7 Creative Compensation Ideas Your Boss Will Approve

Lars Lofgren Avatar
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Are you looking for out-of-the-box compensation ideas for the employees on your team? We’ve got a list for you. 

Best of all, each idea on our list has the potential to deliver a return on investment, improve workplace morale, or offer another clear benefit your boss will love. 

Let’s get started! 

1. Paid Voting Time 

As someone who deals with laws and regulations every day, I think voting for the people who make those laws is really important. 

But voting can take a significant amount of time depending on where you live. Voting lines often snake out onto hot sidewalks. Employees are less likely to vote when they have to do it before or after work. 

Who isn’t exhausted early in the morning or after a long workday? Standing in line for hours to vote can feel like the least enticing thing to do.

That’s why we give Election Day off as a paid holiday, though employees can use the holiday on a different day if their state or local elections take place on another day. They just have to give their manager a heads-up. 

If you can’t give an entire day off, consider giving part of the day off or allowing employees to work from home that day to provide flexibility. 

2. Referral Program 

Your employees can make excellent ambassadors for your company. 

Have you cultivated a respectful, rewarding, and productive workplace culture? Then they’re already telling friends how cool their job is. 

So why not set up an employee referral program?  

In a nutshell, a referral program gives your employees incentives to refer qualified candidates to your HR department. It costs a lot less money to identify leads this way than it does to hire a full-time recruiter. 

And your employees are more trustworthy as recruiters, anyway. Unlike recruiters hired for the sole purpose of attracting talent, your on-the-ground employees know the ins and outs of your company. 

There’s trust there, too. The employee’s friends and acquaintances know your employee would only tell them to apply if the job was a great gig. 

Best of all, research has shown that employees hired through a referral program stay with a company longer than recruited employees. 

Referral programs can benefit almost any type of business, from the biggest corporations to the tiniest startups. They’re a bigger boon to SMBs because of how much money they save these companies, which tend to have smaller budgets than the Amazons and Microsofts of the world. 

3. Gainsharing 

One of the reasons I think gainsharing is so valuable is that it’s a clear team effort. In gainsharing, the whole team works together to increase productivity and/or performance in a way that clearly saves the company money. 

Instead of holding back the saved cash, the company splits the savings and pays the money out to the whole team. 

Here’s how it works. 

Gainsharing: An Example 

Abcde Family Medicine has a panel of about 2,500 patients. To make enough profit to keep the lights on at the family practice, each patient would need to visit one of the three practicing doctors an average of three times per year. Many of the patients come in once or twice for help treating various conditions. 

But patients aren’t taking advantage of the yearly wellness visit that’s recommended by most healthcare professionals. These visits are fully covered in almost every patient’s insurance plan, too!

Yet Abcde Family Medicine has realized something important. Of their 2,500-member patient panel, 75% schedule yearly wellness appointments in Year A. But then, roughly 40% of those patients canceled their appointments or failed to show up. 

We’ll say the practice receives $200 from insurance for each wellness visit. If everyone on the patient panel made and kept a yearly wellness appointment—the ideal scenario from both a health and a profit perspective—Abcde Family Medicine would make $500,000. Just from wellness visits. 

If the 75% (1,825 patients) who did make appointments in Year A had kept them 100% of the time, Abcde Family Medicine would have made $375,000 from wellness checkups. 

But since 40% of those patients canceled or didn’t show up, Abcde only made $225,000.

That’s a $150,000 gap. 

Solving the Problem

The practice manager rounds up the nurse, the three doctors, the two receptionists, and the three medical technicians. She explains the problem. The team brainstorms together to think of ways to solve it. They realize that people are missing appointments because they forgot about the appointment and/or took advantage of Abcde’s generous three-strike policy.

The team learns that other practices have improved patient attendance with an automatic notification system that sends three reminder texts, which are sent: 

  • 1 week before the appointment
  • 2 days before the appointment
  • 2 hours before the appointment

They also realize that since they don’t have a waitlist, they have a hard time filling the appointment slots left empty when people cancel. 

