At one time, benefits like health insurance and pension plans were a standard part of any career, with workers often staying in a job for the entirety of their working lives. In an era of small businesses and startups, however, benefits packages are considered extras, with workers sometimes forced to choose between higher pay and costly health insurance premiums or lower pay for the ability to provide great medical insurance for their families.

For a small business struggling to compete for the best talent in its industry, benefits can make the difference between winning a person with the specialized skills you need or losing that candidate to someone else. When you continually lose team members to other businesses in town, you may start to realize that saving money on benefits is actually costing your business in lost productivity. Here are a few basic benefits every small business should consider offering employees.

Paid Sick Leave

An employer's primary motive for offering paid sick leave to employees is actually a selfish one. Workforce illnesses cost American businesses an estimated $153 billion each year in lost productivity. A large part of this lost productivity is due to something called "presenteeism"--a sick employee showing up for work. Not only are unwell employees less productive, they pose a danger to all of the other employees in the workplace, especially if they're contagious.

By offering a number of paid sick days each year, you give good employees breathing space for those rare occasions when they are too ill to come in. This also helps working moms who are faced with a sick child at home occasionally. Adding on a week or two of paid vacation each year can help you remain competitive with the many other businesses who offer these basic benefits.

401(K) Match

While the days of pensions may be mostly behind us, workers still have every reason to plan for their eventual retirement. Your employees can set aside money in a savings account, but many are advised to shoot for something with a higher interest yield. As talented candidates begin entertaining offers from local businesses of all sizes, the offer of a "401(k) match" could be enough to win that potential employee over, especially for a private business that can't yet offer promising stock options.

Your small business can stand out by not only helping employees set up a 401(k) through a small business individual 401(k) plan, but by also offering to match. Even a small amount like $50 each pay period adds up over time and can show that you take an interest in your employee's future.

Life and Disability Insurance Options

A person's ability to work is one of his most valuable assets. If tragedy should strike, your employees should be able to ensure their families will be taken care of. Through employer plans, employees can access group discounts on life and disability insurance that can make it more affordable than if they'd pursued these options on their own.

If you already have a team in place, consider bringing in an expert to speak to your entire staff about the many options available. There are multiple types of life and disability insurance and the many choices can sometimes seem overwhelming to someone who doesn't fully understand them.

Affordable Health Insurance

While your small business may not be required to offer health insurance, employers with 50 employers or more will be offering it. Can you afford to lose great employees to your nearby mid-sized and large businesses who do offer healthcare coverage? Healthcare.gov details some of the Affordable Healthcare options available to small businesses in its Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace.

With the SHOP Marketplace, you'll be allowed to choose how much you'll pitch in as an employer to lower the premiums employees will pay. Employers who have fewer than 25 employees may be eligible for a tax credit that is worth as much as half of the premium costs they pay. Be sure to price several plans to make sure you're getting the best coverage and rates available.

Even though some of the best talent working for small businesses these days is young and doesn't always see the value in things like healthcare or life insurance, business owners will be better able overall to attract and retain good employees by offering those benefits. In some cases, an employer may even be able to pay slightly less in salary in exchange for giving employees the peace of mind of having healthcare and security for their families.

Published on: Sep 4, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.