How about allowing employees to redistribute something that you're already giving them--such as vacation time? Kevin Harper, president of Autumn-Harp Inc., a 65-person manufacturer of skin-care products in Bristol, Vt., permits workers to donate unused vacation days to other employees who face family illnesses or personal problems. The donations can be either open or anonymous.
"It doesn't cost the company anything," says Harper, "but it gives employees some control over each other's well-being." Jim Larkin of Romac Industries has a similar program at his foundry in Sultan, Wash. When a Romac employee's son became ill with leukemia and the father ran out of sick and vacation time, Larkin says, a number of employees approached him about donating vacation time. "It was the employees' taking care of each other," Larkin explains. He reports that employees developed a sign-up form and solicited vacation donations from fellow workers. "We had so much vacation time for him that we had to cut it back."