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The Most Desired Benefits for Attracting (and Keeping) Top Talent
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation, employee turnover is high, and retention has become a high priority – and a costly problem. As a result, companies are getting creative with their benefits to attract and retain talent.
Cavan Images for Getty Images.
By Rae Witte
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11 minute read

Employee retention has become a high priority – and a costly problem – throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation. According to a 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the annual turnover rate in 2020 was 57.3%. Companies like the hospitality and restaurant industry data collection platform SevenRooms are getting creative with benefits in response to this.

SevenRooms offers new hires two weeks paid time off before their first day of work. Recognizing many people cannot afford to take time off in between roles, the company decided to kick off each new hire’s employment with time to refresh and reset without skipping a check before their start date with the company.

“Companies are often benchmarking against others of similar sizes in their industries, talking to recruiters, and candidates to understand what they're looking for in a full compensation package. It's an ongoing conversation and one I'm excited to see companies embrace as they are seeking to bring in the best talent for their company,” CEO and Talent Development Advisor at talent agency Perfeqta Latesha Byrd told The Org.

High employee turnover can become a time-consuming and expensive problem for companies to have. It’s estimated that an employer loses 33% percent of a role’s annual salary when an employee leaves the organization and the position needs to be filled. In addition to recruiting and training time and cost, the team is likely to experience a dip in productivity, taking over the responsibilities of the vacant position, as well as the time spent getting the replacement up to a proficient level in the role. If multiple employees are leaving, it stands to burden the existing employees and impact team or company morale.

Within this period known as the Great Resignation, the number of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs skyrocketed and it’s shown little sign of slowing down. In January 2022, 4.3 million people left their jobs, and in March, that number spiked even higher, with a record 4.5 million people workers quitting their jobs that month. There appears to be no slowdown in employee turnover.

According to Pew Research Center, the main reasons people left their jobs include low pay, little opportunity for advancement, consistent feelings of being disrespected and child-care issues. Companies recognizing these issues as the greatest opportunities to make improvements can and will not only attract top talent in this time of mass turnover — they’re also more likely to hold onto their employees in the long term.

Office workers reconsidered their priorities during the pandemic

Charlotte Zoda left the small Miami-based ad agency she’d been with for nine years in January of this year for a few reasons. Admittedly, “I was comfortable,” she said, however, the COVID-19 pandemic made her reconsider her priorities.

“I think what's important to mention is that I am not money motivated. I am not driven by dollars and cents,” she said. “But I've always communicated that I wanted a better work/life balance. I wanted more flexibility over my schedule.”

With little to no discussion or input from their employees, Zoda’s company had employees return to the office in July 2020 – way earlier than Zoda was comfortable with. “It's advertising and I'm not on the creative side. I didn't need to be in the office,” she said. “Everything's cloud based, Salesforce CRM systems, emails, zoom and we didn’t host client meetings.”

The way this played out made Zoda take a hard look at where she was. “I decided that I wanted more for myself. I had health benefits, but I paid for half – no vision, no dental – and I wanted things.”

Benefits are becoming more of a non-negotiable for employees

In addition to schedule flexibility and hybrid office models being extremely attractive to potential candidates, benefits that allow employees to take care of themselves and their families are becoming more of a non-negotiable in their job searches.

And Zoda’s new employer provided. She now has fully covered healthcare benefits, including vision, dental and easily accessible mental health and wellness benefits. The new organization offers a 401k with matching and stock options, which the company offers education about if and when employees are eligible. And, the company offered her a stipend for her home office.

“It was $500 and I could spend it however I please, and I didn't have to use it right up front,” she said. “I have a balance. Maybe six months from now, I’ll hate my mouse, and I’ll get a new one.”

“Companies are looking at benefits beyond base pay and negotiating for mental health and stock benefits/equity, more PTO, and of course professional development.” Byrd said. “The Great Resignation has made companies really look at their compensation packages and think, ‘how can we set the bar even higher?’”

