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When you rattle off your employee-benefit offerings to prospective employees, what raises their eyebrows?

It's probably not the basics: People have come to expect health/life/dental, 401(k), etc. What really catches a prospect's attention are the creative perks that prove your organization has their interests in minds.

To help start the ball rolling, here are 10 examples of inspired, real-life benefit programs:

1. Marital counseling. The founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants has been married for more than 50 years and wants his employees to be as blissfully bonded. So, he offers premarital and marital counseling to headquarters employees and franchise owners. The company believes marital strife can damage employees' performance, so this perk aims to help employees improve communication before domestic problems affect work.

2. Tell employees to take a hike. A Michigan auto supplier, Freudenberg-NOK, launched a Walk for Wellness program that rewards employees for reaching walking and other exercise goals. After hitting 20-, 50- and 100-mile increments, employees receive prizes.

3. Summer camp fair for parents. Each spring, the HR department at AstraZeneca helps employees line up summer camps for their kids by hosting a "camp fair." The Delaware-based pharmaceutical company invites 35 to 40 local camps of all types. Parents love the fair because it saves time in camp planning. Find camps in your area at www.acacamps.org, www.summercamp.org or www.kidscamps.com.

4. Adoption support group. In-house publicity about the SAS Institute's new financial benefits for adopting parents sparked lots of questions from would-be parents about the adoption process. The result: an adoption mentor program, monthly support meetings and an adoption resource book created from employees' comments.

5. Mandatory sabbaticals. Employees who celebrate their seventh anniversary at ServiceNet, a Jeffersonville, Ind., warranty-service company, don't get lapel pins. Salaried workers receive a paid, five-week sabbatical, while the company requires nonexempt employees to take a three-week paid break. Result: ServiceNet manages to retain about 40 percent of its call-center employees in an industry that suffers 100 percent turnover.

6. Housing grants shrink employee commutes. Employees at Johns Hopkins University can take advantage of $2,000 grants to help buy homes close to the university's Baltimore campus. In the private-public partnership, the city ponies up $1,000 and the employer matches it.

7. Learning Center offers free classes, career help. Employees at Choice Hotels' headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., can take advantage of the company's Learning Center, a high-tech training facility that offers about 50 classes a year in computer and supervisory skills, time management, communication, writing and decision-making.

8. Part-timers earn full-time benefits. Starting this year, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) began offering some full-time benefits to their part-time employees to help lure and retain employees. The company offers health coverage up to $10,000 a year with a $150 deductible. REI subsidizes 60 percent of the cost. Part-timers also can enroll in a dental program for $9 per pay period.

9. Promoting exercise with ‘virtual' race. Dozens of Arkansas employers participated in a 13-week virtual race across the state. In the Arkansas Fitness Challenge, employees charted their exercise progress and "moved" to another city each time they logged 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. (Access a free employer contest kit at www.arkbluecross.com/employers/efck.aspx.)

10. Hiring relatives creates friendly culture. Nepotism doesn't raise eyebrows at medical-billing service provider MBI Solutions. In fact, the Kettering, Ohio-based company actively recruits employees' relatives to create a family-friendly atmosphere and improve retention. More than a dozen workers have family on staff.  

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