The unemployment rate is down nationally, and atrecord lows in at least 13 states around the country. While that'sgreat news for job seekers, employers looking to hire and keept thebest talent are facing stiff competition.

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While many in the industry scoffed when perks such as free food,game rooms and other perceived frivolities started trending in thetech industry, such perks proved to be theforebearers of more refined, purpose-driven benefits--and there'sresearch to back them up.

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Related: Workplace stress costing employers $500 billionannually

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For today's younger workers, a job is about more thansalary--company culture and values, work/life balanceare all major factoris in job satisfaction and loyalty. Happieremployees are more engaged and productive employees. Healthieremployees are, too.

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Here are a variety of innovative ways companies are trying tostay ahead of the competition with unusual perks and benefits:

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Fun at work

1. Fun things to do at work (besides work)

To get workers “out of their chairs as often as possible,”Toyota installed a two-story-tall rock-climbingwall at its new North American headquarters campus inPlano, Texas, according to Commercial Property Executive.

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Besides promoting employee wellness, the wall serves as adistinctive tool for recruitment and retention,” CPE writes. “So dothe 11 dining spots, well-stocked convenience store and pharmacy atthe campus.”

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Yahoo! based in Sunnyvale, California puts on anInfluential Speakers Series for its workers, with“prolific thinkers” like Deepak Chopra and A-List stars like TomCruise as presenters, according to Salary.com. The company also holds concertswith singers like Taylor Swift, as well as barbecues, not tomention the company’s on-site gym equipped with basketball and sandvolleyball courts.

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Burton Snowboards in Burlington, Vermont provides seasonski passes gives its employees and let them have “snowdays” to hit the slopes after a big snowfall, Business Insider writes. And its neighborDealer.com provides desk-side veggie delivery as well as subsidizedorganic “Dot Calm Café” drinks to its employees, according toSalary.com.

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Company camping trip

2. Employee excursions

Boost Media recently held an Earth Week-themedtrip, on which employees will go camping and participatein beach cleanups, according to The Muse. The San Francisco-based company alsohosts “legendary” holiday parties that include beer pongtournaments, and the winner is awarded a championship belt.

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iCracked in Redwood City, California gives its team full accessto the company yacht, according to The Muse.

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“Employees take it out to relax on the water and enjoy the lushviews in Redwood Shores,” The Muse writes. “Apart from that,iCracked provides catered meals for employees, so you don’t have toworry about packing a sack lunch ever again.”

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Bain & Company holds an annual two-day, global “Bain WorldCup” soccer tournament, and more thousandemployees from 50 Bain offices typically participate, according toBusiness Insider.

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Travel policies

3. Extraordinary time-off policies

Chicago-based Grant Thornton has an unlimitedpaid-time-off policy to its nearly 7,000 employees,according to USA Today.

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“The company believes that if the vacations are planned properlyand the work gets done, the unlimited vacation policy should nothave a major impact on the bottom line,” USA Today writes. “Infact, as is suggested in a company sponsored video, the enthusiasmshown for the policy may mean a happier, more productiveworkforce.”

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Deloitte based in New York City lets its employees takesabbaticals, according to Entrepreneur. Workers can take a one-month sabbatical,without pay, or if they want to pursue a personal or professionalgrowth opportunity, Deloitte will let them go for three to sixmonths while paying 40 percent of their salary throughout thattimeframe.

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Timberland in Stratham, New Hampshire lets employees can takeservice sabbaticals equaling 40 hours of paid volunteerwork per year, Salary.com writes. San Francisco-basedSalesforce employees receive six days of paid volunteer timeoff a year, as well as $1,000 a year to donate to a charity oftheir choice, according to Business Insider.

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Grasshopper Group in Boston gives its employees four weeks ofpaid time off, plus nine holidays per year – and paid half-daysevery Friday during the summers, according to Salary.com. And Fog Creek provide up to fivedays of paid “climate leave” for employees whocan’t work because of extreme weather events, Bloomberg writes. The New York City-basedcompany will give affected employees even more time if there’sa declared state of emergency.

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Concierge services

4. Concierge services

SC Johnson & Son in Racine, Wisconsin has an on-siteemployee concierge to handle a host of chores,according to Salary.com.

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“Concierges send packages and flowers, pick up groceries, shoparound for the best deals on car insurance, take your car in forservice including oil changes, and even stand in line for concerttickets,” Salary.com writes. “With all of those perks, employeesmay actually find time to enjoy life outside of work.”

