September 24, 2012
Studies suggest that U.S. employers are behind much of the world with respect to common employee benefits such as sick time or paid maternity leave. According to a new report, they may also be missing out on some unusual benefits, too.
According to a Mercer report published earlier this month, employers outside of the U.S. are offering their workers some very unusual benefits. Take Hungary, for example, where companies are increasingly offering workers electronic vouchers called MKB SZEP cards that can be applied to hotel, catering and certain recreational costs. Though taxable, the voucher is worth U.S. $1,360 per year -- a sum that goes further in Hungary than it would in the U.S. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, employees are frequently offered home electricity generators that include the cost of maintenance.
Perhaps one of the most unusual nontraditional benefits, however, is a U.K.-based benefit coined "Botox Leave," which grants employees paid time off for cosmetic procedures from anti-wrinkle injections to haircuts, according to Life Inc.
Of course, not all of the benefits outlined in the Mercer report are as superficial as a cosmetic surgery leave. According to the Mercer report, Australia rewards long-serving employees with substantial leave in honor of their loyalty, and countries like China, Portugal and Sweden offer leave for major life events, like weddings or significant birthdays.
Perhaps one of the most notable discrepancies between employee benefits in the U.S. and those offered in other nations relates to family and maternity care. According to the Mercer Report, paid maternity and family leave is commonplace in other countries, especially Europe. In Greece, for instance, all widows or single-parent employees with children under the age of 12 are entitled to six or more days of paid leave each beyond their normal vacation or sick time. Portugal, meanwhile, offers workers who need to care for sick relatives with up to 15 days of paid leave, and that total goes up to 30 days when said family member is a child or grandchild.
Life Inc. notes that the leave situation is much different in the U.S. According to a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch, the U.S. was one of the three out of 190 countries that did not guarantee paid maternity leave that year. The reason: The U.S. traditionally leaves maternity or family leave benefits up to employers. As a result, just 11 percent of civilian workers receive such perks, and these benefits are especially sparse among lower-income and part-time workers.
According to the HRW study, the lack of paid maternity or family leave in the U.S. can put a tremendous amount of strain on the families of worker parents.
"It is challenging working full time, having young children, and trying to make it all work," HRW participant Anita R. told Human Rights Watch. "Any bit would definitely help."
The HRW has recommended that U.S. employers reevaluate their family and maternity leave practices, but change is not likely to come immediately. Of course, Life Inc. notes that some employers are finding other ways to reward employees. Yahoo, for example, recently announced it would provide its employees with the iPhone 5.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"'Botox leave' and other odd employee benefits," lifeinc.today.com, September 18, 2012, Ben Popken
"Employees benefit in unusual ways," mthink.mercer.com, September 4, 2012
"Failing its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the U.S.," hrw.org, February 2011