EMPLOYEE. How to Choose the. Ones That Work. The Magazine of WorldatWork

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1 The Magazine of WorldatWork EMPLOYEE P E R K S How to Choose the istockphoto.com/nastia11 Ones That Work 2017 WorldatWork. All Rights Reserved. For information about reprints/re-use,

2 EMPLOYEE P E R K S How to Choose the Ones That Work Before you choose extra benefits, ask employees first. When it comes to workplace perks, employers should let empathy be their guide. Experts say that choosing the right perks, which could be defined as benefits that go beyond the basics (such as health care and vacation), boils down to knowing what your employees want and need not what you as an HR or benefits professional believe a perk should deliver. Picking perks should not be based on factors such as media reports, which have led to some less-than-successful ideas, HR experts say. Think of the By Tom Starner, WorldatWork september 2017 workspan 47

3 It s important to do your homework. Often, leadership can be out of touch with what employees really want. ADAM WAYTZ Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University disastrous beer-taps-in-the-office concept. Not only can those perks drive workplace indifference or turmoil, but they can also potentially lead to lawsuits, bad visibility and other avoidable negative outcomes. John Bremen, managing director at Chicago-based Willis Towers Watson, explains even if the perk in question sounds good on paper and is done with the best of intentions, without the right data it will likely fail. The biggest mistakes are offering perks employees don t actually want, Bremen says. I have seen companies take a look at perks they see across the street or in the newspaper and after they install it, it falls completely flat a waste of time and money. Bremen cites the example of a client company that went to great pains to roll out student-loan assistance, a perk growing in popularity. Unfortunately, it fell completely flat because not many employees had student loans, despite a decent percentage of younger workers. In this case, the employer never even asked, Bremen says. What seemed like an obvious winner was far from it. As it turned out, the client had a highperforming culture, so its employees needed more help with life along the lines of a concierge service, which included walking dogs and picking up clothes at the dry cleaners. My number-one piece of advice is you need a way to engage with employees to find out directly, he says, adding, that of course, the same principles apply to all total rewards that apply to perks as well. Employers need to know exactly what will motivate their employees to be more engaged. Adam Waytz, a professor at Northwestern University s Kellogg School of Management, agrees. He said that employer empathy is the best way to gauge what perks will work. That means clearly understanding employee feelings and needs. It s the first step in creating an effective benefits package beyond the basics, he said. Waytz adds that taking the time to consider what your employees go through every day can help shape the way you think about your benefits/perks offerings. It s also critical, he says, to think holistically about how benefits can support employees lives. It s important to do your homework, Waytz says. Often, leadership can be out of touch with what employees really want. Meeting an Everyday Need A recent study by Businessolver, a Des Moines, Iowa, benefits management firm, for example, found that flexible work hours are the perk employees want most, yet only 38% of employees say they receive this option from their employers. Jon Shanahan, Businessolver s president and CEO, said employees who have young children face stress and anxiety when their child care cancels or school calls a snow day. By having a flex-time option, parents or caregivers can have some peace of mind knowing they have somewhere reliable and safe to take their kids, which in turn can drive greater productivity. Considering the various scenarios employees encounter every day can help drive meaningful choices when it comes to perks, he says. 48 workspan september 2017

4 Maybe you wouldn t have previously worried about offering child care support, but understanding how it affects employees who are parents might make you reconsider, he says. If you put yourself in your employees shoes and take time to get their feedback, you ll be on track to develop a thoughtful and meaningful offering. Boxed CEO, Chieh Huang, has received much media attention for his decision to cover tuition for employees children. And in another unusual perk, the company also pays for employee weddings. It s all part of what Huang believes is taking care of the people who got the company where it is, as well as continuing to attract top talent. Those perks, he adds, among others, have been very successful in creating a good working climate, retaining staff and attracting the best and the brightest so Boxed is meeting those critical employee needs. The decision to roll out benefits like paying for college tuition and weddings was one of morality, stemming from my own personal experience, Huang said, who came to the United States at the tender age of one with his family and grew up poor. My family s focus on education and the support from other families around us enabled me to take that step, he said. I now have the opportunity to give others the same hope for a better future, and I cannot let our team members down in supporting their families journey toward success. Providing these kinds of benefits may sound counterintuitive, but over the long run, it is a way to build long-term value and engagement, Huang said. Wild Versus Meaningful Perks Shanahan notes that Businessolver s research revealed that what employees are looking for from their benefits typically isn t something wild and out of the ordinary. Businessolver s Workplace Empathy Monitor data, in fact, shows that employees will gladly forgo unusual benefits for meaningful benefits. Granted that means something a bit different to every employee, so often it can seem that everyone wants these Start with the Right Tools Work-Life Training Equips You with Practical Skills Health and Wellness Programs Creating a Positive Business Impact (W3) Learn the fundamentals of supporting and integrating health and wellness into your organization. Find out how to determine issues, identify root causes and create an action plan with solutions. Anytime E-learning Register today! worldatwork.org/w3 september 2017 workspan 49