So together, they come up with a plan for Year B: 

  • Reminders: They will provide automatic reminders for each patient either by email, text, or phone call—whatever the patient prefers
  • Fees: Abcde Family Medicine will charge a $50 fee for no-shows or cancellations less than 4 hours out from an appointment time
  • Waitlist: When new appointments are made for tests, checkups, and illnesses, the receptionists will ask patients if they would like to be put on a waitlist in case an earlier date becomes available

The team hopes to decrease wellness check cancellations and blank appointment slots by 30%, which would earn them an additional $105,000. Each of the 10 employees at ABCDE would work together to inform patients of the changes, encourage them to attend wellness visits and educate them on the importance of preventative health. 

And if they manage to earn that extra $105,000, they would split it 10 ways for a $10,500 bonus per person. 

So the team puts the new policy in writing and sends an email to all customers to inform them of the changes. They also post the changes throughout the office and ask each patient if they have read or learned of the new policy in the weeks leading up to the official effective date. 

Beginning on January 15 in Year B, each patient receives a hard copy of the policy to sign before their appointment. 

Success or Failure? 

At the end of Year B, the team crunches the numbers and is shocked—and delighted!—when they realize their joint efforts resulted in: 

  • 2,000 patients making wellness appointments (80% of the panel)

Of these, there were only 100 no-shows and 100 on-time cancellations, resulting in $5,000 in collected no-show fees. Many of the on-time cancellations were filled by the waitlist.

In the end, only 10% of the wellness appointments were canceled, but the practice still earned $5,000 in no-show fees. 

The team hit its target of decreasing no-shows and cancellations by 30%. But they also increased wellness visits by 5%, and overall, their efforts gave them a total of $365,000 for wellness visits in Year B, a $140,000 increase from Year A. 

Each team member then gets a beautiful, $14,000 addition to their end-of-the-year paycheck. 

Not only do the three doctor-owners of Abcde Family Medicine benefit, but so do all the employees who worked hard during the year. And the patients benefit, too, because they’re actually attending those critical preventative care appointments. 

Gainsharing really can be a win for everyone. 

4. Down Payment Loans  

It’s no secret that buying a home for the first time is becoming less and less feasible for many Americans. Renting costs an increasingly ridiculous amount, too. Yet secure and affordable housing is crucial for everyone. 

Without it, your employees will face a rough time getting to work. 

That’s why more and more companies are establishing employer-assisted housing (EAH) programs. 

The most common EAH programs offer: 

  • Down payment grants
  • Down payment loans, which are typically forgiven after a set period of time
  • Rental subsidies 

We’re focusing on down payment loans because they offer the most benefit to your company. 

How does it work, you ask? We’ll say Company A offers a down payment loan program to any employee who has worked for your company for at least one year. 

The terms of the loan are simple. 

First, an employee fills out an application form that helps gauge their interest in staying with your company for at least five years—the term of the loan. Your HR team then approves the application and the employee gets approved for a mortgage. 

Once they put an offer in on a house, the employee signs a contract agreeing to work with your company for five years in exchange for the no-interest loan. Each year, $4,000 of the loan will be forgiven.  

If the employee leaves after four years, they would owe your company $4,000. 

This benefit is an excellent way to provide compensation for families who want to put down roots. Or individuals who’d like to live in your area for at least five years before moving on to a new adventure. 

Your employee gets a huge bonus in the form of a new home. You get to keep the employee on for five years—and hopefully more—avoiding costly levels of turnover.

Unlike adding to an employee’s direct compensation, a down payment loan is a one-time lump sum you pay out. But it offers lasting rewards to both you and your employees. 

5. Company Retreats

Last winter, I stopped by a favorite coffee shop only to learn it was closed for the week. 


Because the whole team had gone on a company vacation to Hawaii. 

If you think your boss would never spend money on something that frivolous, show her the clear benefits of taking a company-wide trip, or retreat. Because there’s a lot of them. 

