One thing our experienced team has learned is that employee benefits are not one-size-fits-all solutions. Every company is different, every team is different, and employee benefits are ever-evolving.

Karen Oakey, Director of Human Resources for Fracture, summarized it perfectly, saying “Benefits can make up to 30% of an employee’s total compensation, companies should not overlook or short-change how they approach benefits strategy or shopping.”

We surveyed HR professionals globally. Our top findings were that:

  1. Benefits can’t only be things that look good on paper
  2. The CFO/finance team needs to be involved, but not exclusively
  3. Employee wishes should be taken into account
  4. There should be more transparency around benefit costs

Benefits Can’t Only Look Good On Paper

Among the professionals we heard from, the following benefits were mentioned the most often (in no particular order):

  • Financial wellness
  • Flexible hours
  • Remote work (without limits or allowances)
  • Mental health benefits
  • Inclusive family benefits (including paternity leave, LGBTQ+ friendly, etc.)
  • Fertility benefits
  • Wellness stipends (intended for gym memberships, diets, etc.)
  • Career mapping
  • Training/development programs
  • Student loan assistance
  • Free snacks
  • Time off for community service

Jessica Lim, HR at MyPerfectResume, made a great point about flexible hours which truly should apply to all benefits. She said, “…not just on paper though. The full comfort of knowing that it’s ok to come in at noon and not be looked at sideways…” is important.

Your benefits have to be enforced. If they look good on paper but are not a reality, you’ll likely see high turnover rates and lower productivity from disgruntled employees. If you are making a promise to provide flexible hours, you can’t reprimand an employee who takes a long lunch for a doctor’s appointment or comes in at 10 because he has to drop his kids off at daycare in the morning. As long as everyone is getting their work done, you have to stick to your benefits and policies.

The same goes for other benefits. For example, not everyone at your company is going to want a gym membership, so consider offering a “wellness stipend” instead. Toni Mills, Office Manager at Cashcow Ltd, says her team has been “discussing an annual wellness allowance for employees to spend as they wish.”

Similarly, Kerry Wekelo, who is the COO and is responsible for benefits decisions at Actualize Consulting, offers a $750 yearly wellness benefit. She shared, “This year we expanded to hobbies. We had a person that bought knitting supplies. We also do wellness competitions throughout the year and you can gain additional wellness dollars. I believe having wellness infused into our organization shows our people we care about them. During COVID, we allowed our people to use their wellness budgets for their kids as well. We had a person use the money to hire a tutor for her son.”

Financial Wellness Benefits Keep You Competitive

Jessica Du Bois, an Employee Benefits Advisor at Business Benefits Group, shared with us, “knowing that only 39% of Americans have 1k to cover an emergency and that the average student loan debt is at 32k, a financial assistance benefit is extremely important and underrated. A financial benefit could be in the form of a student loan reimbursement benefit, a budgeting app, or quarterly lunch and learns on financial topics.” Jessica also said that at Business Benefits Group, the team is seeing a huge influx of employers seeking financial benefits, and that on-demand pay is popular in hospitality and assisted-living industries.

From a competitive standpoint, Tiffani Murray, Director of People Services/HRIS for a furniture company, says, “I do think as time goes on we’ll see more on-demand pay. All of the HR teams I’ve been a part of have offered some sort of financial wellness benefit, whether that be access to advisors or [other] resources. I think this is a must for progressive organizations.”

Check out our on-demand pay model.

Remote Work and Schedule Flexibility Create Trust

As we all know, COVID-19 has resulted in a lot more remote work than usual. The majority of the professionals that we interviewed mentioned remote work and flexibility being top-tier benefits that employees look for.

Remote work is not only about providing another benefit to your workers, but also about inviting trust. Kylie Cimmino, an HR consultant at Red Clover, says that “Giving employees the opportunity to flex their schedules makes them feel trusted and allows them to have more work-life balance, which in turn should make for a happier and more focused workforce. Working from home also signals trust, while cutting back on their commute time and costs, giving them more of their day back, and hopefully the opportunity to work in a focused way outside of the office.”

Employees Need Help Making Healthcare Decisions

In 2020, offering healthcare is not enough. To stand out and to make a difference, you have to help employees navigate through the very confusing healthcare options in front of them. Jessica Du Bois from Business Benefits Group suggests offering an app (such as HealthJoyAccolade, or Castlight) that helps employees find the true best plan for their needs, schedule appointments, get answers to healthcare questions, and even review medical bills for errors.

The CFO Should Be Involved

While it’s easy to assume that employee benefits would fall under human resources, many companies actually rely on finance leaders (even the CFO) for final decisions. Most HR professionals that we surveyed agreed that the final decision should fall in the CFO’s hands, but the research and the path to get there should come from HR and employee surveys.

Jessica Du Bois at Business Benefits Group believes that “employee benefits should be managed by the CFO and the HR/People team” because they are “the second highest expense for a company.” However, the HR/People team needs to stay involved to “ensure the benefits align with the values of the people you are trying to attract and retain.”

Jake Penney, Head of HR at English Blinds in the U.K., says that the COO and CFO are jointly responsible for benefits. He believes that while “ultimately it has to be the C-suite that makes decisions,” the human resources leaders are who “recognize the need and relevance of certain benefits and also how offering them can benefit the company as well as the workers.”

Alternatively, Tiffani Murray, People Services/HR Director for a furniture company, believes “there should be a steering committee for benefits decisions,” including “compensation, HR technology, accounting/finance, talent acquisition/recruiting,” and a business administration representative. She adds that recruiting is important because “in today’s war for talent, benefits can make the difference between someone accepting or declining a job offer.”

Amber Mayer, HR Lead at DevelopIntelligence, suggests that “The benefits manager should have the employees best interests in mind and at heart, while ensuring the company does not have hardship from costs.” She agrees that while the benefits manager (or HR lead) should be primarily responsible for these decisions, the CFO or finance team ultimately needs to be involved.

Let Employees Weigh In

Joe Wilson, Senior Career Advisor at MintResume, has dedicated his career to reducing the unemployment rate in America. Joe said that while MintResume has a team that makes final decisions regarding employee benefits, they do seek input from their employees. He elaborated, “Top management can’t and shouldn’t make such decisions without seeking input from the employees who are actually going to leverage those benefits.”

It’s important for executives who are making employee benefits decisions to remember that even if a benefit doesn’t seem like a big deal to them, it may be a game-changer for other employees. Charles Read, the President and CEO of Custom Payroll Associates, said, “We have found that executives have a different world view and what is important to them may not be important to the line workers.”

Cat Perez, CO-founder and CPO at HealthSherpa, takes that a step further by allowing all team members to call in and listen to the executive conversations about employee benefits. Cat says, “Having open discussions around benefits in that meeting promotes transparency to our colleagues in how we’re making these decisions.”

One interesting point, though, is that involving your employees means more than simply sending out a survey. Cindy Lo, People Operations Manager at FitSmallBusiness.com, suggested that there should be “full transparency of the costs to the company and how much budget is available for these benefits” because employees often don’t realize what they’re asking for. Cindy says that she once “heard an employee express that if we just cut the free snacks we could stop a layover.”

At the end of the day, your executives are not the only people who are going to be using your benefits — and how well do your executives truly understand each employee’s needs?


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