Making the Employer-Value Proposition More Inclusive to the Diversity of Working Families

BY Angelica Frey | May 22, 2023

Jessica Kim has cared for her mother during her battle with cancer, has three kids, and is now caring for her 84-year-old father. “I am living for the need of caregiving support for all ages, all stages,” she told journalist Megan Ulu-lani Boyanton during a panel at a From Day One virtual conference. Kim’s personal story led her to establish ianacare, a platform that helps navigate care in the home for caregivers. ‘iana’ stands for “I am not alone,” and, while unique in its unfolding, her life experience is mirrored in the situations more and more workers are facing as they are navigating employment, caring for their offspring, and caring for their aging and/or ailing parents.

“I had my grandmother living with me until she passed at 92, my mother-in-law lives with me, and my son has ADHD and came out as part of the LGBTQ+ population,” replied Singleton Beato, global EVP and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at the global advertising communication company McCann Worldgroup. “I am living in the middle of ages, stages, and life experiences.”

Inequities affect the caregiving population, but organizations are striving to create benefit packages that meet and address their needs. Caregiving populations are part of workplace demographics that, while not faced with outward hostility, have suffered from neglect. “Many issues are cultural,” said Kim. “When we think about how we respond to neglect, we have to see how we approach it: not just data or checkboxes.” 

Mental Health as a Springboard

“In the last few years, the common element was wellbeing and mental health,” said Livia Konkel, global diversity, equity, inclusion and corporate citizenship leader at the pharmaceutical company Charles River Laboratories. “Everything we do is centered on belonging and mental wellbeing. We have 5 pillars we work around: career, financial, physical, social, emotional. In all of that, we try to focus on benefits that will serve the whole person: one of the things we excel at is the emotional space.” On a related note, Charles River Laboratories eliminated the four-year degree requirements and added a tuition reimbursement for up to $20,000 “to make workplace easier to access,” said Konkel, herself a first-generation college graduate.

The full panel of speakers, from top left, moderator Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton, Singleton Beato, Shalin Kothari, Kristen Carlisle, Jessica Kim, and Livia Konkel (photo by From Day One)

“Financial health is mental health is physical health,” said Kristen Carlisle, VP and general manager of the financial wellness benefits platform Betterment. “You’re not gonna be able to address every single thing, but you need to take time to step back: what’s working, what’s not working. 70% of people say their finances stress them. And when you are the employer, you say you do benchmarking, but in my own experience, I was making okay money but was also a caregiver and I was barely getting by.”

Taking a Holistic Approach

“What comes to mind when it comes to neglected demographics,” said Kim, “[is that] you don’t solve for what you don’t see: they don’t raise their hands and go to HR.”

It’s not an easy issue to address. “There is a lot of work to do: assessing the places in the world where the organization has facilities to understand what the underserved communities are, then building policies from there,” said Beato. “You need to make sure you understand what your folks need.” One example is making sure that one’s workplace and office building are, indeed, accessible to everyone on the spectrum of ability and disability. It’s also important to add policies and consideration for people going through menopause and to create gender-neutral facilities. “You need both the written policies and the physical conditions, [including] space to pray, and spaces where people like my son, who has ADHD, can collect themselves.”

The most obvious hurdle, in this instance, is funding. “Since the pandemic, people are more careful in how they spend their money. One of the things we need to improve is to make a business case showing how these implementations decrease healthcare costs, increase retention, and drive down attrition,” explained Shalin Kothari, vice president of people and DEI strategy at the digital automation company Schneider Electric. “We understate the cost of a new hire. There are a lot of hidden costs we don’t take into consideration.”

The Leading Role of Middle Managers

In order for these implementations to be successful and lasting, involvement has to go beyond executive leadership. “You have to ensure that your leaders are invested and also that they communicate and cascade their expectations down the chain to people’s managers, so that when these initiatives are pushed forward, the managers are going to help make the conditions and employees can take advantage of them,” said Beato. “A lot of executives are proponents of an inclusive culture,” said Kothari, backing up Beato. “Middle managers are often overwhelmed. Many of them today have a more diverse, multigenerational workforce, and the expectation is not just to manage their team, but to deliver as well.”

