As companies battle strained budgets during the recession, more and more are offering innovative perks to keep employees engaged, particularly as traditional employee benefit costs continue to rise. Take this example: A number of employers in Kansas City are giving their workers debit cards that can be used to cover educational expenses upfront — not only for tuition, but also for supplies for trade school courses and even certification exams and professional conferences.

Nurses at St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City have used the debit cards to pay for certification classes for specialty practices such as critical care, says Dawn Murphy, senior vice president of human resources. Other hospital professionals have used the cards to pay for occupational therapy conferences.

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.

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