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Sparking a Revolution

Hearing the cries of their employees, employers are increasingly considering real-life challenges as they construct their benefit strategies.

Monday, October 17, 2016
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It's no secret I'm a Bruce Springsteen fan. The Jersey Shore native has long been an inspiration to me, so much so that I began my first column in October 2009 for Human Resource Executive® with The Boss as my lead.

So it should come as no surprise that, once again, Springsteen gave me a lot to consider after reading his autobiography, Born to Run. It turns out Bruce is not simply a musician, singer and songwriter. He also lists himself as an employer.

John Hammond of Columbia Records agreed to sign the 23-year-old Springsteen to a solo-artist recording contract in 1972. Even at that young age, Bruce instinctively knew the contract should be with him alone and that his E Street Band members were, and are, his employees – a revolutionary idea and a first for the recording industry.

Forty-four years later, I still seem to have a soft spot for revolutionary ideas. This time, the brewing rebellion, if you will, centers on employee benefits.

Not long ago, employee perks were the benefits revolution du jour. Stories abounded about employee benefits that included cocoons where employees could nap, almost unlimited access to alcohol at work and even surfing lessons -- especially in the technology and start-up sectors. I even found myself asking: Should we give employees what they want? At the time, we thought employees required these "lifestyle benefits" – especially millennials.

It turns out we had the lifestyle part of the benefits equation right. But more recently, we have found "lifestyle" has a revised definition. 

As millennials matured, so did their lifestyle wants. A 2015 EY survey found these employees were almost twice as likely to have a spouse or partner working at least full-time than boomer employees. As a result, millennials now valued workplace flexibility and paid parental leave more than other generations and, when employers offered these benefits, were more likely than other generations to join and stay with those companies, recommend them to others and work longer hours.

By the end of 2015, a host of brand-name companies expanded maternity-leave benefits to include generous parental-leave policies. The majority of these companies, however, offered paid-family leave only to managerial and professional staff. This observation was substantiated by a 2016 Department of Labor report that found only 13 percent of workers in the private sector had paid parental leave. Additional analysis indicated a dichotomy among employees according to pay grade, with 24 percent of the top quartile of the highly-compensated workers having paid-leave programs compared to only 6 percent of the bottom quartile of lowest-compensated employees.

Hilton Hotels and Resorts is an example of an organization that took a bold step in 2016 with its new parental-leave plan. The program provides all team members in the United States and Puerto Rico with two weeks of fully paid leave for all new parents, including fathers and adoptive parents. Plus, new mothers who give birth receive an additional eight weeks of maternity leave, for a total of 10 weeks of paid leave.

Hilton maintains that its new policies represent the best parental-leave benefits offered by any major global-hospitality company operating in these locations.

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Its decision to put these benefits in place was in direct response to employee demand. Employees under age 35 represent approximately half of its workers, and Hilton believes policies like this one -- along with a GED-assistance program and 10-day advanced scheduling for hourly team members – will allow the hospitality company to attract and retain its workers.

In September 2016, both Deloitte and Discovery Communications took an even more expansive approach to paid leave by including caregivers in the benefits design. Deloitte now offers 16 weeks of paid leave to "the parent celebrating the arrival of a new child . . . the professional caring for a spouse or significant other . . . [and] the professional supporting aging parents." Discovery Communications provides 12 weeks of paid parental and caregiver leave, which can be taken consecutively or divided as needed over the course of a 12-month period.

This slow migration by employers to address the real issues of people's lives strongly resonates with me. (Some of you may recall I put a call out earlier this year to consider empathy for our colleagues and our employees in employee-benefits design.) It is my belief that benefits that address our employees' real-life challenges will ultimately be the spark that ignites a true employee-benefits revolution.

< Carol Harnett is a widely respected consultant, speaker, writer and trendspotter in the fields of employee benefits, health and productivity management, health and performance innovation, and value-based health. Follow her on Twitter via @carolharnett and on her video blog, The Work.Love.Play.Daily.


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