Employee benefits have been around since the colonial era, but today's offerings make those early pension plans seem rather quaint. Today, companies are expanding their benefits packages to include massages, healthier food options, and even telemedicine.

In an example of the tech world's bleeding-edge exuberance, Facebook and Apple are even offering coverage for women who want to freeze their eggs to postpone pregnancy.

Commentators are saying that this will give women more choices when deciding whether (and when) they want to start a family, but Facebook and Apple stand to gain as much as their employees. These companies want to attract and retain the best and brightest, and they know that young people respond to these new offerings.

The truth is that companies need to view benefits as a competitive tool. But before you go offering a smorgasbord of nontraditional benefits, take some time to consider which perks will have the biggest impact on your employees and how those benefits will affect the company as a whole.

Nontraditional Benefits on the Horizon

Many companies are beginning to offer a host of nontraditional benefits to their employees. While childcare coverage, a pet-friendly workplace, healthy catered lunches, free yoga classes, or fitness reimbursements aren't uncommon, new offerings are springing up every day, including:

  1. Telemedicine. Employees can now talk with a doctor right from their cubicles by using providers such as Doctor on Demand. It's convenient for employees, but it's even better for the employer who doesn't lose employees for a day when they have a doctor's appointment.
  1. Concierge services. These help employees with time-consuming activities such as finding doctors, scheduling appointments, and resolving health insurance claims.

How Should Employers Respond?

With these types of benefits becoming mainstream, you have to consider whether offering them to your employees is a good move for your company.

On the one hand, nontraditional benefits help differentiate your company to potential job candidates. They show that you are attuned to employees' needs and willing to go the extra mile to help. Employees are concerned about work-life balance, and these benefits help demonstrate that your company cares about helping employees live a healthy life.

On the flipside, once offered, these benefits can become expected and permanent. So what are the downsides?

A dog curled up at a worker's feet may reduce stress, but how much time does it take to lead Rover down the elevator and out to the street every few hours to conduct hisbusiness? Unlimited sick days may prevent workers from bringing illness into the office, but some employees could abuse the policy.

You'll also need to either increase your healthcare spending or get creative with your benefits portfolio. One way that companies make this work is by offering a high-deductible health plan and supplementing it with telemedicine and concierge services. These plans are less costly, and the added benefits allow employees to spend their healthcare dollars more wisely.

Before you make a decision, ask yourself what type of company you're trying to build. What sort of people are you hoping to attract with these benefits? What will help them perform their jobs better? And will the payoff of a benefit equal or exceed its cost?

Beware of being trendy. Just because a startup down the street has an acupuncturist on staff doesn't mean you need one. Stick to your values, and make sure the benefits you offer make sense for your employees, your culture, and the company as a whole.