Many job applicants today prioritize benefits packages over salary. Glassdoor recently found that 80 percent of employees would choose additional benefits over a pay raise when given the option.

While most small businesses can't compete with tech giants like Google or Facebook on the wild benefits they offer (free cafeterias, nap pods, and on-site dry cleaning, to name a few), small business owners can attract new talent and keep current employees happy by offering a few universally-appreciated benefits.

According to a 2017 MetLife Benefits study, 72 percent of employees agree that the ability to customize their benefits packages increases company loyalty. Once companies acknowledge the importance of a robust benefits program on their employee happiness and bottom lines, they must find the right perks to offer.

However, it can be difficult to strike a balance between top-tier benefits such as massage rooms and unlimited meal plans and more attainable benefits like gym stipends and flex hours that still appeal to the modern workforce. Small business owners must take a close look at their books and determine how much new talent is worth, then they can identify benefits that fit within their financial comfort zones.

Small business owners weigh in

My company, conducted a survey of more than 650 small business owners to gauge their perceptions on employee benefits and find out the top benefits they provide. Most notably, 40 percent of small business owners surveyed provide paid parental leave.

Almost half (42 percent) of those offer birth mothers at least 12 weeks of paid leave, far beyond the federal minimum of six weeks. Outside of parental leave, the most common benefits small business owners offer is an employee discount (34 percent), followed closely by paid time off (31 percent) and paid sick leave (27 percent).

We also found only 35 percent of small business owners feel pressure to enhance their employee benefits packages. This may be because many small businesses can't afford big benefits like healthcare and all-office meal plans.

Instead of taking on the burden of paying for benefits that will leave them cash-strapped, company leaders should stick with perks they can afford and be upfront about it with new hires. In time, small business owners will discover the bargaining power of the soft benefit.

Soft benefits that won't break the bank

Though larger benefits packages may be too expensive for small businesses, there are many soft benefits and office perks that can still make employees happier and more productive.

Soft benefits are non-monetary rewards companies can use to recruit and retain employees. Some examples of soft benefits include:

  • Office snacks.
  • The occasional catered lunch.
  • Office happy hours.
  • Reimbursement for gym memberships, mobile phone bills, or commuting costs.
  • Non-profit donations and paid volunteer days.

Even if you can't offer all the soft benefits mentioned above, picking just one or two that appeal to your team can greatly enhance morale around the office.

When rolling out your soft benefits plan, announce it broadly in a setting that allows for employees to address any questions and concerns. As with any major policy change, make sure you are explicit with expectations and requirements of the new benefits plan.

Regularly communicate which benefits are available to your staff. As companies grow, new hires need to be made aware of the soft benefits at their disposal, so bring it to their attention during the onboarding process.

Benefits are essential to employee recruiting and retention. Small business owners--even those who are more cautious in their spending--can find creative ways to capture the best and brightest talent. If big-ticket benefits are not an option, soft benefits could be the key.

If you're still not convinced, take a step back to see the bigger picture. Soft benefits like schedule flexibility and office snacks do not have to be expensive, but they can go a long way toward boosting employees' well-being--and happy employees usually mean better work and a better bottom line.