Total Rewards: How the Definition Is Changing

BY Tim Zyla | September 06, 2023

It was a bounty that wasn’t destined to last. During the Great Resignation and its war for talent, employers offered workers abundant new benefits and other rewards. But now, with employee-retention numbers at high levels and corporate austerity taking hold, finance departments are looking to tighten reward budgets. That has caused some tension with HR leaders charged with attracting and retaining talent.  
“We’re in this constant battle with finance,” said Ken Wechsler, VP of total rewards at Akamai Technologies. “We’re fighting for it, and I would guess my colleagues on this call will also fight it. We might not get as much moving forward, but we will fight.” 
Weschler and three other leaders in the benefits and compensation sector of HR spoke last month in a From Day One webinar about the constantly evolving dynamic of total rewards packages.  
Todd Cowgill, VP of global rewards at the data-center company Equinix, says it’s essential to “speak their language” when negotiating with finance and business departments about rewards programs. 
“If you cannot tell what the return on investment of your program is, you will lose that program,” he said. “You have to understand what the company as a business gets because of the program, what it costs and what it gets back.” 
David Kirby, senior VP of total rewards and operations at the customer-experience company Epsilon, says once programs are lost due to cost-cutting, it becomes very challenging to revive them in a reasonable amount of time. 
“I’m very concerned about our secondary benefits,” he said. “We have a company where there’s a snack allowance. That’s the last thing I want to see removed or cut.” 
Working From Home a Must, But Trips to the Office Help 
Finding a cutting-edge company in 2023 that isn’t offering some form of work-from-home option is a challenging task, but many HR leaders believe a few trips to the office –even irregular ones–can be highly beneficial. 
“We give employees the choice of where they want to work, and 90% of them have said they want to work from home,” Wechsler said. “Everything is in play now–things I had never even thought of when it comes to total rewards.” 
Arvind Kumar, director of total rewards and HR operations in the Asia Pacific for the ad giant McCann Worldgroup, said his workplace policies are as varied as the countries of operation he oversees.

The panel on total rewards, top row from left: Arvind Kumar of McCann Worldgroup and David Kirby of Epsilon. Bottom row: Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, Ken Wechsler of Akamai, and Todd cowgill of Equinix. (Image by From Day One; featured illustration by Lemono/iStock by Getty Images)

“Asia has a completely different culture,” he said. “I think since Covid we aren’t planning on changing it back to how it used to be. We accepted that hybrid work is here to stay and that’s where we changed our way of working.” Kumar says some countries McCann operates in are more predisposed to working in an office environment, while workers from other Asian countries may enjoy working from home. 
Though quickly becoming a minority of workers, some will avoid working for a company if its work-from-home policies are too permissive. “They’ll self-select,” Weschler said. “We make the effort to do things in the office a lot–but now a lot means quarterly. We know that most will not want to come, and some folks will want to attend an event because they get to go to the office. Our recruiters ask if you’re looking to be in the office a lot because our package doesn’t include that.” 
All four total-ewards executives agreed that having opportunities to make intermittent trips to the office is beneficial and allows employees to expand their network by meeting new faces. Kumar says communication with prospective employees is vital for both sides to manage expectations. 
Fringe Benefits Are a Big Slice of the Pie 
HR leaders typically seek to gauge what their employees want from their organization. McGill says one of the most tried-and-true methods remains the pulse survey–a short set of questions sent to employees regularly. “That’s the short and efficient way to get into things,” he said. “But then you have to find specific ways to target whatever the issue is.” 
Ideas from those surveys often get implemented as policies that benefit the worker. “We have five wellness days per year. We completely shut our doors and there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t send emails on those days or on weekends,” Weschler said. “On Fridays, we don’t have any meetings–that has come from leadership.” 
The speakers reported that requests for childcare assistance have become less common, perhaps due to the increase in remote work that allows childcare to coincide with working. “I think people have gotten better on Zoom with the kid coming in and saying hello,” McGill said. “That blend between home and work has happened in a much more open way and, I think, healthy way than what we’ve seen in the past.” Even so, childcare policy experts warn of a looming “child-care cliff” starting at the end of this month, when many of the child-care programs supported by the American Rescue Plan Act’s stabilization funds expire. Kirby said Epsilon does not track time off for exempt employees and the organization operates on a culture of trust. “We expect folks to work and get their job done,” he said. “Sometimes that means 2 p.m. and other times that means until 9 p.m. We want people to have that flexibility.” 
Good News on the Health Insurance Front 
Despite many companies facing double-digit increases in health-insurance costs in 2023, those on the webinar reported that their companies have been absorbing the cost hikes amid the post-Covid inflationary market. “Our trend is nothing near what the market is,” Weschler said. “I’m not sure why, but we are absorbing most of it and trying to keep that minimal increase and maintain the balance of how employees and employers split health care.” 
Kirby says that Epsilon has also “eaten” the increase in costs at the corporate level. 
McGill said he attributes some of his company’s ability to absorb the increases in health care costs to an effective wellness program offered to employees. 
“It varies from country to country, but how do you engage with employees on health care?” he asked. “In some countries, it’s a state-run enterprise and not something we can get into.” 
Weschler said Akamai provides $500 in wellness reimbursement for employees to allow for fitness equipment purchases or other wellness-related items. 
“The working life is integrated, so we try to focus on encouraging our employees to participate in healthy activities,” he said.

