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What You Know About Employee Benefits Is Wrong

What You Know About Employee Benefits Is Wrong

You don't need a Silicon Valley budget to make your staff happy

Every meal catered for, unlimited time off, private rock concerts, 24/7 on-site gyms. For many companies, it can be hard to compete with the flashy perks and benefits Silicon Valley is known for. Many people start to believe that lavish benefits are imperative to becoming a great place to work, but they are not. 

Executives often ask me how company benefits impact employees’ perception of their workplace. While they are not the most important element of a great culture, they certainly are an important tool for attracting and retaining talent.

Very few companies can compete with the big benefits synonymous with large companies. But our research has shown me that employees think positively about their benefits for reasons that go deeper than monetary value.

I analyzed employee comments and the benefit programs of companies rated highest by their people. This is what I found:

  • The number of benefits offered didn’t matter, it mattered that they were accessible to everyone. So, their benefits impacted more people  
  • There were minimal to no distinctions between benefits for executives and those for employees
  • Benefits were accessible to everyone regardless of tenure, gender, sexual orientation, etc. 
  • Benefits were available from an employee’s first day at work or even earlier 
  • There was a strong focus on healthcare coverage and retirement support 
  • Benefits and wellness opportunities integrated the people (or pets) important in employees’ lives 

Professional Services firm, Kimley-Horn integrates all these elements into one of their welcoming programs.

“All new hires with partners at Kimley-Horn receive an orientation packet that includes a $125 certificate for dinner with another Kimley-Horn couple of their choice.” 

It’s not a large sum of money, but employees don’t have to “earn” this benefit through time or work. And they get to include their significant other while connecting with colleagues outside of the workplace.

Leadership behaviors DO impact the perceived value of benefits  

Another thing I hear often from managers is how powerless they feel about improving their people’s perceptions of unique benefits. They believe it is dictated by the organization and there is little they can do.  

Our quantitative analysis on this topic shows that theycan. We found that employees are much more likely to say that they have special and unique benefits if they believe management shows a sincere interest in them as a person, not just as an employee. 

People look up to their bosses when they encourage their team to consistently take full advantage of benefits and wellness opportunities.

Employees feel more positively about benefits and are most happy when managers:

  • Are flexible to accommodate people’s personal life when crises arise, or when less stressful life events occur 
  • Show genuine interest in caring about people’s happiness overall, not just how people experience happiness at work 
  • Connect to people through a highly personalized or individual approach 
  • Provide support that goes beyond company policies when difficult life events occur 
  • Empower leaders to make smart decisions by letting go of policies that limit their ability to help an employee in need
  • Recognize when historic events take place during work hours and encouraging people to take the time to celebrate. Not just Halloween, but the World Cup or a solar eclipse!
  • Share heartfelt stories and testimonials of how benefits and wellness opportunities have made a difference in employees’ lives 

A wonderful story from Ultimate Software shows the power of leaders going above and beyond policies. 

“Ultimate always helps families in the most difficult times, such as when an UltiPeep (Ultimate employee) passes away suddenly or after battling a terminal illness. Recently, after an UltiPeep died in a car accident, fellow UltiPeeps and company executives immediately came forward to raise money for his widow and their young son. Together, UltiPeeps donated more than $167,000, and with Ultimate’s 100% company match, his family received over $335,000.” 

Reflecting on your benefits package 

These findings raise questions about the traditional approach to benefit packages. The most important things to consider when reviewing your benefits offering are:

  • To what degree do your benefits and wellness offerings allow people to feel safe, accepted for their real selves, and included in all aspects of life at your company
  • What percentage of your employee population is effectively using their benefits relative to the cost of sustaining them? 
  • How can you expand what you are offering to include more people? 

Equality is everything

What I like most about these approaches of great workplaces, is that they drive a strong sense of equality through the currency of benefits. Instead of giving “more and best” to just a few, these companies choose to distribute their resources in a more equal way. In other words, the best benefits packages are those that are available to everyone, not just select groups. 


Lorena Martinez