Pet insurance, at-your-desk meditation services, jewelry discounts and funeral planning — from the quirky to the somber, workplaces are providing a range of unique benefits in 2012.
The options come as many firms try to placate employees frustrated by pay cuts, heavy workloads, high health insurance costs and reduced 401(k) matches.
"Companies are trying to have it feel like it's not one big take-away," said John Bremen, a managing director at employer consultancy Towers Watson. "They are trying to find ways to appeal to the workforce."
Many voluntary benefits — such as reduced-price computers and pet insurance due to group-buying discounts — won't gouge a corporate budget.
"On the employer side, there's a recognition that they can't always add to the benefits program in a way they have in the past," said Ronald Leopold, national medical director at MetLife . "But they want to offer employees different things and a broader set of (choices)."
Businesses are using these perks to make harried workers feel valued, as well as to help them balance personal and professional needs.
Among the many options offered: free tickets to theme parks, cellphone plan discounts and at-work massages.
Benefits at drug manufacturer Allergan include adoption assistance and auto insurance discounts. It also has a free concierge service for workers to acquire theater tickets, drop off laundry and get restaurant reservations.
Firms such as S.C. Johnson, TD Bank and Travelocity provide discounted health coverage for workers' pets through Petplan Pet Insurance. Petplan "has seen tremendous growth in this area of voluntary benefits," co-CEO Chris Ashton said. "In this struggling economy, employers are increasingly looking for low-cost options to keep their employees happy."
Yet, it can be tough to meet the needs and wants of a diverse workforce. "No one strategy is going to necessarily impact all employees equally," Leopold said. "What's good for one (employee) isn't necessarily good for the other."
For instance, many will look at the pet insurance option, and say, "You've got to be kidding me," he says. But there are employees "who will say, 'I don't care about the 401(k) plan or disability (insurance) — but pet insurance, yes!' "
This story first appeared in USA Today.