When hiring new employees, you’re looking for people who you know will be talented, efficient and productive. But productivity isn’t a responsibility that falls solely on employees. In order to do their best work, employees need an environment that supports their needs and values them as individuals. HR leaders have a duty to cultivate an environment where employees feel supported — but where do they begin?
It’s a tall order. But according to Gia Ganesh, VP of people and culture at Atlanta-based healthtech company Florence Healthcare, building a strong benefits package is the impactful place to start.
How To Plan A Benefits Package
- Get consistent feedback from your employees
- Keep benefits in line with your hiring strategy
- Work within your budget
- Choose benefits that make your brand stand out
- Educate your employees on their available benefits
“Benefits by the nature of the word is something you offer, in addition to a regular paycheck,” she said. “Our paycheck meets financial needs in our lives, and our benefits cater to our other additional needs.” Under the benefits umbrella, employers offer packaged perks designed to support overall wellbeing and professional growth of their teammates. From more traditional benefits like 401k plans and medical insurance, to less conventional perks like pet insurance or fitness stipends, there are dozens of different options that HR leaders can offer their employees.
There isn’t just one right way to set up benefits — the more unique it is to your company and its values, the more engaging and successful it will be. When navigating the ins and outs of planning your perks and benefits, there’s only one hard rule: Make sure your employees feel seen.
“Benefits are a great way to show employees that they are valued,” Ganesh said. “When you give your employees benefits that speak to them, they’ll know that their employers are hearing what they need in their life, and believe that those needs are important.”
How Do Benefits Packages Affect Business?
As an HR leader, your goal should be to cultivate a sense of community and help employees feel connected to the company’s values. The benefits offered are the most direct and effective way to demonstrate those goals — they provide your employees with material support to balance their careers and personal lives. More than that, your benefits package goes a long way toward establishing your brand — who you are, what you stand for, and what your employees mean to you.
“A great benefits package can set your brand apart by demonstrating how committed your company is to supporting employees and their families,” said Lizette Fleher, head of people at Austin-based insurance tech company Bestow. For example, her team at Bestow conducted a company-wide survey to find out what benefits employees liked the most. Overwhelmingly, the responses that came back cited company-paid insurance premiums, which supported both employees and their dependents, as a standout perk.
“A great benefits package can set your brand apart by demonstrating how committed your company is to supporting employees and their families.”
“We heard from employees that this benefit sets us apart as an employer because it’s very rare that a company pays 100 percent of premiums for medical, dental, and vision for employees and their qualified dependents,” she said. “We know that this makes our employees feel supported, which in turn allows them to be motivated and productive at work.”
Steps to Plan an Impactful Benefits Package
When it comes down to mapping out your benefits package, don’t take a cookie cutter approach. Your employees have distinct personalities and an inspired mission — give them benefits as unique as they are, and give them the specific tools they need to thrive, both at and beyond work. Here’s what experts say you should keep in mind when planning your perks and benefits.
FIND OUT WHAT PEOPLE WANT
You can absolutely look to other companies for inspiration, but if you want your benefits package to be cost efficient and successful, tune into the wants and needs of your team. Every employee is different, and every team needs different types of support in order to be successful. To truly maximize the impact of your benefits package, don’t copy and paste from another company’s handbook — find solutions that best fit your team. But how can you discover what kind of perks you should offer? The simple answer: Have a conversation.
“The best way to understand what employees need is by listening to them.”
“The best way to understand what employees need is by listening to them,” said Fleher. Her team regularly gives employees a chance to provide feedback on their benefits packages and ask pressing questions both during company wide town halls and in one-on-one check-ins. This gives her HR team clearer insight into how they can be present for their employees and nurture their growth. “As People leaders, we also stay up to date on larger benefit trends so that we can take employee feedback and larger industry trends into consideration when developing our benefits strategy,” she said.
To get a good idea of what kinds of benefits they could adopt, HR leaders need to not only encourage feedback, but ask specific questions that will help their employees better understand what kinds of options are available to them. HR teams have an understanding of what a benefits package can entail, but your employees may not even know what they can ask for, or what additional perks could be made available to them.
“It’s important to ask questions that can be categorized into specific areas,” said Ganesh. “Ask questions like, ‘what would you like to see in terms of mental health benefits? What would you like to see in terms of life work life balance benefits? What about child care benefits?’”