Tim Zyla is the managing editor of a community newspaper in Pennsylvania and has a strong interest in business and finance. 


Equitable Rewards: Do You Have Pride in Your Benefits?

Pride month is about celebrating and supporting diversity. One way to do that is to ensure your benefits plans are inclusive of different employees’ needs.A good benefits package consistently ranks among the top three most important factors for job satisfaction, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. But for many people, the usual components of a benefits plan—401(k) match, paid time off, and/or professional development stipends—aren’t keeping up with what employees really want and need.As a result, some companies are innovating their compensation offerings and winning over top talent along the way. Moreover, your existing employees may be shopping around for packages that better suit their needs, said Corrinne Hobbs, vice president of business development at Ovia Health, a family health benefits platform.“Recently, Ovia did a survey of its members, and we learned that 91% of our members would consider a lateral move to a place with better family benefits and a family friendly culture,” Hobbs said. “That's really significant.” For BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees, inclusive benefits packages can encourage well-being, better team retention, and a more diverse overall workforce.Leading DE&I professionals weighed in at From Day One’s recent webinar titled, “Equitable Rewards: Do You Have Pride In Your Benefits?” How to Tap Into What Employees WantEmployee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a great way for employees to connect with one another. But they can also be an accurate and authentic way to determine relevant next steps for your benefits development efforts, said Hannah Wilkowski, director of global benefits at BuzzFeed.“ERGs are such a source of information. There's no better way to get to know your employees than to reach out to your ERGs and say, ‘How are we doing? Let's get a temperature check,’” Wilkowski said. She notes that leveraging existing connections within the organization can help you shape a relevant strategy. “It’s actually helped shift our trajectory for the next few years, just based on those conversations,” she added.The full panel of speakers from top left, Hannah Wilkowski of Buzzfeed, moderator Nick Wolny of CNET, Corrinne Hobbs of Ovia Health, Jodi Davidson of Sodexo, Chad Nico Hiu of YMCA of San Francisco, and Pablo Slough of Google (photo by From Day One)The needs and wants of most workforces have shifted in the wake of hybrid and fully remote setups. As such, stakeholders may need to revisit current policies and weigh what works best to meet employees’ needs, said Chad Nico Hiu, senior vice president of strategy, equity and impact at the YMCA of San Francisco, who also serves on the board of the Tyler Clementi Foundation.“When we say hybrid, we mean like seven different things. And the nonprofit sector, part of what we are struggling with is [that] only some of us at leadership levels, myself included, even have even the option of being hybrid,” Hiu said. “Those who are at the top of the hierarchy are making decisions for those who are not, oftentimes without understanding or empathy. If we're asking questions of our employees, are we really ready to listen?”The power dynamic brings up an important point: If employees don’t feel psychologically safe to begin with, they’ll be less likely to voice their needs and concerns, crippling an important feedback loop. Research from Google entitled Project Aristotle found that psychological safety is the most important factor for effective teamwork. C-suite decision makers and team leaders should proactively cultivate this across the organization, said Jodi Davidson, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for Sodexo.“Psychological safety ensures teams are effective. It’s about expanding the definition [of psychological safety], not only being able to bring your whole self to work, but also the ability to take risks without fear that in some way you're going to be punished for doing so,” Davidson said.Meet Employees Where They Are, Both Physically and PersonallyAnother reason to advocate for remote work is that it can often result in more diverse workforces, noted Pablo Slough, head of diversity, equity and inclusion for executive recruiting at Google.“It’s also just about where offices are located, right? What happens a lot in the tech space is that everyone is in the Bay Area, so you want to hire in the Bay Area,” said Slough. “If you're always looking in the Bay Area, you end up with lower representation of certain groups. Being open to hiring and [having] offices in cities like Atlanta, DC, or Chicago, these are all places where representation is greater. It’s an important piece that's kind of adapted more recently.”To instill confidence in your rewards plan, experts agree that prioritizing flexibility and innovation in your benefits is a smart move. Ensure your compensation package is inclusive to different employees’ financial and family planning needs and you’ll find yourself attracting and retaining quality talent for years to come.Nick Wolny is an editor, journalist, and consultant. Currently a senior editor at CNET, he has previously written for Fast Company, Fortune, Business Insider, and OUT Magazine, and is a frequent television commentator on technology and work life. He is based in Los Angeles.