First, company-wide trips are tax-deductible as long as you offer them as a fringe benefit—and form of compensation—available to everyone. 

And you don’t have to make your team work during the trip, either. As long as you report the compensation on each employee’s W-2, you can deduct the cost of “entertainment, amusement, recreation, or a facility used in connection with such activity,” according to the IRS

There’s another big benefit to offering company-wide trips or retreats, and it’s the bonding experience your team will enjoy. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, company-wide retreats boost morale, decrease feelings of loneliness, and improve your company culture

In-person employees are often excited to travel outside the office walls with their peers and friends from work. Especially if it’s also the cold and dreary winter and you’re all headed somewhere warm. 

If you operate a remote or hybrid workplace, getting to know your team during dedicated, in-person leisure time can be a bright spot on everyone’s yearly calendar. 

6. Mental Health Days

Sure, you probably already offer PTO and sick leave. Employees are used to requesting PTO so they can go on vacation. Or calling in sick when they wake up with a stomach virus. 

But what if the employee has a panic attack that keeps him up half the night, and he needs a day to recharge? He might feel too guilty to claim a sick day, and he might not want to use his PTO hours to recover. 

Or what if a parent had an exceptionally terrible evening full of toddler meltdowns and screaming and she wanted to take a mental health day to reconnect with her child? She might not want to use PTO for that—her family’s Hawaii vacation is coming up soon, after all. And she’s not technically sick.

But she could definitely use a mental health day.

Now more than ever before, companies are recognizing the need to honor their employees’ humanity. And protecting mental health is a big part of that. Sure, meditation apps are cool. But they’re not a replacement for taking a break after a particularly rotten day, mental-health-wise. 

So, what’s the return on investment here? There’s more than you think:

  • Employee retention: Fewer people than ever are willing to stay on at jobs that they feel are bad for their mental health. You can spend less on recruiting, hiring, and training employees by caring for the mental health needs of the employees you have right now. 
  • Productivity and performance: Have you ever had a panic attack or stress-induced breakdown and forced yourself to go to work the next day? How much did you actually get done? My guess is not much. The same goes for your employees. 
  • Morale: Employees who feel content, supported, and respected in their humanity will truly enjoy their jobs. And they’ll probably tell their friends on Instagram and in real life about their amazing employer, which can bring you positive publicity—and tie right into your referral program.

Take a look at your payroll budget. Can you afford to give employees one mental health day per month? Or perhaps six mental health days per year? Or even one wellness hour every week? 

Play around with different scenarios and build a policy around the one that fits your company best. 

Just remember—mental health days should be no-questions-asked. All an employee should have to say is, “Hey, I need to use my mental health day today.” 

No judgment, no pressure, no sweat. When that employee returns to the office, they’re more likely to feel refreshed and ready to work than if they’d pushed through their emotional discomfort. 

7. House Cleaning Services 

Since we’re on the topic of mental health, let’s talk about the stress of trying to keep a house somewhat sanitary while also trying to work full-time in a separate office. In many cases, trying to work full-time while also being a partner, parent, or caregiver. 

There just isn’t always time for a good deep-cleaning session. Or the motivation. 

And if your employees work from home, a dirty house can be distracting at best and distressing at worst. Some employees might not mind too much, but others might want to ditch their home office to deep-clean the house. 

Either way, messy homes can limit your employees’ performance and make them feel stressed. That’s why a house cleaning benefit can be a fantastic perk that improves your employees’ productivity and mental health. 

Consider paying all or part of a monthly housecleaning service. Depending on where you live, house cleaning costs about $200 to $400 per session. 

That’s just $2,400 to $4,800 a year per employee. 

Not so bad, right? Even if you can’t swing the full cost, paying $100 toward the price of a house-cleaning session every month can make a big difference in your employees’ stress levels and productivity—and therefore your revenue. 

Plus, the cost can count as a fringe benefit on your end. Hello, tax deductions!

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