Today’s employment market is the classic example of “good news/bad news”: the good news is that a recovering economy means more jobs, and a shrinking number of unemployed Americans.

The bad news, however, for employers is an increasingly shrinking pool of experienced and skilled employees from which to recruit. Human resources professionals and hiring managers confronting the challenge of luring the highest quality employees in this competitive environment are now scrambling to use every ‘tool’ in their recruiting arsenal.

In addition to offering competitive salaries, recruiters from companies large and small are now relying to a greater extent than ever before on the lure of their company’s benefits package as a means of ‘sealing the deal’ with top-notch candidates.

According to the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are some interesting trend lines in the benefits being offered by employers as a means of attracting the best candidates. While some benefits are in keeping with the traditional choices offered, a tightening job market is apparently affecting the array of benefits many companies are proffering to job applicants.

The benefit trends found by the 2014 SHRM survey included:

A five-year trend that found an ever-increasing number of companies offering mental health care, contraception, and vision coverage, as well as coverage for bariatric and laser vision surgery.
A 17 percent increase in the number of companies contributing to Health Savings Accounts
And on a related note–a 12 percentage increase in the number of companies offering Health Savings Accounts (HSA)
Between 2010 and 2014, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of organizations offering paid time off plans.
And while the number of ‘flexible work’ benefits remained steady, between 2009 and 2014 the percentage of companies offering ‘ad-hoc’ telecommuting increased from 45% to 54%.

Still, in the wake of the Great Recession—and despite the difficulties faced by some firms in recruiting skilled, experienced employees—fiscal restraint is still restricting some of the benefits companies are willing to offer.

For example, the SHRM survey also found that many organizations continue to cut back on the benefits that would assist employees in obtaining the education and skills required for some positions that are difficult to fill. Two of the main reasons cited by the survey for this restraint were the increasing costs of healthcare benefits, as well as the often-high costs related to educational programs.

Additionally, the survey also found a five-year decline in the percentage of businesses willing to offer employees “family friendly” benefits—such as childcare—primarily as a result of the related costs involved.

For recruiters and hiring managers, this presents a double-edged sword: how to fill higher-skilled positions in a shrinking pool of candidates, while at the same time working within tight budgetary restraints?

The SHRM survey offers a few possible, lower cost solutions that are likely worth considering.

These include:

Promoting flexible and effective work arrangements: According to the SHRM, various surveys confirm that employees of varying demographics—and skill levels—all agree that they would “highly value” more flexible workplace location arrangements. With other benefits costs on the rise, and budgets remaining tight, the survey points out that work-flex benefits represent a low-cost way for an employer to stand out from other recruiting companies. This is especially true these days, with Millennials entering the workforce en masse, and Baby Boomers beginning to look at downsizing their working hours, as well as balancing work and personal issues such as caring for elderly parents.
Greater Communication Efforts Regarding Company Benefits: The survey also found that even many companies offering a generous benefits package, often do a poor job of communicating that fact to potential job candidates. The SHRM recommends that, in an ever-tightening pool of candidates, companies commit to a greater effort regarding their benefits’ communications.
Seek Feedback From Employees & Candidates About Benefit Packages: The SHRM survey points out that today’s employment marketplace is changing at a rapid pace, and thus it’s never been more crucial for companies to seek feedback regarding the benefits they are offering employees and new candidates. The use of ‘benefits surveys’ can be most instructive for human resource professionals and corporate recruiters, as they seek to construct a benefits package that will be most alluring to the highest quality job candidates.

The reality is that there’s no magic ‘benefits bullet’ that will assist companies in their ongoing quest to recruit the highest quality candidates.

However, the data also strongly suggests that smart companies can—and should—make better use of their benefits packages when they are casting their lure in today’s ever-shrinking pool of candidates.