There's not much good you can say about skyrocketing employee-benefits costs. But there is a way to make the numbers work to your advantage: show employees how big they are.

At Brightwork Advertising, a Nashua, N.H., agency, company founder and president Snowden McFall attaches a "tote sheet" to every employee's annual performance review. It breaks out the annual cost of the employee's health benefits, unemployment insurance, paid vacation, sick days, workers' compensation insurance, and FICA contributions.

McFall says she instituted the tote sheet because "employees don't have any idea of how much it costs to employ them -- how much more I pay than just a salary." She makes a point of discussing the benefit amounts with employees, so they can't ignore the information.

When McFall first began providing these details, three years ago, Brightwork employees were surprised at the cost of benefits, which ranges from 6% to 25% of salary. Now, even though the agency's seven workers are used to the idea, the annual communiqué continues to serve an important function.

Employees no longer assume that just because McFall owns the business, she is getting rich. Moreover, she says, "if employees know what you're providing, they're more appreciative. And they're more understanding when your business hits a rough patch and you can't maintain all the benefits."

-- Ellyn E. Spragins