The Equitable Employee Experience: How Total Rewards and Career Development Go Hand in Hand
Jason Cerrato, senior director of product marketing at Eightfold, a talent intelligence platform, discovered a downward trend in companies during the pandemic: women at every level were leaving their jobs at high rates, with working mothers bearing the brunt.In the early months of the pandemic, one in four women in the U.S. lost or left their jobs due to lack of childcare, nearly twice the rate of men. The pandemic exposed the gaps in companies’ benefits, with demand for childcare, once deemed a luxury benefit, to become a necessity.Demand for childcare support wasn’t the only change benefits packages saw: mental health benefits and workplace flexibility have also become a talking point for job seekers as well. In a panel discussion during From Day One’s Boston conference, moderator Janelle Nanos, business reporter at The Boston Globe, spoke with Cerrato and other industry leaders on how the pandemic reshaped the world of benefits and what leaders must do to keep their workers supported.Ditching the One-Size-Fits-All ApproachWith an increasingly diverse workforce, companies need to offer benefits that cater to different demographics and life stages. “The benefits landscape has drastically changed in the post-Covid era because of the diverse demographics coming into the organization and the level of awareness that the employees have,” Shahina Islam, vice president of HR at IT service management company Zensar, said.“The focus used to be mostly just compensation, but the conversations happening in the post-Covid era are now ‘You’re offering me compensation, but what else can I look forward to if I join you?’” Benefits should be made to serve every employee, however, that’s not the case. In the U.S., only 61% of employees are satisfied with their benefits.The disparity calls for greater scrutiny and a problem HR leaders need to be constantly working to solve, says Shawna Oliver, assistant vice president and head of global benefits & wellness at insurance company Manulife Financial Corporation.“We presume that everybody was having this delightful experience with their benefits. But Covid gave us the permission to say that’s not what happened because we started getting real about the things that we talked about,” Oliver said. “Everybody in this room has a different experience when they go to see their provider, their clinician, their specialist, their mental health provider. And I want everyone to ask themselves, is that what you want from your benefits? To me, when I offer a program, I want everyone to have that really amazing experience when they cross that line. And if that's not happening today, it’s my job to work with my team to make sure it does.”Data from benefits usage can tell a compelling story for companies, Oliver said. Employee engagement is among some key metrics that can provide data to help companies improve benefit offerings.“We all look at claims data, we look at engagement, we’ve counted how many people are using value, return on investment, but who here really looks at who’s not using your benefits? That’s just as meaningful,” Oliver said. “If you have pockets of employees with commonalities that are not using your benefits, there’s something wrong with your benefit. Look at your data, look at who’s not using your benefit because it’s really those two combined that’s telling you the full story about what's going on in your program.”Including Employees in the Benefits TalkIn transitioning to a post-pandemic workplace, employees are making sure the benefits that came about during the pandemic are here to stay. Today’s employees are learning to vocalize their needs more than ever, with employees contributing to the conversations.Janelle Nanos of the Boston Globe moderated the executive panel discussion.As Head of Technology at C&W Services, a facility services company, Jodi Enggasser discusses the success she found from involving workers in the benefits conversation. Straying away from the traditional top-down approach and leaning into a discussion forum allows workers to discuss their needs more openly, Enggasser said.“The decision that was coming from executive leave or leadership was going to be pushed down on us. It didn’t let us have a say or a choice,” Enggasser said. “But now you can raise your hand to be part of a council where that council has a slice from the various types of populations in the company and you have an opportunity to review the types of benefits. It helped us feel like we were a part of the process and like we were part of the solution.”Supporting ManagersManagers are often the ones interacting with employees the most and can learn of problems and conflicts workers may be dealing with. For managers to best serve employees, managers must be trained and equipped properly, Jess Marble, director of Care for Business, said.“Your managers are on the front lines of your workforce. They’re the first to hear about a child missing school or a parent being sick. They’re the first to identify some of those triggers that are going to be disruptive to the workforce,” Marble said. “If you empower managers to have the tools to help employees get started on solutions, it’s going to benefit you as an employer because managers are going to be empowered to come to you and ask for solutions that will address some of the pain points that they’re hearing in the workforce.”The benefits of providing employees with adequate resources and substantial support not only lead to increased employee satisfaction but can increase work productivity and employee retention as well. By removing obstacles for the employees in and out of the workplace, companies are also investing and supporting employee’s career development as well, Cerrato says.“We build a process that helps with the career side of this career development and sometimes it’s just the visualization of that and making that a reality [for employees],” Cerrato said. “But sometimes that’s not what’s holding that person back. Sometimes it’s the availability of work, the schedule, or returning to the office. When we start to combine these worlds and have some of these, “How are you doing?” conversations, then we’ll be able to have career development conversations.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.