KEEP YOUR HIRING STRATEGY IN MIND
Any benefits package is primarily meant to serve the internal needs of your company and team, but it can also give you a leg up when it comes to recruiting. Having robust perks and benefits positions you as an employer of choice, and will attract talented candidates who can afford to be choosy about where they take their skills. Tailor your benefits to your desired applicants as well as your current employees — it’s a forward thinking approach that will help your company maintain a competitive advantage during the tech talent crunch.
“As an employer, I think we can introduce any benefits we want at Florence,” said Ganesh. “But do they make sense to the organization that we are building? Do they attract the people we want to come and work for us?”
WORK WITH YOUR BUDGET
Big companies with large cash flow can afford to offer 401k matching, year-end bonuses and additional insurance benefits. Startups, on the other hand, have a lot less money to work with. That doesn’t mean your early stage company can’t offer a competitive benefits package — it just means you have to get a little more creative within your budget.
“Startups today are giving out stock options, because it isn’t a line item on their budget that they have to pay right away.”
“Bestow is very much a startup, but we’ve chosen to invest heavily in our people and offer them extremely generous benefits packages that mimic, or even outperform, larger companies,” said Fleher. “We know supporting them will help them be engaged and productive employees.”
So what are some examples of benefits that work with a tighter budget? Smaller companies can offer perks like free lunches, fitness stipends and flexible work schedules, all of which are low cost while still showing your employees you care.
“Unlimited vacation is an option. Of course, we are paying employees when they take vacation, but it’s not a live budget line,” Ganesh said. “Startups today are giving out stock options, because again, it isn’t a line item on their budget that they have to pay right away.”
STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
When you create a solid benefits package, you’re supporting the wellbeing of your teammates and building your brand. Beyond baseline items such as medical insurance and parental leave, adding on creative perks helps your company stand apart from your peers and uniquely demonstrate your care for your employees. Offering fun add-ons also keeps your employees engaged and excited to come to work each day.
There are countless bonus perks that can help you make your benefits package more enticing and exciting. “We had a masseuse come into the office every month, and we subsidized it. Florence paid the bulk of the cost,” said Ganesh. “Employees loved it, and it was a perk that we could offer on a limited budget.”
At San Francisco-based co-working software company Terminal, chief people officer Jennifer Farris’s team has also adopted special benefits to make their global remote employees feel more engaged with one another. “We send snack boxes monthly to our global employees, and there’s a ton of conversations about the snack boxes on Slack,” she said. “I like to have a more connected and holistic approach when it comes to perks and benefits, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some easy one off programs.”
MAKE AN EDUCATION PLAN
The last, and most crucial, step in planning your benefits package? Making sure your employees actually make use of it. Recent studies report that over half of young millennial workers don’t fully understand the benefits they’re offered, even when they’re enrolled in them. If your employees can’t interpret their perks and benefits packages, they may miss out on workplace support that they need to thrive, and leadership won’t get a return on their investment.
“Leaders should know that employees want more than just a benefits guide or PDF — they want education about what’s available to them.”
“One important thing that we learned from our employee survey was that 46 percent of them said they wanted more education about their benefits,” said Fleher. “Leaders should know that employees want more than just a benefits guide or PDF — they want education about what’s available to them through their benefits packages with live interactions.”
To help your team truly get the most out of their benefits package, you’ll need to block out time to discuss their options and clarify any gray areas they may have. Schedule designated company-wide meetings to share any changes or timelines in regards to perks and benefits, but also set up office hours where employees can come in and talk one-on-one about their available benefits. Sometimes you may even have questions yourself about certain benefits — if that’s the case, you can also enlist the help of external specialists who can offer their assistance.
“For things like 401k, we bring in experts to help educate, because we’re not always the right people to do that,” said Farris.
When planned and rolled out correctly, your benefits package can be a tremendous tool to retain strong performers, hire promising talent and give employees space to do their jobs well. Most importantly, perks and benefits show employees that they matter as people, not just workers.
When you give your employees good benefits, they know that they are trusted and valued by your organization,” Ganesh said. “They’ll know that you will do anything to help support them in their phase of life. That is the bottom line.”