Benefits That Benefit
On-site acupuncture, yoga classes? Lunches made by chefs?! While these are some of the headline-grabbing employee benefits and perks offered out there — typically by top tech firms in Silicon Valley — a comprehensive and forward-looking benefits package does make a significant impact in recruiting and retaining top talent.
According to the Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey, about 60% of people report that benefits and perks are a major factor in considering whether to accept a job offer. The survey also found that 80% would take additional benefits over a pay raise. Forward-looking benefits create loyalty and improve the lives of employees. According to Indeed.com, benefits “can improve your or your team members’ health and quality of life.”
“Benefits support employees in their lives outside of the workplace,” said Amanda Young (Management ‘01), chief human resources officer at Bankers Trust. “They also create a genuine connection on how employees view their employer and how their employer takes care of them. How do we take care of people? Benefits provide that support and make it easier for our employees to focus their energy at work.”
Holistic but Personalized Perks
Coming out of the height of the pandemic, companies around the country have reevaluated what their benefits packages look like as the fight for top talent increases
Bankers Trust, Iowa’s largest privately owned bank, recently overhauled its benefits package to offer a more individualized approach to more than 600 employees. In addition to standard offerings like PTO (paid-time-off) and 401Ks, the company transformed its fitness reimbursement program into “Lifestyle Accounts.” Not only did Bankers Trust raise the reimbursement amount, but it also included items representing different parts of wellness.
“We’ve used this as a more holistic approach to wellness,” Young said. Examples include tuition reimbursements, dog park memberships, nonmedical counseling and more. “We really tried to expand that benefit that already existed and give it a larger amount, then evenly divide it within our organization. We’re giving more to employees that were in lower pay grade levels.”
The company doesn’t have exact numbers because the offering is still relatively new, but Young said the usage rate for the program has increased. Bankers Trust also offers matching programs for charitable giving and volunteer time off. Thanks to employee engagement surveys, Young said many of these programs have been improved over the years as well, directly responding to feedback.
“I think these benefits really do reduce stress. They support our employee’s lives outside of the workplace,” Young said. “They create a more genuine connection on how employees view their employer... Benefits have changed over the last several years. I really think when we get down to it, employees want us to know that they are unique individuals.”
Alliant Energy, a major utility provider in Wisconsin and Iowa, recently pivoted toward a more holistic wellness approach with its benefits as well. In May 2023, the company began offering a mental health and wellbeing benefit, offering up to six free therapy sessions per year for employees and their family members covered by medical benefits. Employees are also offered a personalized care navigator who can help them find doctors, appointments, medication coaching and more.
“It’s been very well received by employees in our organization,” said Diane Cooke (Accounting ‘01), vice president of human resources at Alliant Energy. “Our purpose as a company is to serve customers and build stronger communities. So, you think about that, and the only way we can do that is by having highly engaged and valued employees in our organizations.”
Alliant Energy has more than 3,100 employees. The company believes that benefits focusing on mental health, as well as traditional benefits such as competitive health insurance and retirement benefits, contribute to better employee engagement and productivity.
“We certainly think that these types of benefits help power people’s lives in and outside of work,” Cooke said. “When you focus on wellbeing, that means you’re well rested, you feel safer, and you’re probably going to be more mindful, present and innovative. I think these all really factor in the work-life balance.”
Responding to a mental health crisis
Alliant Energy and Bankers Trust are part of a larger trend around wellbeing benefits. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues skyrocketed. In 2021, nearly half of Americans reported recent symptoms of anxiety or depression and 10% said their mental health needs were not being met. In the workplace, a U.S. Surgeon General survey found that 76% of employees reported at least one mental health condition. About 81% of employees said they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future.
It seems that companies have answered in recent years. According to Glassdoor, 63% of companies surveyed in 2022 offered benefits for mental health, compared to 45% in 2017.
Atul Mitra, professor and head of management at the UNI College of Business, focuses his research on the management of compensation practices, including salaries and benefits. A trend he noticed coming out of the height of the pandemic was the blurring of work and life, which has likely contributed to these numbers and the beneficial push toward supporting mental health in the workplace. There’s also a shift in workplace demographics, as the early part of Generation Z starts to join the workforce.
“Beyond the pandemic, I think there’s a new generation that wants more mental health and wellbeing, which has helped it emerge as a significant category of benefits within the last two or three years,” Mitra said. “Within that, there are some interesting offerings. Expanding resource programs that offer free therapy sessions. Or even offering pet insurance to encourage employees to get pets, which has shown to improve mental health.”
Other examples include fitness membership reimbursements, flexible work hours and arrangements, caregiver leave, meditation apps or even a dog-friendly office.
Younger Employees Look to Social Responsibility, Personalization
At Principal Financial Group, where Skylar Mayberry-Mayes (Finance ‘12) works as a Senior Strategist with Principal® Foundation and community relations, there are a host of unique and innovative benefits, including (unlimited) Flexible Time Off, an employee stock purchase plan, tuition assistance, a volunteer & match giving program and much more. And, according to Mayberry- Mayes’ PhD research studies, some of the most desired benefits for younger employees are how a company encourages and promotes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), as well as fostering a culture of continued learning.
“I do agree that a lot of traditional benefits like flexible work schedules and paid time off, are extremely important for employees,” Mayberry-Mayes said. “But equally compelling is what a company does socially, and how they show up as a good corporate citizen within their communities.”
Company programs focused on volunteerism, charitable giving, and employee engagement can go a long way in building brand affinity and employee retention. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, 46% of Generation Z and 55% of Millennials say CSR is important. Those two demographics will make up about 72% of the workforce by 2029.
“Mentioning that there’s volunteer time off and other charitable benefits to employees is very important, in addition to featuring the good that a company does within their community” Mayberry-Mayes said. “It’s not as common that you see CSR aligned benefits being listed in job postings, but it makes a difference in what attracts younger talent nowadays.”
Just like they have for the past two decades, benefits and perks will continue changing as these younger generations make their voices heard. On the business side, one of the biggest benefit costs is health insurance, and prices continue to rise. Young believes that will lead more companies to look for more individualized, al-la-carte perks like Bankers Trust’s “Lifestyle Accounts,” to offer benefits in other areas to remain competitive for a wide range of employees.
“I do think that if companies have limited resources, they’re going to look for opportunities that allow them to meet employees differently at different parts of their life,” Young said. “Benefits like the Lifestyle Accounts gives the employer and employee more flexibility and options because people are looking for a more individualized experience.”
Cooke agrees, adding that education around benefits is important. And as these employee perks continue to evolve, both employees and employers figure to benefit. Employees receive a more holistic approach, and employers enjoy a more engaged and healthier workforce.
“I think benefits will offer more optionality about how people live their lives and what they find valuable,” Cooke said. “During the pandemic, employees navigated a lot of political and social unrest. I think employees look to their employers to be that center of interest. So employees will continue to look to employers to continue to provide those options that meet their needs that continue to expand and change.”