Given the way managing people has drastically changed in the last fifteen years, and will most likely continue to do so (compare managing six months into the pandemic to managing three years into it), “We decided to retain career coaching,” said Carlisle. This solution has been a way to help her own company’s middle managers. “We’re a benefits provider, and we provide our own: a whole lot of feedback!”

Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Boston and Milan.


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The Three Pillars of Wellness: Physical, Mental, and Financial

The three pillars of wellness–physical, mental, and financial–are like three legs on a stool. Lose one, and the whole thing tips over. For example, if an employee needs an emergency medical procedure and has a high-deductible plan with little savings, not only will their physical health suffer, but they will soon feel mental and emotional stress as well. Ideally, employers will have plans in place to provide support in all areas.Rather than thinking in terms of siloes, the more effective approach for benefits leaders is to see how three pillars support an employee’s overall well-being. In a recent fireside chat at From Day One’s April virtual conference, Nate Nevas, head of benefits and health services at Pitney Bowes, provided an inside look at how to provide individualized care for a diverse workforce.The Current Moment in BenefitsThe current state of the workforce is both “the best of times, and the worst of times,” said Nevas. There are external forces making benefits challenging, including a nationwide lack of available primary care physicians and the rising costs of healthcare.But on the flip side, the current embrace of technology is having a positive impact on the HR world. “There are some things now that are available to provide as resources to our employees that are fantastic, that five, ten, 15 years ago just weren’t available,” Nevas said. This includes app-based resources like virtual healthcare appointments, online professional training courses, and even group fitness classes.Moderator Jeanhee Kim, an independent journalist, notes that the World Health Organization recently stated we are now going on year five of Covid. “Covid strained not just our physical health, but also strained our mental health and the economy,” Kim said. In order to embrace the current moment, employers need to be ready to address each of these concerns among their workforce.A Holistic Approach to Mental HealthNevas says that physical, mental, and financial wellness should all be approached with equal importance, and employers need to recognize how they are all interconnected. “We don't look at one as being more important than the other,” he said. “They’re all equally important to create someone who is going to come in and be fulfilled, be able to do their job, and feel good about themselves as an individual.”Journalist Jeanhee Kim interviewed Nate Nevas of Pitney Bowes at From Day One's April virtual conference (photo by From Day One)Prior to the pandemic, Nevas says, mental wellness tended to fall on the back burner. But throughout Covid, the need for mental health support became apparent, and his team began to put it on equal footing with physical and financial concerns. “We started a concerted effort to destigmatize mental wellness, using the phrase ‘it’s OK to not be OK,’” he said. Pitney Bowes began offering internal webinars “not just as a check-the-box effort, but as a consistent conversation and making it an acceptable conversation.”Since mental wellness statistics can be harder to track among employees than, say, 401(k) participation, leaders can gauge success by reviewing webinar statistics to see which topics are most important and touching base with senior leaders to see what employees are saying.Providing Individualized CareFor a global organization like Pitney Bowes, the workforce population is diverse, from high-powered salaried corporate executives to hourly workers for whom English might not be their first language. To keep things fair and consistent, Nevas says, Pitney Bowes doesn’t offer different benefits to different types of employees, but it may emphasize certain benefits to certain employees based on their interests and adjust how it communicates about them. For example, retirement planning options may be more attractive to employees who are salaried, even if the same benefits are offered to hourly workers too.Much of it comes down to knowing your audience and meeting them where they are. Hourly workers don’t have company email addresses or computers, he says. “We provide benefit guides that are in multiple languages. We know which languages are spoken the most at certain sites, and we’ll do hardcopy handouts there,” he said. He also knows there are huddle in-person meetings at the start of every shift, so he’ll give team leaders important messages to relay at those gatherings. Important messages will also appear on screens onsite, and each location has an employee experience champion available to explain benefits and encourage enrollment.Knowing that net cash flow is also important to the hourly population, Pitney Bowes provides advance pay options, low contribution health plans, and even major appliance purchase programs to help these employees make the most of their paychecks.Saving Money by Providing Better BenefitsPhysical, mental, and financial wellness benefits don’t have to break the bank for employers. Nevas says his organization has a benefits hub with discounts on car rentals, groceries, movie tickets, insurance, and more, plus a partnership to help with student loan refinancing. These benefits do not cost the organization any money, but can save the employee money and give them special access to certain perks.Pitney Bowes also emphasizes the importance and availability of free, preventative care so employees do not get hit as hard by future out-of-pocket costs. This is especially crucial among their immigrant employee population, which Nevas notes has more of a cultural resistance to medical check-ups.And of course, employee turnover can be a costly hit to an organization for a variety of reasons, so providing attractive benefits is also a boon to retention, particularly during this time of the great resignation. For Nevas and his team, this comes down to providing genuine, individualized care with an eye toward advancement and longevity. “Our employee value proposition is that ‘We do the right thing the right way,’” he said. They emphasize not only physical, mental, and financial wellness benefits, but also career development in terms of professional resources and a clear pathway to promotion. “We’re going to help you grow. Once we get someone in the door, it's about who we are as an organization, and what we're able to provide as a company from a cultural standpoint, not just benefits, but the whole picture and your professional development.”Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | April 26, 2024