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The Society for Human Resource Management writes inits blog that the three most popular concierge services arepersonal shopping, automobile services, andmail/shipping/stamps. However, many other servicesare available, including gift wrapping, event planning forbirthday, graduation or special event parties and travelplanning.

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“One concierge ordered 330 pies for employees just before theThanksgiving holiday in 2008,” SRHM writes. Some concierge serviceproviders also give corporate support, suchas conducting a fund-raising campaign for the United Way.

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Barbershop

5. On-site amenities

While concierges run offsite errands for employees, Genentechhas facilities for routine chores onsite at itscampus in South San Francisco, California, according to Entrepreneur. Employees can get a haircut and a carwash at work, or visit the dentist, relax in a mobile spa, and taketheir kids to Genentech’s child care center.

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Down the road in Mountain View, California, Google employees canget oil changes and car washes, massages and yoga,a play room, back-up child care assistance at thecompany’s campus, Salary.com writes. San Francisco-based Twitterhas onsite acupuncture and improv classes, as wellas three catered meals a day, according to Business Insider.

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Student debt

6. Assistance programs

Fidelity, PwC, Aetna and Penguin Random House are some of the companies that offer student loan repaymentbenefits for their employees, according to Forbes.

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“Student loan repayment assistance is the hottest employeebenefit of 2017 - and one of the best ways to attract Millennialsand recent graduates to join your company,” Forbes writes.

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UK-based PwC offers its employees $1,200 a year inreimbursement on student-loan debt. Michael Fenlon, global directorfor PwC, tells Business Insider that the benefit could beworth $10,000 -- thanks to the impact extra payments have oninterest, and shave off two to three years off the totalpayment period.

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Many companies offer purchasing programs tohelp workers pay for big items, such as a new computer or washerand dryer, over time through payroll deductions, according toBusiness News Daily. Purchasing programs canhelp pay for big items, such as a new computer or washer and dryer,over time through payroll deductions. Other voluntary benefitscould include accident insurance, identity theft protection anddisability insurance.

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“Offering the right voluntary benefits programs can helpemployees save time and money, leading to reduced stress andincreased productivity in the workplace,” Peter Marcia, chiefexecutive of voluntary benefits outsourcing firm YouDecide tellsBND.

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Umpqua Bank in Portland, Oregon offers associates aclothing advance up to $500, according to Salary.com.

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“Building a professional work wardrobe can be costly, especiallyfor conservative industries like banking where more traditionalwork wear is required,” Salary.com writes.

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Kindle

7. Free stuff

Facebook in Menlo Park, California offers internsfree housing with free shuttle service to and fromthe company’s campus, or a monthly housing stipend of $1,000,according to Business Insider.

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San Francisco-based Airbnb gives its employees an annualstipend of $2,000 to travel and stay inan Airbnb listing anywhere in the world, Business Insider writes, and neighbor Twiliooffers employees a Kindle plus $30 a month topurchase books.

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Eventbrite in San Francisco provides its employees with amonthly wellness stipend worth $60, which cancover a VIP membership in some gyms, according to Entrepreneur, and Seattle-based Starbucks offers theirworkers full tuition reimbursement.

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“Starbucks treats you like a human being, according to a formerbarista,” Entrepreneur writes. “You can enroll at theArizona State University and get an online bachelor’s degree -- onthe house. The coffeehouse chain guarantees it will reimburse yourfull tuition.”

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newborn

8. Homemaking help

Netflix in offers one paid year of maternity andpaternity leave to new parents, and the Los Gatos,California company also allows them to return part-time orfull-time and take time off as needed throughout the year,according to Business Insider.

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UK-based Spotify provides six months of paid parentalleave, and covers costs for egg freezing andfertility assistance, according to BusinessInsider. Zillow pays for overnightshipping of breast milk when a new mom is traveling.

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Netherlands-based IKEA has a four-month paid parental leavepolicy for employees who have worked there for year – no matter ifthey are part-time or full-time, Entrepreneur writes.

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Many companies offer employer-sponsored auto and homeinsurance through payroll deductions, according toBusiness News Daily. “Companies that provideauto/home insurance through payroll deduction are eligible forgroup rate premiums, helping families save money,” Marcia tellsBND.

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The United Services Automobile Association matches 100 percentof 401(k) contributions up to eight percent, according to Entrepreneur.

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“Those who left their jobs in the Fortune 500 firm attested toits unmatched terms,” Entrepreneur writes. “Some claimed it wasfive percent higher than what they got from other employers. WhileUSAA gives generous incentives, it also encourages all of itsworkers to take charge of their retirement savings plan.”

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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.