Employee Benefits Get Extreme

HR Magazine
Susan Milligan

Yahoo transports workers from their homes to the office. PricewaterhouseCoopers employees get help paying back student loans. And at Caruso Affiliated, even the most junior workers are eligible to use a concierge service to pick up their dry cleaning and plan their kids’ birthday parties.

Welcome to the new world of benefits, where ever-more imaginative perks are being built around the evolving needs of modern families, the interests of Millennial employees (those born between 1981 and 2000) and the elusive goal of achieving work/life balance.

Health insurance and 401(k)s have suddenly become old-school—necessary but not always sufficient for attracting and retaining top talent, especially young workers who may need more incentive than their older peers to commit to a company for more than a year or two. That’s why many employers are adjusting their benefits packages to include a wide array of items that ease the stresses of workers’ day-to-day lives. The goal is to create happier, more-stable workforces that are far less likely to be distracted at the office because of unfinished tasks at home.

​“If organizations want to recruit and retain the best talent, they have to know the types of benefits that will attract and engage employees,” says Rae Shanahan, chief strategy officer at Businessolver, a Des Moines, Iowa-based benefits administration company. Shanahan strives to apply that approach at her company, where workers enjoy onsite fitness classes and are given rides to and from the mechanic when their car is in the shop.

Moreover, at many companies, in-office perks such as free snacks and games, once considered the exclusive province of hip tech startups, have gone mainstream.

In short, workers now want more, says Vincent Burneikis, vice president of learning, development and hospitality at Los Angeles-based real estate company Caruso Affiliated.

“We really wanted to be able to make a real impact on the lives of employees and enhance their quality of life,” he says. That’s what led to the company’s recently introduced concierge benefit.

“I hate standing in line,” Burneikis says. “The gift of time, you really can’t buy.”

Within the first month of operation, the concierge saved employees 540 hours, he says. “As soon as one person started using it, the floodgates just opened up.”

The service does more than simply run errands for employees. It helps them plan vacations and even buy tickets for Dodgers games, where they can meet players on the field after the event. Usually, such pampering is reserved for high-level executives, but at Caruso everyone can take advantage of the concierge.

Financial Aid

While the gift of time is valuable to today’s employees, so, too, is the more traditional gift of, well, money. However, today’s workers are hardly the stereotypical greed-consumed yuppies of yesteryear; rather, most are simply trying to make ends meet. Because wage growth has been stagnant for years—while the cost of housing and education have not—many employees are struggling to pay their bills, whether for student loans, mortgages or one-time, big-ticket expenses such as cars or weddings.

That money crunch makes them more stressed and less focused on work. Offering perks that provide financial relief can be a powerful recruitment and retention tool, even if employers aren’t willing to increase salaries.

Research shows that assistance with student loan repayments is still rare, but that may not be the case for much longer, because many employees—particularly members of the cash-strapped Millennial generation—are coming to expect it. Only 4 percent of employers offer the benefit, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2016 Employee Benefits research report.

​Yet a whopping 89 percent of job seekers with debt indicated that they believe employers should offer student loan repayment as part of the benefits package. In fact, 10 percent ranked student loan help higher than paid vacation time as the “most important” benefit, according to a survey from Beyond, an online job network. “When Millennials are entering the workplace and thinking ‘What is my move?’ one [priority] is ‘I need a job to pay off my loans,’ ” says Joe Weinlick, Beyond’s senior vice president of marketing.

That’s why New York City-based PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) provides associates and senior associates $1,200 a year toward their loans for up to six years. Payments go directly to the loan provider, and while the benefit maxes out at $7,200, the reduced interest payments from a shorter payback period can save a debtor as much as $10,000, says Michael Fenlon, PwC’s chief people officer. The time it takes to pay back a loan can be shortened by up to three years, the company estimates.
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