quality of your cafe. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that the people serving your customers and keeping your business operating can pay their bills and live good lives.

Baristas deserve a living wage, no matter how small your business is.

Financial Benefits

  • Match a percentage of your employees’ IRA (Individual Retirement Account) contributions. Unlike a 401(k) (an employer-sponsored retirement plan), an IRA is a savings account that is created and maintained by an individual. Many people working in small businesses forfeit access to a 401(k), so offering a perk like this can help to keep your best people around for longer.
  • Create a profit-sharing incentive in your business. If that sounds intimidating, consider starting small. Allow full-time employees to share a percentage of the profits of retail sales, a benefit that encourages staff to upsell slow-moving retail items while still allowing ownership to pay bills and make a living. As the company grows, increase the percentage of shared profits or expand the items that are included in the model.
  • Offer stock options. Many companies use stock plans to compensate, retain, and attract employees.
  • If the items listed above are out of the question, consider the gift of education. Partner with a bank or other reputable financial resource to host a series of financial planning and literacy classes for employees. Classes could focus on learning how to build credit, understanding practical ways to budget, discussing investment basics, and/or understanding how to build an IRA. Giving staff a resource to learn these subjects is akin to sharing the tools that can help them gain their financial freedom.
If you can’t give baristas financial incentives, there are other ways to show investment.

Alternatives to Raises

It can be difficult to refuse a deserving employee their raise when times are lean. Below are a few temporary solutions to make “not right now” less of a blow to morale. Please note: These are not intended to be used as a permanent alternative to a raise, but can act as a Band-Aid during unexpected slow seasons.

  • Did one of your baristas save the day by covering a last-minute shift? Has someone consistently been going above and beyond in the workplace? Acknowledging their efforts with a hand-written thank-you note and a small gift card can go a long way.
  • If you notice that there is a particular day/time when baristas rack in killer tips, consider assigning those high-volume tipping shifts as a perk for your top performers. Not only will you be rewarding their good behavior by giving them access to more money, but you’ll also position your best employees in the frontlines during your store’s most high-volume periods.
  • Start a “Barista of the Month” program and get creative! You can hang up a photo and small bio about your winner by the register, give them a special apron to wear while on shift, increase their daily meal tab for the month, and/or give them longer breaks than usual. Public recognition goes a long way for many people, and the “special” added treatment can help make this program more rewarding to your employees.
No matter what, you have to show your staff grace, appreciation, and rewards. To ignore the needs of your staff is disingenuous and a recipe for a tumultuous staff.

Final Thoughts

When you have smaller capital or less time to focus your energies, building an employee benefits program can seem daunting. You don’t need to have an entire HR department or a Rolodex of silent investors in order to provide your employees with the benefits they need and deserve. All it takes is a little creativity, intentionality, and small changes to make a big impact.

Diana Mnatsakanyan-Sapp is the co-creator and director of operations at Undercurrent Coffee in Charlotte, N.C. She is an SCA Specialized Instructor, Trainer, and Examiner, mother of two cats, and a semi-amateur Netflix marathoner. She can be reached at diana@undercurrentcoffee.com.

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