Over the past two years, we’ve seen a growing number of organizations leverage their HR strategies as a means of enhancing their employer and consumer brands simultaneously. The idea behind this “HR-as-PR” strategy is to make the organization more attractive to candidates—a growing concern in a tight labor market—while also cultivating a reputation among increasingly values-focused millennial customers as a progressive or socially conscious company.
Viewed through this lens, Rent the Runway CEO and co-founder Jennifer Y. Hyman’s recent op-ed at the New York Times illustrates the emergence of a new theme in HR as PR: ensuring that different classes of employees enjoy equal access to benefits like parental leave:
Like so many companies before us, my company, Rent the Runway, had two tiers of workers. Our salaried employees — who typically came from relatively privileged, educated backgrounds — were given generous parental leave, paid sick leave and the flexibility to work from home, or even abroad. Our hourly employees, working in Rent the Runway’s warehouse, on the customer service team and in our retail stores, had to face life events like caring for a newborn, grieving after the death of a family member or taking care of a critically ill loved one without this same level of benefits.
I had inadvertently created classes of employees — and by doing so, had done my part to contribute to America’s inequality problem. …
Qualtrics, a customer and employee experience management company based in Provo, Utah, introduced a new bonus scheme in January that focuses on its own employees’ experiences. The new perk, which replaced the company’s $1,000 Christmas bonus, offers employees $1,500 expressly to fund meaningful experiences for themselves and their families. SHRM’s Kathy Gurchiek takes an extensive look at this “experience bonus” and how Qualtrics employees are using it:
At Qualtrics, a full-time employee who has worked at least one year at any of its 14 offices—regardless of one’s job performance rating or review—may submit a form outlining the experience he or she has planned. Qualtrics deposits the money into the employee’s account for that purpose.
“We’re not going to judge and say ‘you should do this or that.’ … We want you to do what’s meaningful for you, and we want to empower you to do something [special],” said [Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics], who used his bonus to visit his parents who had moved to Melbourne, Australia. Unused bonus money does not accumulate, as the company wants to encourage employees to savor life.
Qualtrics employees, 80 percent of whom are millennials, have used their bonuses in a variety of ways: diving with sharks, hiking the Great Wall of China, seeing Hamilton from the third row, or launching a charity to raise money for an orphanage in Kenya. The original idea behind the benefit, Maugham said, was to exemplify the company’s culture of wanting the best for its employees, but it has also paid off as a recruiting and retention tool.
Last month, PwC rolled out a $45 million investment in its employee wellness program, including a suite of new benefits for working parents, Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson reported at the time:
- $1000 bonus to all staff to spend on wellness-related activities;
- Four weeks of “Paid Family Care Leave” for all partners and staff to care for certain family member with serious health conditions;
- Eight weeks of paid parental leave for staff of any gender with a new child (currently six);
- New “Phased Return to Work” transition, with the option of new parents working 60% of hours, at full-time pay, for an additional four weeks following a block of paid parental leave;
- $25K reimbursement, per child, for adoption (currently $5K);
- $25K reimbursement, per child, for surrogacy (traditional and gestational) expenses;
- Pro bono membership to sittercity.com (childcare, housekeeping, pet care services);
- Six hours of free Eldercare consultation (home assessments, implementation of care, etc.)
These expanded benefits, which according to Amanda Eisenberg at Employee Benefit News will go into effect on July 1, mirror what many other large US employers are doing to make their family benefits more generous and more inclusive. The point of interest here is PwC’s Phased Return to Work program, which the professional services firm says is the first of its kind. Offering this benefit up-front and actively marketing it to employees avoids the trap wherein new parents are afraid to ask for the flexibility they need out of fear of being seen as uncommitted. Closing that loophole was the motivation for Adobe’s returning employee flexibility program, which allows employees returning from at least three months of leave to work a non-traditional schedule for at least four months and requires all returnees to meet with their manager and HR to discuss this option.
Paying employees a full-time salary to work only part-time may sound absurd on its face, but we’ve seen a few other organizations experiment with shorter workdays in recent years. PwC’s policy will be worth watching, as it will provide another data point in how a limited workweek affects employee productivity, particularly among the highly stressed cohort of new parents.
CommonBond, a financial technology company specializing in student loan refinancing and consolidation, recently surveyed 1,500 employees and 500 HR executives across the US to see how student loan debt assistance fits into employers’ financial wellbeing strategies and how well these programs were really meeting the needs of employees. The results of the survey indicate that student debt has a significant impact on the entire American workforce—not just millennials—and that organizations could make a big difference to their employees’ financial health by focusing financial wellness benefits on this form of debt.
Needless to say, CommonBond has a business interest in reaching that conclusion, but its findings happen to dovetail with what we already know from previous studies and our ongoing research at CEB, now Gartner, on global trends in education benefits.
