5 ways to help your employees’ salaries go further

June 12, 2014, 11:00 AM UTC
Justin Renter ia
Illustration: Justin Renteria

1. Run an efficient operation

In tight times you may not be able to pay workers more. But there are ways you can help them. First, your sloppy execution as a leader can take a giant toll on employees’ pocketbooks. If they can’t leave at closing time without feeling like defectors, you’re costing some of them hundreds of dollars a month in extra child-care expenses–or forcing their spouses to pick up the slack. Plus, the toll on their health from stress and living on takeout food will eventually cost you money.

2. Invest in financial education

A shocking 41% of employees can’t cover their expenses, according to a new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). You can’t tell the people who work for you how to spend their hard-earned money, but you can offer onsite budgeting classes, as did the owner of one manufacturing firm I know. There are plenty of free sources you can tap, from local credit unions to nonprofit financial-literacy groups.

3. Help them raise their credit scores

It will shrink their mortgage and auto loan costs. “A 50-point difference can mean a 2% to 3% increase in the cost of a loan,” notes Shawn Gilfedder, CEO of McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union in East Windsor, N.J., which sponsored the SHRM survey. Buy a stack of Philip Tirone’s 7 Steps to a 720 Credit Score–the best book on the subject–and offer it to employees as a freebie.

4. Provide low-cost grocery perks

With the supermarket price of beef and chicken jumping 9% this year and milk hitting record highs in April, an annual membership with Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s can be a valuable employee perk. Or offer your workers memberships in their local food co-ops. The upfront cost of joining may not seem prohibitive to you, but it can deter employees who are living on tight budgets.

5. Let them augment their income

The Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit in Greensboro, N.C., lets staffers devote five paid days a year–and up to 10 days of vacation and sick leave–to freelance projects that don’t compete with the Center’s work. “It’s a great benefit for me, since I took a pay cut to join this amazing organization,” says Jonathan Vehar, a senior faculty member. Better yet, employees pick up new skills that help the organization grow.

Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.

This story is from the June 30, 2014 issue of  Fortune.