Personal Finance

You won't believe the perks some companies are offering

Lucy Maher, special to Updated by Marguerite Ward, special to

Reap the Benefits

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Can't find time to have your car washed? Or to get your prescription drugs filled? Employees at a growing number of companies are relying on their employers to handle those errands.

Perks like these are part of a growing list of incentives companies are providing to supplement standard benefits like health insurance in an effort to help attract and retain employees. San Francisco-based Genentech's standard suite of benefits, for example, includes a concierge service that offers on-site haircuts and car washes. St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M's employees have access to an on-site pharmacy.

And perks aren't limited to on-demand services. Earlier this month, it was reported that private equity firm KKR not only offers 16 weeks of paid parental leave, as of May, but will also pay for new parents to bring their baby and a nanny along on business trips for the first year. Netflix also announced this month that it will start offering "unlimited" paid leave for employees during their first year as new parents, joining other tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple with generous parental leave policies. And in March, Vodafone introduced a mandatory minimum maternity policy that requires all 30 of its globally operating companies to offer at least 16 weeks of fully paid leave to expectant mothers. For the first six months after returning from leave, new moms will also receive full pay for 30-hour weeks.

They've got plenty of financial incentive to offer such perks: The cost of replacing an employee can be as high as 90 to 200 percent of that employee's annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. And there is evidence that perks can boost loyalty. In a recent survey by MetLife, half of employees said benefits are an "important reason" they remain with their employer.

From mobile manicures to unlimited time off, here are some of the more unusual work perks companies have added.

By Lucy Maher, special to Updated by staff on August 20, 2015.

Maternity and paternity leave

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Netflix recently announced unlimited maternity and paternity leave for the first year after child birth or adoption, a huge perk for the streaming company's employees.

"We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We'll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay," a blog post by the company said.

One day after Netflix announced their maternity and paternity policy, Microsoft said it would start providing leave for moms and dads to 12 weeks, four of which are paid, eight of which are unpaid. Birth mothers can also earn an additional eight weeks of paid "maternity disability leave," according to the company's online statement.

"When I look at how rapidly the traditional workplace is changing, not just at Microsoft, but throughout business in general, I see a tremendous opportunity for companies to put a stake in the ground around what they believe in and what kind of culture they want to build together with employees," said Kathleen Hogan, executive vice president, human resources in the statement.

Increased 401 (k) matching and paid holidays were also announced.

"As we ask our employees to bring their 'A' game to work every day to achieve our mission, we believe it's our responsibility to create an environment where people can do their best work," Hogan continued.

The U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave or paternity leave, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Barack Obama pointed this out in his 2015 State of the Union address.

KKR lets nannies fly free

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Not to be outdone in the maternity and paternity perks department, private equity firm KKR unveiled a different approach offering to help ensure employees have appropriate child care on business trips.

On top of the company's primary policy, which includes 16 weeks of fully paid leave for new parents, KKR announced in May that it would also help cover the costs for a traveling secondary caregiver or nanny's expenses. Travel, hotel fees and meals for a secondary caregiver would all be covered for up to a year following the child's birth, a KKR spokeswoman said.

However, the policy stops short of covering the cost of a nanny.

Encouraging diversity

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Intel recently announced that it is doubling funds to its referral bonus program for new hires from underrepresented groups—women, people of color and veterans. Current employees will be eligible for up to $4,000 if their recruit gets hired.

"Intel is committed to increase the diversity of our workforce," Intel said in a statement. "We are currently offering our employees an additional incentive to help us attract diverse qualified candidates in a competitive environment for talent."

Women comprised of only one fifth of the California-based computer chip company, according to the Intel's 2014 data on diversity.

Concierge services

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Don't be surprised if a mobile farmers market truck pulls up outside your office at lunchtime. It's just one of many emerging "lifestyle" perks cropping up across the country. For example, companies with time-strapped workers can tap Manicube to provide $15, 15-minute conference-room manicures. SC Johnson's Concierge Service returns employees' library books and picks up their dry cleaning. In place at only 3 percent of U.S. workplaces, these types of "concierge" perks are most attractive to executive-level employees who have high demands on their time, said Evren Esen, director of survey programs at the Society for Human Resource Management.

Wellness programs

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By now, on-site fitness centers are de rigueur, with 20 percent of employers offering them to employees and one-third subsidizing or reimbursing off-site fitness memberships, according to the society's 2014 employee benefits report. A new perk in the category? On-site medical clinics. About 7 percent of employers now offer them, according to the society.

Some companies are taking wellness a step further by offering on-site pharmacies, weight management consulting and smoking cessation programs. Others are extending reduced-rate gym membership programs to family members. "Wellness is a benefit that all employees can benefit from," Esen said. And it's linked with decreased health-care costs. "If your employees are healthier, they're not going to be utilizing as many health-care dollars," she said. The catch: Employees have to be engaged enough to stay with the company for awhile since it often takes three to five years before changes in health-care costs become apparent, she added.

Discounted tickets

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All work and no play make employees less inclined to stay. So firms are piling on perks aimed at getting employees, and their families, out the door with discounted tickets to theme parks, museums, even ski resorts. The society reports that 30 percent offer discounted ticket services, and 22 percent give employees company-bought tickets.

Google puts such a premium on seeing the world that it offers its employees travel insurance on personal vacations. Kohl's partners with employee discount program Working Advantage to offer such off-site perks as discounts at theme parks like Busch Gardens, Sea World and Six Flags, lower-priced sporting event and movie tickets, and discounts at restaurants.

Transportation subsidies

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Some employees in urban areas are now getting mass transit discounts, while those in suburban and rural areas may benefit from parking and gas benefits. One in 10 workplaces now offer transit subsidies and 3 percent offer carpooling subsidies, according to the society. San Jose, California-based Adobe Systems, for example, offers such commuter-related benefits as a $100 monthly van pool subsidy, shuttle services to and from select train stations, an emergency ride home program and secure bike parking and a $20-a-month transit subsidy.

Matching gifts

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Got a charity you work tirelessly for? Check with your HR department to see if your employer will donate to your cause. A third of companies have matching gift programs through which they give a certain amount for every dollar an employee raises or every hour she (or he) volunteers, according to the society. Some also offer their employees paid time off for their volunteering efforts.

Unlimited time off

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Virgin's Richard Branson recently tweeted that his company was toying with offering employees unlimited time off. If he did, the company would join Netflix, Gilt Groupe, Motley Fool and others in allowing employees unrestricted vacation days. "It's not that employees would take as much time off as they wanted," said Esen. "It's more about giving them the flexibility that if they need to take more than that two weeks or three weeks, they have the opportunity to do so."

Only 1 to 2 percent of organizations now offer this, added Esen, and for good reason. "This is a very difficult one to navigate," she said. "Even if companies offer it, they realize that they do need to have some sort of guidance or parameters around it. It needs to be unlimited vacation if you have achieved your work goals. There needs to be some link to performance if it is to be successful."