5 As long as the effort is authentic to the organization and is driven organically from the top down, empathy is the secret ingredient, not some new perk. JON SHANAHAN out-of-the-norm perks and that employers president and CEO, Businessolver have to bend over backward to appeal to that, he said. Our data shows that s just not the case. He explains that while the nation s workforce is more diverse than it s ever been at any point in history, people are still people, meaning they want to feel listened to, respected and cared about. In other words, they want empathy. There are clear ways to achieve that with culture and benefits some traditional, some not, he said. As long as the effort is authentic to the organization and is driven organically from the top down, empathy is the secret ingredient, not some new perk. Providing an added layer of perks doesn t have to be expensive, according to HR and benefits experts. There are options that help employees and cost employers nothing, including so-called voluntary benefits (such as disability and life insurance and pet insurance) or enlisting local businesses to offer advice in return for marketing opportunities. David Lewis, president and CEO at Operations Inc, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm in Norwalk, Conn., said that after 30 years in human resources he is a major proponent of offering extra perks at little or no cost. Examples, he suggests, could be inviting a local bank to provide free financial seminars. The bank can provide, for example, smart ways to use the different types of bank accounts, how to improve your credit ratings, how to go about getting a mortgage, or how to save for the future. There are no-cost perks that are very easy to arrange and organize, Lewis says. THREE STRATEGIES FOR CHOOSING PERKS Jon Shanahan, president and CEO at Businessolver, offers three primary strategies for picking perks that may be outside the typical perk or benefits platform: 1 DO REMEMBER ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. Today s workforce is more diverse than ever. The key is offering options so that employees can create a package that works for them. If that isn t possible, be open to less-traditional offerings such as voluntary benefits or reimbursement programs that can help make more personalized benefits a reality for your workforce. (Sidebar, from Jon Shanahan at Businessolver) 2DON T ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR EMPLOYEES WANT. What employees really want and what employers think they want do not always align. Do the research and engage employees for their feedback to learn what will make them happy and meet their needs. 3TRY TO BE AS HOLISTIC AS POSSIBLE. It s clear that employees want resources that support their overall well-being both in and out of the office. Whether it s mental-wellness offerings or the flexibility to work from home, employees are demanding more options when it comes to taking care of themselves and their families. Employers must prioritize creating benefits packages and fostering workplace cultures that support these growing, personal needs. 50 workspan september 2017

6 Alexis Joseph, head of talent for Rocket Lawyer, an online legal technology company in San Francisco said employers walk a fine line when balancing a company s bottom line while trying to attract the best talent. Some trendy perks in today s business climate require careful thought to avoid employee burnout and morale issues, and companies need to make sure they are properly implemented, she says. Catered lunches and free food in the office never seem like a bad thing to potential employees, Joseph said. However, research shows that it s important to ensure employees still get out of the office to recenter themselves and come back recharged. That doesn t mean ditch the idea of a catered lunch. Employers can encourage these breaks and still offer the same perk by providing employees with meal credits to get food outside of the office or set up working lunches to bring employees together, Joseph said. In the end, experts agree that before launching any perks or nontraditional benefits, it s important to plan ahead and focus on empathy. Think before you act; better yet, ask before you act, said Willis Towers Watson s Bremen. Tom Starner writes for WorldatWork in Scottsdale, Ariz. Contact him at resources plus For more information, books and education related to this topic, log on to worldatwork.org and use any or all of these keywords: Perks Flexible work Total rewards. DALLAS MAY Call for Proposals Aug. 28 Sept. 29 Share your expertise with total rewards professionals from around the world at the WorldatWork 2018 Total Rewards Conference & Exhibition! We re looking for session proposals that are innovative, inspiring and help total rewards professionals solve challenges, improve performance and advance professionally. worldatwork.org/totalrewardscfp september 2017 workspan 51

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