- Explain the various types of benefits that can be offered to employees.
As you already know, there is more to a compensation package than just pay. There are many other aspects to the creation of a good compensation package, including not only pay but incentive pay and other types of compensation. First, we will discuss benefits that are mandated by the federal government, and then we will discuss types of voluntary benefits, including both incentive pay and other types of compensation.
Mandated: Social Security and Medicare
The Social Security Act of 1935 requires employers to withdraw funds from workers’ paychecks to pay for retirement benefits. This is called a payroll tax. Please note that all organizations are legally compelled to offer this benefit. After several revisions, we now call this OASDHI or the Old Age, Survivors, Disability, and Health Insurance Program. To be insured, employees must work forty quarters, with a minimum of $1,000 earned per quarter. Once this money is put aside, anyone born after 1960 will receive benefits at 67. The OASDHI tax in 2011 is 4.2 percent on earnings for employees, up to $106,800 and 6.2 percent for the employer up to the same limits. This covers both retirement income as well as medical benefits, called Medicare, once the employee reaches retirement age.
Mandated: Unemployment Insurance and Workers’ Compensation
Unemployment insurance is required under the Social Security Act of 1935 and is also called the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA). This program’s goals include providing some lost income for employees during involuntary unemployment, helping workers find a new job, incentivizing employers to continue employment, and developing worker skills if they are laid off. The majority of this plan is funded by employers’ payroll taxes, which account for .8 percent per employee. The rate is actually 6.2 percent of compensation, but employers are allowed a tax credit for these payments, which results in the net .8 percent. With this benefit, employees receive unemployment benefits and/or job training when they are laid off or let go from a current job. However, employees would be ineligible to receive these benefits if they quit their job, as it must be involuntary. Just like Social Security, this payroll tax on employers is required.
Some employers also offer workers’ compensation benefits. If an employee is hurt on the job, he or she would receive certain benefits, such as a percentage of pay. Jobs are classified into risk levels, and obviously the higher the risk level, the higher the cost of insurance. This is not a federally mandated program, but for some occupations in some states, it may be a requirement.
While the government does not require companies to provide health-care and medical benefits to employees, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) requires companies to allow employees to extend their group coverage for up to thirty-six months. The restrictions for this plan include the requirement of a qualifying event that would mean a loss of benefits, such as termination or reduction in hours. For example, if an employee works forty hours a week with medical insurance, but the schedule is reduced to twenty hours, no longer qualifying him or her for benefits, COBRA would be an option.
Voluntary: Incentive Pay Systems
As we discussed earlier, there are several types of incentive pay systems that can be tied directly to business objectives and the employees’ ability to help the company meet those objectives. They include commissions, bonuses, profit sharing, stock options, team pay, and merit pay.
Commissions are usually calculated on the basis of a percentage and earned based on the achievement of specific targets that have been agreed upon by the employee and employer. For example, many salespeople receive commissions from each item sold. Many commission incentive plans require employees to meet a minimum level of sales, who then are paid a comission on each sale beyond the minimum. A straight commission plan is one in which the employee receives no base pay and entire pay is based on meeting sales goals. Many plans, however, include a base pay and commission for each sale. Base pay is the guaranteed salary the employee earns.
Several types of bonuses can be given to employees as incentive pay. Meeting certain company goals or successfully completing a project or other objectives can be tied to a bonus, which is a one-time payment to an employee. A spot bonus is an unplanned bonus given to an employee for meeting a certain objective. These types of bonuses do not always have to be money; they can be other forms such as a gift certificate or trip. Fifty-eight percent of WorldatWork members (WorldatWork, 2000) said that they provide spot bonuses to employees for special recognition above and beyond work performance.
Some organizations choose to reward employees financially when the organization as a whole performs well, through the use of profit sharing as an incentive. For example, if an organization has a profit-sharing program of 2 percent for employees, the employees would earn 2 percent of the overall profit of the company. As you have guessed, this can be an excellent incentive for employees to both work as a team and also monitor their own personal performance so as not to let down the team. For example, in 2011, US automaker General Motors gave one of its highest profit-sharing payouts ever. Forty-five thousand employees received $189 million in a profit-sharing bonus, which equaled about $4,200 per person (Bunkley, 2011). While profit sharing can be a great incentive, it can also be a large expense that should be carefully considered.
Employee ownership of the organization is similar to profit sharing but with a few key differences. In this type of plan, employees are granted stock options, which allow the employees to buy stock at a fixed price. Then if the stock goes up in value, the employee earns the difference between what he or she paid and the value of the stock. With this type of incentive, employees are encouraged to act in the best interest of the organization. Some plans, called employee stock ownership plans, are different from stock options, in that in these plans the employee is given stock as reward for performance.
In a smaller organization, team pay or group incentives can be popular. In this type of plan, if the group meets a specified goal, such as the increase of sales by 10 percent, the entire group receives a reward, which can consist of additional pay or bonus. Please note that this is different from individualized bonuses, discussed earlier, since the incentive is a reward for the group as opposed for the individual.
Merit pay is a pay program that links pay to how well the employee performs within the job, and it is normally tied to performance appraisals. Performance appraisals are discussed further in Chapter 10 “Managing Employee Performance”. Merit base is normally an annual pay increase tied to performance. The problem with merit pay is that it may only be received once per year, limiting incentive flexibility. To make merit pay work, performance guidelines should be predetermined. Some organizations offer cost of living annual increases (COLAs), which is not tied to merit but is given to employees as an annual inflationary increase.
Fortune 500 Focus
While the cost of health insurance premiums may be going up for most Americans, these premiums do not hit the individual employee’s pocketbook at Microsoft. Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, finds itself once again on the Fortune 500 Best Companies to Work For list in several areas, including paying for 100 percent of employees’ health-care premiums1. In addition to cutting this cost for employees, Microsoft also offers domestic partner benefits, one of the first Fortune 500 companies to do so. In 2005, Microsoft also began to offer partial coverage for transgender surgery to its existing health-care coverage, which earned Microsoft the highest attainable score by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Equality Index (GLEAM, 2011). Microsoft also promotes fitness and wellness as part of its health-care plan, providing an on-site fitness center and subsidized gym memberships.