How a Leader Brings Clarity to Benefits Offerings

“Benefits, perks, compensation–they’re all taken into account when job offers are made. That’s how you remain competitive. We don’t have to offer every single benefit that’s out there. We just have to offer the right ones.” This is according to Lenka Sloman, the managing director, and head of total rewards at global advertising firm GroupM.Sloman joined the company in September 2023, taking over the company’s benefits offerings and finding ways for GroupM to remain competitive for top ad talent. During the closing fireside chat at From Day One’s April virtual conference, I interviewed the total rewards leader about her strategy for getting the best return on investment for GroupM’s total rewards.Sloman’s challenge will be to balance market demands with individual needs.Tracking the Most Popular BenefitsThere is no limit to the size of benefits packages today. Not only are there innumerable vendors and platforms, the breadth of options is ever-widening.Sloman has been watching the market for the most popular benefits and perks. Right now, it’s all about family planning. GroupM enhanced its family-building benefits recently, adding features like egg freezing, donor services, adoption, paid time off, and parental leave. The company even added milk-shipping services, “so if a birthing parent goes back to work and is traveling, they can pump their milk and have it sent to their homes, so the baby can continue feeding,” said Sloman. It can also be used for surrogacy arrangements.“This is critically important for our employees,” she said. “We want to make sure our employees don’t have to worry about taking time off because they have to take care of a child–or whatever the case may be. If we get it right, they can concentrate on bonding with their newborns or adopted children, and it balances with their professional lives.”And she didn’t forget about those workers who don’t have kids at home. GroupM even offers dog-walking and pet-sitting services. “Pets are part of the family too,” she said.Competing for Talent With Exceptional Benefits PackagesSo, how does Sloman stay abreast of what’s going on in the benefits market?The talent acquisition team gathers information from job seekers about what they’re being offered elsewhere–and this provides helpful intel. But Sloman puts more stock into the data gathered by benefits consultants. “Understanding the benchmarks and getting guidance from our consultants sometimes has a more accurate description as to what our peers are doing. That’s what we base our decisions on. Really, it’s an art, not a science.”Lenka Sloman, right, was interviewed by journalist Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza during the virtual fireside chat (photo by From Day One)Keeping up with what’s happening in the benefits workplace, learning to distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves, and annually reviewing GroupM’s utilization plan are the three steps she follows to make the company an employer of choice.When benefits are regularly refreshed and augmented, new hires will be interested and current ones are more likely to stay. But the annual review isn’t necessarily spring cleaning. “We don’t have a policy that says, if no one’s using it, we’re going to get rid of it. We will generally put it on a watch list to revisit it once a year to make sure the return on investment is there.”To keep ROI high, employees have to know what’s available so they can use it. Sloman is persistent in her comms strategy. She holds a weekly call with new hires to review their benefits and answer questions. Existing employees get their own call focused on a specific benefit, often selected for timeliness. These calls are heavily attended, she said. “In February, for example, we wanted to make sure everyone got their receipts for their FSA, so we dedicated time to remind employees.”Sloman keeps an eye on the market, careful to not fall into the trap of fads. Yet she’s also keen on individualization. Work-life balance looks different for every employee, and the way they want to achieve it will vary just as widely. To this end, Sloman likes to keep some perks as flexible as possible.“I think people-first culture and work-life balance right now are top priorities for employees. That’s something we haven’t had before,” she said. But that means something different to everyone. To some, flexible work isn’t an interesting benefit; they would rather have more time off to spend with their families. Others will prefer remote work. The point is that employees could pick and choose their work and benefits arrangements in a way that best fits them. That’s something they’ll likely stick around for.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 BBC, the Economist, the Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | April 24, 2024

