One Minnesota company offers free tattoos, waxing as part of

Anytime Fitness offers competitive pay packages to its corporate employees. However, the Woodbury-based company has found it also must offer rich — and creative — benefits.

So its 350 headquarters workers now receive unlimited mental health counseling for themselves and their families. Plus they get Fridays off during the summer, free tattoos, waxing and gym memberships. And, if employees read a book and turn in a report to executives, they can get $50 to $200.

In Minnetonka, family-owned King Technology will soon spend more than $1 million buying and renovating a nearby building so the pool and spa water treatment company’s 70 workers can have more space, adjustable desks, a bigger fitness center, airy windows, access to Lone Lake Park and for the first time a food market.

In Alexandria, Minn., the growing aluminum extrusion firm Alexandria Industries has 60 job openings. In April, the company boosted factory wages by $2 an hour. It also recently cut employee medical premiums nearly in half and offered its 561 workers $2,000 “referral bonuses” for each new hire they bring to the company.

“There is more. We’ve thrown the book at this,” said spokeswoman Patty Hoffman, whose company faced a tight workforce before the pandemic and an even more competitive landscape now.

Like Alexandria Industries and Anytime Fitness, more employers are pressing the accelerator on wage hikes and strong benefits designed to retain workers and woo new ones as they grapple with the Great Resignation, historically low unemployment and high job vacancies that recently breached a record 214,000 positions in Minnesota.

Last week, employment services firm Robert Half Inc. found that 41% of workers in Minneapolis plan to look for a new job. In Minnesota — and nationally — labor officials report there are now two job openings for every unemployed person.

“It’s just crazy” and it puts a lot of pressure on employers, said Jim Link, chief human resources officer of the 316,000-member Society for Human Resource Management.

Minnesota employers have raised wages by 3.4%, on average, over the past year, the state said last week. They also are adding more benefit perks, flexible work options and a new category of “worker lifestyle” enhancements so people will join and stay on board, Link said.

Some perks even extend to pets.

“I don’t think there is a business in Minnesota today that is not rethinking every element of what they offer an employee to make themselves an attractive place to work,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. “Workers are in the driver’s seat.”

SHRM found that workers want higher raises than many employers can afford. Employers are trying to make up the difference with benefit enhancements and lifestyle perks such as flexible hours and help with elder or child care, Link said.

Chuck Runyon, CEO and co-founder of Anytime Fitness’ parent firm Self Esteem Brands, said his company has consistently had a strong culture.

“Now we are going to take it to another level,” he said. “Employees have more leverage than they ever had before. They can literally choose to work anywhere.”

And employers can choose how they respond to the pressures. Runyon chooses to use it as inspiration for a better workplace.

At Anytime Fitness, many of its franchised gyms were shut down temporarily in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. The parent company saw revenue plunge nearly 30% and laid off 80 workers.

The business recovered, staff was rehired and annual revenue rebounded to $2 billion. But its recovery coincided with what people are calling the Great Resignation, as a crunch for workers means its harder to both keep and hire staff.

Self Esteem Brands hired 44 workers this year and needs about 35 more by the end of the year, Runyon estimates. It has put aside roughly 1% of net revenue for the wellness, personal and professional development of its 700 employees, half of whom work in Woodbury.

“We don’t see it as a cost or expense. At the end of the day, we see this as an investment in our team that grows the business. If they are growing, the business will grow,” Runyon said.

Benefits include subsidizing college expenses, offering free wellness classes, nutrition coaching and mental health counseling in addition to health insurance and a 401(k) match.

But Runyon said he believes that smaller things can also make a big difference. The book report is to motivate workers to keep learning. And then there’s the free wellness coaching, the tattoos, the waxing.

“It’s just those little things that show, ‘We want you to grow. We care about you, and we want to nudge you to your best performance,'” Runyon said.

Like many corporations, Self Esteem Brands now offers hybrid work options, with office workers on campus two days a week. It also has no meetings on Wednesdays so employees can focus on deep-thought projects. It also has no work Fridays for the summer.

Other employers have their own recipe to retain workers. Installed Building Products, like several corporations, is offering subsidized emergency child care services.

King Technology started offering workers subsidized “Legal Shield” and identification theft protection services during the pandemic and decided that it would greatly expand its fitness center in its new building in Minnetonka, said co-owner Alex King.

The firm also brings in chair massage services and is shifting to a “Flex Hours” program so workers can take off every other Friday.

“There are things we are investing in that are very important and that are helping get people in the door. But ultimately this is about our vision and mission and our enriching lives daily,” King said.

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