Compensation and Benefits: Considering the Whole Picture

In the competition for talented workers, business owners have a host of new options to win the best people at the right price.

Finding great employees—and holding onto them—can be one of the most challenging aspects of running a successful business, even under the most favorable circumstances. Those challenges only increase in a brisk job market when the unemployment rate drops below 4% and turnover is high across industries. That kind of environment calls for business owners to find new and innovative ways to attract and keep top employees.

The good news is that hiring great workers doesn’t always mean that smaller businesses have to match big companies dollar-for-dollar on salary. “You’ve got to be competitive, but it’s not the only thing taken into consideration. There are other factors that come into play,” says John Boydstun, a Regions Bank commercial relationship manager based outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

A significant portion of the talent pool, he says, is focused on the opportunity for career advancement, or the possibility of growing along with your company. Depending on where they are in their lives, many mid- and senior-level employees may place a greater emphasis on benefits related to retirement and health care, or on work environment, company culture and flexibility. These aspects can each play a vital role in attracting key talent.

A close look at the entire compensation and benefits picture you now offer—and the options available to you—may reveal creative strategies for building and maintaining the team you need.

Incentives for success

One increasingly popular compensation tactic is for employers to offer bonuses based on the overall performance of the company, says Lynn Chapman, a Regions Bank senior compensation partner based in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to motivating workers, tying employee bonuses to the company’s fortunes can also make it easier on your company’s bottom line, as compensation costs will fluctuate in step with revenue.

For employers, deferring bonus compensation over time is another way to use bonuses to keep essential team members on board. “This is not a new concept, but it’s something we’re seeing more of lately,” Boydstun says. “You can tie deferred compensation to company growth, and establish a formula to determine the amount to be accrued annually. The bonus amount is then paid out in full to the employee at the end of their contract, or a pre-determined time period after the contract ends.”

When equity is the answer

Offering ownership shares in your company to key employees is another way to build commitment. “Employees are more inclined to work harder for your company when they have a vested interest,” Boydstun says.

At the same time, many business owners have a substantial portion of their personal wealth tied up in their company. That can make granting partial ownership to employees a good way to diversify the risks in your own financial plan, especially as you prepare for retirement (see sidebar, “Minding Your Own Compensation Package”).

One way to offer employee equity is to give shares directly to employees as part of their performance bonuses. Another way to handle the process is to allow top employees to periodically buy some form of shares in the company.

For small businesses, offering company equity can come with complications, as their stock is likely to be relatively illiquid. Boydstun recalls one owner who strengthened his company’s stock purchase program by providing a guaranteed buyback option in case an employee one day needed to sell. With the assurance of a buyback, the employees were better able to secure the necessary loans to buy stock.

Your Regions Bank commercial relationship manager can help you assess the best ways to offer key staffers equity in your business, Boydstun adds.

Retirement and health: More than just benefits

Offering a full slate of benefits may seem costly, but they can be a difference-maker. Even with the recent robustness in the job market, most workers still feel deeply unsettled about their financial future, especially as they relate to retirement and health care.

Boydstun recalls working with one business owner in Jackson who started losing employees after a large, publicly traded company moved into the area. Although the owner couldn’t match the public company’s salaries and benefits, the simple step of adding a retirement plan helped stem the flow.

Beyond just health insurance, employers can find other ways to promote a healthy workforce, Chapman notes. “That can mean health and nutrition programs, wellness initiatives, flu shots and screening programs, or programs to help new parents transition back to work,” she says. “It could even extend to things like support for aging family members.”

Looking at lifestyle, offering flexibility

In an age of instant global communication, many employers have found they can widen their pool of prospective talent by allowing people to work remotely.

“If somebody’s excellent at what they do, employers are asking if they really need to have this person sitting in an office 10 feet down the hall,” says Ty Smith, senior vice president for Regions Private Wealth Management, in Atlanta.

Employees with young children or aging parents to care for may also be attracted to employers who recognize that people’s complex lives may demand flexible hours and days. “The focus now is, what programs do you have that support the whole employee?” Chapman adds.

An eye on tomorrow

As you consider creative ways to compensate your current leaders, don’t overlook the next generation, Chapman advises. A business that offers on-the-job training, and a path for performance-based advancement, or help with tuition, will win out when attracting driven young talent, says Chapman.

Some employers are even offering financial assistance to workers who may be struggling to pay off student debt. “With education costs skyrocketing, we’re starting to hear more about that type of incentive,” she says.

The value of goodwill and good deeds

Workers today place a premium on companies with a good culture and a strong record from an environmental, social and governance perspective, according to a 2019 Glassdoor study. Nearly 77% of respondents said they would think about the culture of a company before applying for a job, and more than half (56%) said a good culture is more important than salary in determining job satisfaction.

That’s more reason to lead with the qualities that make your company a unique and supportive place to work, the steps you’ve taken to reduce your environmental impact, and to do good things you do in the community, Chapman says. “Employees expect to know what you're doing, and where you stand on issues,” she adds. “It’s important to demonstrate that you’re transparent, and that you are proactively serving people’s needs.”

In the end, no single solution will likely answer to your company’s compensation and benefits puzzle. Your Regions Bank commercial relationship manager can help you assemble a team, including your CPA and attorney, to review every possibility. Together, you can determine what combination of salary, bonuses, benefits and other factors will help you attract—and maintain—the dynamic team your company deserves.


This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.