Nick Wolny | June 20, 2023

The Other Caregiving Crisis: How Employers Can Help Workers With Their Hidden Responsibilities

While the pandemic revealed a crisis in childcare, it also exposed a parallel crisis in family caregiving for adults. One in five workers has responsibility for the care of one or more adults who are aging, ill, or have special needs, according to research by AARP. Yet many carry the burden in silence–more than half of these caregivers don’t tell their supervisors about it.Fortunately, that situation is changing. In a recent survey of 200 leaders in HR conducted by From Day One with support from AARP, 56% of the respondents said that workers are increasingly open with colleagues and managers about their caregiving responsibilities, while 60% said that their companies associate support for family caregivers with improving morale and strengthening a culture of belonging.“Before the pandemic, convincing employers to prioritize their support of working caregivers was an uphill battle,” said Tricia Sandiego, a senior advisor at AARP, in a From Day One webinar on the issue. But from the survey results, “we learned that there is an increase in awareness of this issue. Workers are talking about caregiving, and company leaders do realize and acknowledge that it’s important.” That said, there is still room for improvement: fewer than 15% of respondents said supporting family caregivers was a major priority at their companies.For Sandiego, this issue is personal. She is part of the so-called sandwich generation–she calls it the “panini generation”– which is caught caregiving for both a younger and an older generation.And she is far from alone. Sandiego noted that family caregivers are not just older workers. Rather, 50% of the 48 million caregivers in the U.S. are under the age of 50. About 25% of them are in the millennial generation, and already 6% of them are in Generation Z.Age is just one aspect of the diversity of caregivers. Despite the stereotype about caregivers being female, four in 10 caregivers are men. Lower-income workers tend to have heavier caregiving responsibilities, while shift workers and gig workers have less corporate support than full-time workers. Sandiego underscored that this diversity leads to a wide range of divides among the caregiver population and the need for different types of support.What Changes Can Companies Make?The good news is that there are many ways for companies to support their caregivers. These solutions are often affordable as well. Cheryl Kern, VP of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for the office-furniture maker MillerKnoll, underscored the importance of creating an open and transparent culture. “We want employees to feel confident that they can step forward and make it known to their leadership and management that they need support and resources.”Kern noted some of the resources MillerKnoll provides, such as advice on eldercare. Her team also helps remind caregivers of some of the policies the company already has in place around childcare and nanny support–both of which caregivers could find helpful. “We aim to help caregivers feel better equipped, better prepared, and more confident in order to do their caregiving role,” said Kern. MillerKnoll additionally leverages business resource groups to support their working caregivers.The full panel of leaders: top row fromleft, Cheryl Kern of MillerKnoll and Krista Brookman of Northwestern Mutual. Bottom row: Tricia Sandiego of AARP, Nyasia Sarfo of Microsoft, and moderator Ericka Sóuter (Image by From Day One)Nyasia Sarfo, a global culture and people experiences lead at