Innovative Workplace Rewards

To differentiate themselves in the broader labor market, location or industry, organizations go “beyond the paycheck” to implement programs that employees may not have requested but know that based on organization values, demographics and types of jobs, would enhance their efforts at attraction and retention. Reward programs are uniquely selected and designed by each organization. What may be new and different to one is not that unique or innovative to another. We define total rewards to include benefits/employee services, compensation (base and incentive) and workplace opportunities that recognize and reward employee contributions (see figure at end). Total rewards contribute significantly to the employee experience. The Covid-19 pandemic caused employers to make investments in higher salaries and expanded benefits that were meaningful to employees. We should continue to expect the unexpected and develop new programs to improve job satisfaction and enhance the employee experience.

We have selected and briefly described several emerging and prevalent workplace reward programs that organizations use to attract and retain employees. By workplace, we mean that they are generally not awarded based on performance but may be differentiated by type of job or location (corporate versus field).

When selecting and designing programs the first step is to talk to employees about rewards. Listening sessions, individual meetings, focus groups and surveys are some ways to capture employee input and create a business case. An organization does not want to implement a new program that employees do not use. It must be worth the effort and cost.

Caregiving leave is time off to care for a parent or other loved one, 6 weeks is most prevalent.

Caregiving concierge or also known as child and eldercare assistance to find care or provide subsidized back up or emergency services when regular day care is not available, such as holidays, unexpected closures.

Concierge medical is healthcare coverage that provides patients with direct access to a physician for a monthly or annual fee. Concierge physicians typically have smaller patient loads than traditional physicians, which allows them to spend more time with each patient and provide more personalized care.

Discounts on company products for employees to purchase; for hotels like Hilton, bedding and related items can be bought for a discount.

Employer provided housing or subsidy in the case of high-cost areas where there is a need for employees to be close to work. Hotels may have on-site dormitories or apartments for employees, more commonly for seasonal workers.

Financial Assistance for Low-Wage Workers are payday loans that provide small-dollar loans that provide emergency assistance and are typically paid back on next payday.  Hotels offering this benefit include Hilton, Marriot, Choice Hotels, Atira Hotels and 21c Museum Hotels. Also is an emergency fund that is not paid back (Hyatt, Omni)

Financial Planning offers services or amenities supporting employees personal financial planning needs and objectives (e.g., retirement planning).

Free meals while working (Hyatt) and/or dinner reimbursement when an employee works a regular day and continues to work past 8 pm (corporate)

Health screenings, health coaches and vaccinations Screenings for biomarkers and/or coaches to support employee wellness and vaccinations, usually conducted onsite (Marriott)

Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA) also known as lifestyle benefit programs or wellness spending account are after-tax accounts funded exclusively by the employer that cover items important to employees. These individual rewards can be provided individually, but this new way of packaging them under one account, it equalizes benefits among different needs and interests, e.g., some don’t have with a include:

  • Gym memberships or discounts
  • Student loan repayment
  • Pets
  • Financial planning – IHG offers up to $250 annual reimbursement for staff financial counseling
  • College coaching
  • Stipend for home office set up
  • Identify protection
  • Subscriptions to streaming services or publications
  • Reading allowance
  • Cloud storage
  • Cell phone reimbursements
  • Legal services

Onsite services, such as dry cleaning to help busy employees manage personal needs.

Paid time off to volunteer the number of paid days available to take off from work to volunteer.

Paid grandparental leave paid time off that is offered to employees who have recently become grandparents. This type of leave can be used to help care for the new grandchild, such as by providing childcare or helping with household chores.

Paid Parking or commuter subsidies that include public transportation.

Personal classes (lunch and learns) where the company offers a class of personal interest, and it is offered during regular business hours, often health promotion related. Phased back to work for new parents with 100% pay to help parents and children adjust in place of taking vacation.

Professional development can include free access to LinkedIn learning or similar training vendor.

PTO Purchase Program allows employees to buy and sell their vacation days for compensation.

Sabbatical paid time away from work for community work or other type of developments; Hilton provides 4 weeks and employees must apply with winners selected.

Telemedicine is free or low cost for quick advice from a health care provider (Marriott)

Voluntary Benefits have expanded to provide more access and discounts to employees including home insurance, cancer insurance, pet insurance, shopping discounts and experiences such as spas, theme parks and preferred access tickets (Omni), travel opportunities and restaurants.

Wellness Applications which can include physical, mental, and financial health. They can be tied to an organization’s benefit providers or separate, such as the app Headspace for meditation. Employers are paying the subscription fees at a discounted rate per usage or may cover the total employee population. It provides customized wellness to employees while fostering a culture of overall wellness and possibly reducing benefit costs.

Total reward programs reinforce and reflect an organization’s values and culture contribute to business success. Each employee will have a different perception of value because they have different personal situations and work in different types of jobs. The benefit of having a range and variety of rewards programs is that each employee will find reward programs that they can value, and it will support attraction and retention for the organization.


Susan brings over 25 years in consulting and leadership positions in compensation and human resources to her clients. Susan advises boards of directors, executives and leaders in sales, human resources and compensation functions on the strategic application of total reward programs. She works with a broad range of public, private and non-profit clients in technology, industrial, and service sectors throughout the country in the assessment, design and implementation of sales, executive and employee compensation programs.