The business news is full of headlines about the strength of our economy – a lot of good news about job creation, demand for talent and possibly even rising wages. Despite all of the positive news, this growth sometimes comes with an unintended downside – greater demands and increased stress for our existing employees. In one recent study, 44% of employees reported losing sleep over work, with half of them citing work hours/volume as the primary reason.
While most of us are eager to meet work-related challenges in theory, our ambitions often bump up against our own reality – family commitments, long commutes, health priorities, and sometimes lack of sleep. Even the most productive among us are sometimes left wishing for the impossible. Perhaps a plea for more than 24 hours in a given day or maybe a temporary clone so we can be in two places at once.
While I don’t have a cloning service to recommend, I thought it might be a good time to highlight impressive ways that HR and company leaders are helping employees increase their capacity, not just as professionals but as people. I am specifically thinking of the portion of our labor market who are working parents. Over 75% of single mothers and 85% of single fathers are gainfully employed and just over 60% of married families have both parents working. To me, those numbers translate into a lot of employees trying to “do it all,” trying to find the magic that makes 1+1 equal more than 2.
Much has been written about the flashy benefits that some companies offer, such as free lattes or in-house yoga breaks. While I don’t know too many people who would turn down a free latte, I am not sure those benefits are necessarily the secret sauce that working parents are looking for. In the course of my work, I speak with dozens of companies that offer clever benefits, but the organizations that are getting it right with working parents seem to have two things in common – they find benefits that are a true match with employee needs and they communicate them extremely well.
Perks with a purpose
I had a casual conversation recently with Andrea Vavonese, Corporate Director and Division Counsel for Northrop Grumman, a Fortune 500 company that is regularly designated a “best place to work.” As we caught up about life, I learned about how she was helping her daughter prepare for the college application season while also helping her aging father with serious health concerns. While these life issues are common among her contemporaries, I was struck by the number of times she said “my company offers a program for…” or “I had fast access to resources through our network.”
“I have worked for several other organizations throughout my career. I assume they offered helpful resources. It just never occurred to me to access them during a true moment of need. I just didn’t think of it,” shared Vavonese.
To win over working parents, benefits should be practical, like college coaching and elder care resources. Trendy benefits, such as onsite movie theaters or dry cleaners may even backfire with this group, making parents feel stigmatized for leaving the office.
“Northrop Grumman does a great job of offering benefits that help me balance my life outside of work, which enables me to better focus on my job when I am at work. These benefits acknowledge the importance of non-work time to employees rather than just making it easier to work longer hours. As a working parent, it is really important to me that my employer supports and values my life outside of the office.” 1
Make it known, make it important
The work-life benefits that companies offer to employees are only as good as the communication that surrounds them. As we compete for talent, it is not enough to simply check the box on employee perks. The most effective companies make a systematic effort to ensure employees are aware of these valuable resources and they make them easily accessible. Some of the most effective organizations that I work with communicate about their employee benefits with the rigor of an external marketing campaign. Rather than pushing out a laundry list of all benefits, think about how and when working parents, for example, have time to take in new information. Perhaps a commute-length podcast featuring relevant benefits along with success stories followed up by an email with links to get started.
In a rapidly changing labor market, it is always a good time to revisit how you are attracting and retaining employee segments. While there will always be a few blockbuster benefits that appeal to all employee groups, a little fine tuning in recognition of our multi-generational workforce could go a long way. While mathematics tells us 1+1 cannot equal more than 2, I think there are some working parents out there who might beg to differ. To learn more about how Inspire works with clients to bolster their employee brand, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (917) 612-8571.
1Northrop Grumman provides a comprehensive benefits package and a work environment that encourages one’s growth and supports the mutual success of our people and our company. Northrop Grumman benefits provide the flexibility and control to choose the benefits that make the most sense for our employees and their families. Our benefits plans do vary by sector and whether or not you are a represented employee.” https://benefits.northropgrumman.com/us/en2/BenefitsOverview/Pages/default.aspx