Microsoft, echoed these sentiments, highlighting her company’s goal of creating a culture of inclusion and belonging. “We believe that your well-being isn’t extra, it’s essential.” The company aims to make this mission come to life by putting people first and reminding employees to prioritize their well-being by, for example, taking time off when they need it. Sarfo added that Microsoft supports employees by reminding them to use their vacation days and prioritize spending time with their family. “These practices did not just begin—they are really in the fabric of our culture as a whole,” Sarfo said.What makes supporting caregivers tricky, noted Krista Brookman, a senior director of DEI at Northwestern Mutual, is that becoming a caregiver is often unplanned. “It puts your life on another trajectory,” she asserted. That is why she believes it is critical to develop a workplace culture where employers help employees through stressful times with robust policies and practices.“Being a caregiver is unplanned and puts your life on another trajectory,” Brookman said. That is why Northwestern Mutual has developed policies and practices to support caregivers. “We made sure our caregiving responsibilities were broadly defined,” she said. That way, different types of caregivers with different roles are all equally supported. “Having that broader definition helps ensure that these policies fit within our diversity and inclusion efforts.”What Risks Do Companies Run by Ignoring These Needs?Sandiego believes that companies that avoid prioritizing the needs of employee caregivers might have issues finding and retaining top talent. “Companies that can acknowledge the needs of–and help support–working family caregivers will be ahead of the curve when it comes to their talent management strategy and being able to hold on to really good talent in your organization,” she said.Kern agreed with Sandiego, further emphasizing that ignoring the needs of caregivers could threaten the company’s inclusivity goals. In Kern’s opinion, the best way to go about ensuring that caregiver needs are met is by focusing on building the business case for supporting them. “The ROI for supporting caregivers is very clear, but there is much more work that remains,” said Kern.Top of this to-do list is ensuring buy-in at top management levels. Sarfo said she’s able to secure senior support by leveraging the power of storytelling. “We have a speaker series where employees can share the stories of what they are going through,” she said. “It’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”Kern notes that much of this power lies in the hands of employees themselves. “Influencing change is now bottom-up. Associates can voice the power they have as employees. That’s a wonderful way of getting leadership on board. And most leaders do want to listen,” she said.Editor’s note: AARP, who sponsored this webinar, is offering an Employee Caregiver Program Series. This series is an easy way to make your workplace more caregiver-inclusive via live, virtual programs that help employees balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. AARP has agreed to offer the caregiving program to members of the From Day One community free of charge. This is a unique opportunity. Learn more and apply by visiting Kaminer is a Miami-based journalist, researcher, and content strategist. As a freelance tech writer and researcher, he has profiled more than 400 of the world’s top entrepreneurs and investors. His work has been featured in publications including Forbes, the Times (UK), the Economist, and LatAm Investor.(Featured photo by Fred Froese/iStock by Getty Images)

