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Starkey Hearing initially struggled to staff its new distribution center when it opened two years ago.

"We literally were churning through [candidates]. We hired five workers to get one to stick," said Shelli McGuire, Starkey's vice president of Total Rewards.

The unusually high turnover, which companies throughout the U.S. have seen in the past two years, led the Eden Prairie-based hearing aid manufacturer to make changes. It added a signing bonus and a bunch of new benefits.

Other Minnesota companies also added benefits to improve recruitment — and retention — of employees.

"Everyone has medical and dental and vision and life [insurance]. That's never going to attract a candidate by itself," McGuire said.

Starkey added nurses and physician's assistants to its onsite wellness center. It added more mental health benefits, McGuire recently shared with a room of Minnesota human resources managers. Last month, for good measure, it added onsite mammograms to the list of company perks.

The company also subsidizes its cafeteria, offering $5 meals, and it highlighted the hearing-aid fittings it offers to employees and family members, she said.

Plus, with workers getting older, Starkey is allowing workers who are considering retirement to switch to a 20-hour work week while keeping health insurance benefits.

With worker shortages so high, "you've just got to be creative," McGuire said.

The pressure is on. Minnesota's unemployment rate is a staggeringly low 2.1% and stubbornly high turnover persists. Last month, a Mercer study found that 36% of U.S. employees want to leave their jobs.

So, despite recent headlines of layoffs at Amazon, Twitter, Meta and C.H. Robinson, "most employers are still dealing with the aftermath of the 'Great Resignation' and looking to retain their employees while attracting new ones," said Karen Burke, a knowledge adviser with the 300,000-member Society for Human Resource Management.

That has led to a new layer of benefits, she said.

"Companies used to brag about their health and retirement benefits, but those have become table stakes," Burke said. "If an organization is going to be competitive as an employer, it must go well beyond the traditional benefits package."

For 2023, new benefits topping surveys include more pay, more family time, flexible or remote work options and new mental health services, Burke said.

Some firms go further, with employee nap rooms, paying off student loans, free personal training, weeklong spa or resort stays, unlimited paid leave, "paw-ternity" leave for workers with pets and fertility benefits, Burke said.

Maplewood-based 3M Co. and the Maple Plain-based custom manufacturer Protolabs are a few of the Minnesota firms bolstering infertility coverage, adding egg freezing to their benefits. 3M also added a $5,000 pregnancy surrogacy benefit.

A good number of employers looked at their reproductive health benefits after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ended a woman's constitutional right to an abortion and moved such decisions to the states.

Medtronic, 3M, Amazon, Apple, Wells Fargo and other employers immediately expanded their benefit packages to cover out-of-state abortion travel expenses. That benefit will stay in 2023, executives noted.

New training opportunities also are on the table.

"One of the biggest trends I am hearing about is professional development opportunities," said Briana Gronwall, president of SHRM's Minnesota chapter of human resource pros. Bosses are increasingly paying for workers' books, webinars, conferences, learning management systems and tuition.

"The concept of upskilling is huge right now," Gronwall said. "This is a win, win and really helps with retention."

Employee feedback has spurred other benefit additions.

Next month, Marvin Windows manufacturing workers in Warroad and Eagan get a week off with pay between Christmas and New Year's Day for the first time, said CEO Paul Marvin.

For 2023, the company is increasing paid time off, giving workers a floating holiday for their birthdays and adding days off for milestone work anniversaries, said Kathleen Brenk, the company's senior director of human resources and talent. "It's definitely seen as a benefit. Time matters."

But so does money. Average pay jumped 8% this year, and Marvin just ditched its gym-focused wellness program to pilot a "Well-being Your Way" perk. It reimburses workers up to $300 a year for nearly anything that "makes them feel well," Brenk said.

Workers used the cash to buy massage chairs, spa treatments, prepared meals and even to hire a housekeeper.

The goal is to let workers "live a little bit more well" and cut some of the stress of daily life, Brenk said.

3M added virtual benefits to its health package. Besides virtual medical appointments, therapy for teens and remote physical therapy are additions.

For the physical therapy, workers "get wearable sensors that give you feedback via an app that helps guide you through stretches and exercises. It's pretty cool," said 3M spokesman Tim Post. "Virtual care really took off during COVID-19" and is expanding.

The additions were made, Post said, without increasing premiums for medical, dental and vision plans.

"We hope that helps 3M employees as they're dealing with inflation and rising prices elsewhere," he said. "As you might guess, feedback from 3M-ers so far has been overwhelmingly positive."

The Sioux Falls, S.D.-based high-speed internet provider Midco Communications similarly tweaked its health care offerings. Come January, it is giving 1,900 Midwestern workers discounted prescriptions through Amazon Pharmacy and free virtual physical therapy services for achy backs and joints through a group called Hinge Health.

Midco also boosted its mental health services via a virtual platform called Learn to Live and will newly offer free help for employees with hypertension or diabetes through a program called Omada.

Midco Total Rewards program director Sharon Koenig said the benefits should "help our team members thrive. When that happens … our business thrives, too."

Protolabs has added team-building as well, including chili cookoffs, tree plantings, escape room parties and "Movember." It also launched a new leader-mentorship program for employees and announced it will extend one unique pandemic benefit into the new year.

Come January, workers can continue to buy and sell their vacation days, officials said.

With inflation jolting prices for food, gas and heating, some workers liked being able to turn vacation days into cash, so the benefit will stick around, said Will Martin, spokesman for Protolabs.

"It's a chance for employees to add extra dollars into their pocket," he said.