Making Benefits More Accessible–and Meaningful

Nicole Cody became the vice president of total rewards at International Paper in 2020, right in the middle of the first year of Covid. “That was an interesting time to come into this space,” she said during a panel discussion at From Day One’s April virtual conference.Cody told moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company that the biggest spike in demand she has seen “is perhaps, not surprisingly, access to mental health providers and mental health care.”A majority of Americans say money problems negatively impact their mental health, says Will Peng, CEO and co-founder of Northstar, a comprehensive financial wellness benefit. “Financial stressors are very closely related to other pillars of well-being,” he said.Today’s workers want lifestyle spending accounts, which allow them to allocate benefit funds from their employers for wellness programs they need the most, says Megan Burns, benefits strategy and solutions lead for Forma, an employee benefits platform.Those programs can include physical wellness, social-emotional health, financial counseling, and whatever else the company deems eligible. She noted some studies indicate that by 2025, about 40% of employers will have some sort of lifestyle spending or customizable spending account in place. “It’s definitely become a really trendy benefit.”Stress Management and Mental HealthStress management has become a much-desired employee benefit in recent years, says Alecia Williams-Pierre, VP of total rewards at Atrium Hospitality.“We have been looking at implementing different webinars or meditations just as part of our culture to help associates be able to manage stress overall,” she said.Having access to mental health care providers is an enormous challenge, especially in rural locations, according to Cody.“So, when we were looking at how we could beef up our offerings, we looked at a provider network that doesn’t go through insurance,” she said. “They’re not part of a carrier’s provider network. They’re just mental health providers that get direct payments. And we found a way to process the claims through our insurance plan on the back end.”This arrangement allowed International Paper to get its employees access to care within days as opposed to weeks, says Cody.Helping Employees Manage Financial StressPeng says financial wellness is at the top of everyone’s mind right now because of inflation. “Everything seems to be really expensive now. It’s hard to walk out the door without spending more money than we hoped.”Northstar has a platform to help people manage their finances and provides one-on-one counseling, says Peng. He says creating a personalized plan for each individual life stage is the best form of support. For example, if an employee is starting a family, they must change their budget and decide on their benefits.The benefits and total rewards leaders spoke at From Day One's April virtual conference about "Benefits That Fit Individual Needs Without Busting the Budget" (photo by From Day One)“For what should be an exciting life event, oftentimes, we’re overwhelmed with a ton of logistical and financial decisions that we have to make,” he said. “So, it’s about creating those systems and guidance to help our people feel supported.”Lifestyle Spending AccountsDuring the pandemic, employees became more aware of the need to balance work and life, says Sarah Schutzburger, benefits and wellness manager for Samsung Semiconductor.“Employees would come to us saying, ‘What about this vendor? What about this support program? What about this resource?’” she said.As a result, Samsung Semiconductor recently implemented a lifestyle spending account so workers “can customize what’s valuable to them, and be reimbursed for those types of benefits,” Schutzburger said.Employees value lifestyle spending accounts because “they love choice and they love flexibility,” Burns said. Managing multiple benefits vendors can be costly and time-consuming for employers. However, lifestyle savings accounts are “sort of the easy button,” said Burns.More than 75% of the employers who partner with Forma repurpose existing budget dollars for lifetime savings accounts. “I would say the value is both from an employee’s appreciation of the benefit, administrative time, and direct financial ROI,” she said.Communicating With Employees About BenefitsBenefits only work if employees know and understand them, says Schutzberger. That’s why it’s critical for organizations to have “clear and concise messaging, using simple language to explain the benefits and their importance and avoiding jargon.”Companies should also “tell a story about the benefits,” Schutzberger said. Whether they are new parents or nearing retirement, “they want to know how they apply to them.”Williams-Pierre recommends organizations talk to their employees about benefits all year round using multiple channels such as email, webinars, and mailers.At Atrium Hospitality, communicating these options can be tricky, because benefits need to be discussed in various languages. “We have to have Spanish, we have to have French, we have to have Tagalog. And as our population grows and changes, we have to be more creative and be ready to meet the need.”Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa. 

Mary Pieper | April 23, 2024