Perhaps the most important of CommonBond’s findings is that 78 percent of employees who currently have or expect to accrue student loan debt want their employer to offer a student debt repayment benefit, including 65 percent of employees in this category over the age of 55. Among employees with student debt, repayment assistance is the most commonly requested financial wellness benefit, CommonBond found, yet HR leaders rank it as their third priority.
In our most recent survey of over 6,000 employees across the globe, we also found that employees value these benefits highly: 61 percent of employees see education benefits as an important factor in making a decision about a job offer. Of the organizations that offer education benefits, 90 percent provide tuition assistance—which has proven hugely successful at organizations from Cigna to Chipotle—but only 7 percent provide student loan reimbursement.
(CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members should stay tuned, as more insights on education benefits from our annual benefits communication survey will be released next month.)
The San Mateo, California-based online polling company SurveyMonkey announced last week that it has been offering the independent contractors it employs a suite of “gold standard” medical, dental, and vision benefits, identical to those of its regular full-time employees, since January, Phil Albinus reports at Employee Benefit News:
Under the medical plan, 80% of claim costs are paid by its insurance carrier and the third-party employer pays 85% of employee premium and 50% of dependent premium. Contract and third-party employees are entitled to 80 hours of vacation and 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, including seven paid holidays, 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year and 12 weeks of paid medical leave per year. These workers can also receive a monthly subsidy of up to $260 for public transit expenses.
The divide between employees and contractors in Silicon Valley is vast: Whereas Facebook, for instance, reported a median employee salary of over $240,000 in its latest proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that number does not include the army of contractors and subcontractors who provide security, custodial, catering, and other facilities management services for the social media giant. These contingent workers don’t enjoy anything resembling the plush benefits packages Facebook offers its full-time employees, and the impact of this inequality in the high-cost San Francisco Bay Area has drawn growing criticism toward the tech sector (Facebook is by no means unique in this regard).
In our age of HR as PR, benefits inequality has become an increasingly popular subject of scrutiny on the part of investors, the public, and the press. Starbucks expanded parental leave benefits for its hourly store employees earlier this year after activist investors began asking pointed questions about the disparity in leave benefits between hourly and salaried employees and whether this difference put the company at risk for claims of discrimination. Interestingly, in the case of SurveyMonkey, the impetus to equalize benefits for contractors came not from investors or the press, but rather from employees:
The KFC Foundation, the charitable arm of the fast food chain, is providing a new benefit for employees of both corporate-owned and franchised KFC restaurants in the US: personal finance coaching. According to a press release from the foundation, the MyChange program, offered in partnership with the mobile financial planning service company Sum180, “fosters personalized financial wellness and teaches foundational personal finance skills” to employees, combining a confidential financial wellness app with a personal adviser who can help them budget, plan, and learn more about how to manage their personal finances.
The MyChange program comes in addition to several other educational benefits KFC offers its US employees through the foundation:
MyChange joins several other KFC Foundation offerings, including Rise with GEDworks (personalized high school credential assistance), the KFC Family Fund (hardship and crisis assistance), and the REACH Educational Grant Program (college tuition assistance at $2,000, $2,500 and $3,000 award levels), rounding out the employee assistance organization to support the whole wellbeing of KFC’s restaurant employees.
Krista Snider, managing director of the KFC Foundation, tells Amanda Eisenberg at Employee Benefit News more about how the program came to life:
Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart was in talks to acquire the health insurance company Humana, currently valued at around $37 billion, raising the prospect of another merger with transformative implications for the benefits industry. Both companies are keeping mum about the possible deal, though Bloomberg heard from a person familiar with the talks that the most likely outcome was a closer partnership between the retailer and the insurer, which already collaborate on providing prescription drugs for US senior citizens insured through Medicare (Humana is the second-largest provider of government-supported private Medicare Advantage plans in the US).
Either way, a closer partnership between these giants could have some major implications for the US health insurance market, especially in combination with the other changes that are going on. The pharmacy chain CVS announced in December that it had agreed to purchase the insurer Aetna for $69 billion as part of an effort to transform its 9,700 retail drug stores into “health care supermarkets” complete with wellness clinics for preventive care (That merger was approved by shareholders last month but has yet to pass muster with antitrust regulators in the Justice Department).
A similar move by Walmart would be groundbreaking, given the big-box retailer’s massive presence throughout the US. Even a deal to provide health care for Walmart’s 1.5 million US employees would be significant. Walmart becoming a health care provider would make a big difference, Tracy Watts, senior partner at Mercer, tells Employee Benefit News reporter Kathryn Mayer:
“I would think whatever happens with the deal, Walmart would leverage its relationship with Humana to provide primary care or extend convenience care to its employees in addition to the general public,” Watts says. She also predicts the retailer will leverage its onsite care locations to provide a convenient, cost-effective way for employees and others to receive basic treatments. “For employees to get healthcare from Walmart in those rural locations can be a really good thing,” she says.