Riley Kaminer | June 14, 2023

How to Build Skills to Boost Retention on Multigenerational Teams

“With the population aging, one of the concerns we hear from employers is that they’re worried about a good portion of their workforce leaving,” said Heather Tinsley-Fix, a senior advisor for financial resilience at AARP. “Because when they leave, they’ll take this huge reservoir of institutional knowledge, professional networks, and wisdom with them.”How to keep this lucrative knowledge inside an organization and pass it across generations, was the central topic of conversation during a From Day One webinar about building skills to boost retention on multigenerational teams, moderated by Tinsley-Fix.Among the strategies that panelists shared for moving the knowledge and expertise from older generations to younger ones, mentorship was the most popular.“We have a lot of people who have worked on mainframe technologies for 35 or 40 years,” said Shashank Bhushan, chief talent development architect at IT services company BMC Software. “The knowledge that they have is not easily transferable.”BMC Software matches senior team members with younger ones, even sending the older ones abroad for concentrated mentorship time with their colleagues around the world. As a perk, mentors can take a partner or spouse with them, making a vacation out of the deal. But Bhushan noted that you don’t necessarily have to incentivize mentorship all the time. “People take a lot of pride in being able to transfer and transition their knowledge out to younger people and to mentor them,” he said.At Ball Corp., the world’s largest maker of food and beverage cans, long-tenured employees on the manufacturing floor often transition away from overnight shifts and onto special projects that let them train more junior workers on their institutional expertise. “That works better for them,” said Ball’s director of HR business partners Danae Atkins. “It’s more of a stable 9-to-5, or a consulting basis, but it gets them out of the shift work, it gives them that fulfillment, and it also helps us leverage their knowledge.”At corporate real estate firm JLL, Giselle Battley, the global head of early career talent, facilitates knowledge transfer in both directions. The company lets workers at any level opt in to be mentors. “I might go find someone who’s earlier in their career but has a specialty in a space that I want to learn about,” she said.Mentorship and sharing knowledge across generations is all well and good, but panelists agreed that the challenge for most is finding the time to teach, and learn, something new. “Time is a precious commodity, even sometimes more than monetary resources,” said Atkins. “To carve out the time and the space, sometimes we’re able to get creative about this, like pulling all executives into a cohort program, or when we have some downtime in our plants, using that for training time.” You can encourage people to make time by building it into general performance expectations, she said. “If it’s important to your boss, it’s important to you. That’s often what motivates people to be able to carve out that time.”The full panel of speakers from top left, Shashank Bhushan of BMC Software, Heather Tinsley-Fix of AARP, Danae Atkins of Ball Corporation, and Giselle Battley of JLL (photo by From Day One)When time is a luxury, appeal to a worker’s sense of the future, Atkins said. “That point-of-need use has been very helpful for us. If you can show someone how this new skill will help them right now or how it will help them get to the next role, they’re more likely to jump in.”Battley said young workers are eager in this way, and employers can leverage mentorship from older workers in their retention strategy. “Their intent to stay with an organization is really dependent upon our ability to continue to grow them, develop them, and move them into new positions,” said Battley.Employers can’t expect workers to sign up for just any kind of skill development. “If you go into a room and ask people, ‘Do you want to grow?’ All hands will go up. But when it comes down to actual learning, the numbers drop dramatically, and it’s for a variety of reasons,” Bhushan noted. The first, he said, is time. The second is relevance.Younger workers with a career ahead of them are more incentivized to learn, but the knowledge has to fit into career growth, not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake. “There is an assumption that they have more time,” said Battley. That may be the case, “but they don’t want to use that time for this.”Employees have to know that their new skills will be put to good use, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be tomorrow. “That’s part of the wisdom for getting people to engage in the training: It’s good for me here and it grows me here, but I also know that my company is investing in my future, no matter where I choose to make that future.”Editor’s note: AARP, who sponsored this webinar, has partnered with MindEdge Learning to create a skills-building platform for employers to upskill their employees regardless of age. The course catalog includes a range of high-demand skills as well as durable soft skills to enhance productivity and contribute to the growth of your workforce and company. If you’re interested in signing up or just hearing more about these courses, add your name to the Google form here.Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Quartz at Work, Fast Company, Digiday’s Worklife, and Food Technology, among others.(Featured photo by Vanessa Nunes/iStock by Getty Images) 

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | May 30, 2023