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In each monthly issue, our HR Specialist: Compensation & Benefits newsletter reports on a handful of creative employee benefit and compensation programs being offered by U.S. employers. Those are published in the What’s Working column of each issue on page 7. Here’s a sampling of recent articles:

1. Marital counseling as a benefit

S. Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain, has been happily married for more than 50 years. He wants his employees to be just as blissfully bonded as he and his wife are. So, he offers premarital and marital counseling to his central office employees in Atlanta and to each of his more than 900 franchise owners.

The move goes beyond typical employee-assistance programs that only assist employees who are having difficulty in their relationships. Instead, the counseling provides practical exercises to improve communication within relationships.

The goal: Avoid this loss of productivity by providing assistance to employees before domestic problems start affecting work.

2. Cut health costs by telling employees to ‘take a hike’

A Michigan auto supplier, Freudenberg-NOK, launched a Walk for Wellness program that rewards employees forreaching walking and other exercise goals. After hitting 20-, 50- and 100-mile increments, employees receiveprizes, such as pedometers and CD players.

A World Health Organization report says physically active employees can save a company $500 per worker each year in health costs.

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3. Low-cost summer camp help

The HR department at AstraZeneca’s U.S. headquarters helps employees who are parents line up summer camps for their kids by hosting a “camp fair” every spring.

The Wilmington, Del.-based pharmaceutical company invites representatives of 35 to 40 local camps of all flavors, as well as special-needs camps.

AstraZeneca promotes the fair a couple of months in advance through broadcast e-mails to all employees and with posted notices in break rooms and department meeting sites.

Parents/employees love the fair because it saves them time and effort. It also makes them less likely to spend hours of company time researching summer camps on the Web.

4. Adoption benefit spawns in-house support group

A few years ago, the SAS Institute started reimbursing employees who adopted children up to $5,000 toward their expenses. The company also began covering adopted children as soon as the parent gained custody, rather than after all the legal wrangling was finished — a benefit popular with employees.

But the in-house publicity about the benefits sparked something work/life program manager Laura Wallace hadn’t expected: questions from would-be parents about whether it’s quicker to adopt from China or Russia, and about which local adoption lawyer is the best.

For advice, Wallace turned to the experts: SAS employees who had previously adopted children. And a companywide network was born. Wallace convened a panel of five adoptive parents and invited employees. Eighty came.

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5. Mandatory sabbaticals help retain call-center staff

Employees who celebrate their sixth anniversary at ServiceNet, a Jeffersonville, Ind., warranty-service company, don’t get lapel pins to commemorate the occasion. They receive alarm clocks. Each clock counts down the year until the company boots the employee out the door … for a mandatory paid sabbatical.

Salaried staffers are required to take off five consecutive weeks every seven years, while nonexempt workers earn a forced three-week break. Both are in addition to paid vacations.

The 10-year-old program aims to slash turnover in a business that leaves its employees prone to burnout, says Michael Neumann, manager of culture, training and enrichment.

And it’s working: ServiceNet manages to retain about 40 percent of its call center employees in an industry that suffers from 100 percent turnover.

6. Housing grants help employees reduce their commutes

While some Baltimore residents suffer through a one- or two-hour commute every morning, employees at Johns Hopkins University are sleeping a little later.

Since the university began participating in Baltimore’s “Live Near Your Work” program in 1998, about 220 employees have received $2,000 grants to buy homes close to the university’s three campuses.

The program aims to increase homeownership and stabilize neighborhoods by offering grants that defray settlement and closing costs. The city ponies up $1,000, and the employer matches it. Employers can decide which employees qualify and what restrictions to place on the grants.

When you subscribe to HR Specialist: Compensation & Benefits, you get more than just the best monthly advisory service in the business. You also receive 5 Instant Executive Briefings on today’s most challenging comp and benefits topics, including: Executive Briefings

1. FLSA Wage-and-Hour Basics Gain critical insights on minimum wage rules, FLSA record-keeping requirements, penalties for violations and more.

2. Overtime Exemptions Your guide through the tricky world of salary basis, job descriptions, duties tests and deductions for FMLA leave, among others.

3. Travel, Training and Other Tricky Pay Issues We’ll explain when you have to pay for travel and training time AND warn you about the dangers of docking the pay of exempt employees.

4. FLSA FAQs What questions are your peers asking, and what real-world dilemmas can spark wage-and-hour lawsuits? We’ll let you know.

5. FLSA Self-Audit: Exempt vs. Nonexempt It’s the eternal HR challenge: determining which employees are exempt from overtime. Are you in compliance? Test yourself with this valuable self-audit.

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