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Employee benefits: Rising costs will eat into your paycheck

Businesses are restoring employee benefits eliminated during the recession. But other employee benefits are going to cost workers extra.

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That trend seems likely to continue. For instance, in its 2011 survey, consulting firm Aon Hewitt found that, while em-ployers still bear most of the cost of insurance, they are accelerating cost-shifting. "There's no evidence to suggest that the cost-shifting is temporary," says Mr. Covill of Mercer. "I think staying the current course will be as good as you'll get" on benefits.

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All the while, some organizations are reclassifying as "voluntary" certain benefits – such as vision or dental care – that they once paid for. So employees who want these benefits, or any new ones added to the roster, must pay for them partially or fully.

Such offerings can still be attractive: Buying them at an employer-sponsored group rate can save employees money. In a study of employee benefits trends, insurance giant MetLife found that 61 percent of employees value voluntary benefits as a way to obtain perks that meet their personal needs.

Firms still can be creative with their benefits dollars., an 11-employee online directory firm based in San Francisco, can't compete for talent with the likes of Google and Facebook on salary, says cofounder Sander Daniels. It does offer health-care coverage, transportation cost benefits, and in-house exercise equipment, but no 401(k) retirement plan.

"So we introduced a perk that everyone loves," Mr. Daniels says. Five days a week for lunch and three nights a week for dinner, employees can sit down to a meal prepared by a chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. "At our Wednesday night dinners, anyone can invite any guests they want."

The cost to the Thumbtack staff: zero. The cost to the company: probably less than the cost of having to replace workers recruited away.


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