In addition to providing these benefits, companies are leveraging specifically to attract and keep talent, and employees are not only embracing salary transparency — they’re detailing their experience with benefits, too. “It's now becoming something people regularly put on Glassdoor, and places like Indeed within their recruiting bullets,” tech-enabled fertility startup Kindbody’s Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Fahimeh Sasan said. She says job searchers can find fertility benefits and the entire spectrum of relevant benefits from maternal and paternal leave to how long each are.

Fertility benefits: Once a nice-to-have, now a necessity for many

“The main thing is that the landscape as it relates to family-forming and reproductive health has dramatically changed,” Dr. Sasan said. In addition to the pandemic and a lot of aspects of life (including dating and subsequent baby-making) being put on pause for a period of time, major societal shifts had solidified fertility benefits as a necessity rather than a benefit that’s nice to have.

Ten years ago, only 8% of women had a child after the age of 35. According to Piper Sandler’s 2020 report “The Healthcare Fix: The Under-Appreciated, Rapidly Growing $50B Femtech Industry,” 21% of women are having children at or over the age of 35. Fertility IQ reported that as of 2020, 62% of employees at companies that cover IVF are likely to stay longer.

In addition to people wanting to have children, fertility services and benefits have needed to substantially change for diversity reasons. “It's really a desire to have more equitable benefits to address the diversity of their employer-based needs,” Dr. Sasan said. According to WebMD, 43% of employees believe employers should provide LGBTQ+ resources.

The LGBTQ+ community has different needs than single mothers by choice and heterosexual couples when it comes to family-building. Excluding this community from employer benefits gives more reason for them to turn to other employers to receive those benefits.

Dr. Sasan said there are two main reasons employers come to Kindbody for their fertility benefits. First, it’s to understand what equitable benefits look like. Beyond standard IVF, she said, “Now it can look more like donor and surrogacy and sperm donor [coverage], and a lot of these things are areas – where to no fault of any one standard employer or benefits person – may not even have the knowledge of.” So, employers are coming for Kindbody’s expertise.

Secondly, with all the societal changes that come with more women having children later in life, there’s a greater need for fertility services. “We know that the most predictive factor in fertility is age, so more and more women are having fertility issues,” she said.

Not only have the needs changed, but the conversation around it has as well. In 2017, when Facebook and Apple announced they’d start covering egg freezing for their employees, Dr. Sasan pointed out how the announcement was met with disdain. The Daily Beast insinuated the announcement was nothing more than a way to keep women chained to their desks in their fertile years, whereas now, it’s an option many, many employees are making a high priority.

Mental health and wellness benefits are a must

Whereas the topic of mental health may still be taboo to discuss, employees wanting easy access to care through their healthcare provider is quickly becoming a must-have for job seekers. “I have kids that graduated in 2020. Those kids are having a really hard time with this and because of that, it boils up to employees at work,” President and Co-Founder of Get Real Health, Robin Wiener said. “We’re dealing with things that we've never had to deal with at home before.”

There are plenty of reasons people’s mental health is in a precarious position, from the months of inconsistent communication from the U.S. government about the COVID-19 pandemic to the murder of George Floyd and the way the police, who are meant to protect and serve the public, mishandled the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests. Women’s reproductive rights are constantly under attack, too, and these are just a few overarching factors, in addition to people’s personal challenges throughout the pandemic

According to Mindshare Mental Health at Work Report, 84% of survey respondents said at least one factor that impacts their mental health is work. As Americans’ healthcare insurance is typically connected to employment, this is and has become a huge opportunity for employers to show their investment in their workforce through not only providing mental health and wellness benefits but also making sure they are accessible and easy to use.

In late 2019, the average employee engagement with mental health benefits was only 5.5%. “Just offering a benefit where the employee has to do a ton of work to actually make use of that benefit is no longer acceptable,” the Director of Clinical Strategy and Experience at Modern Health, Julia Corcoran, PsyD said. “Employees are really not willing to just let that go anymore.”

According to the survey Modern Health conducted with Forrester Consulting Group, a lot of leaders are still not necessarily sold on mental health benefits being super important. “It’s HR and people teams, though, that are really well aware of this and they regularly cite it,” Corcoran said.

“I’m doing therapy for the first time because I have access to it and it was easy,” Zoda said. Her new job at an SaaS company leverages Alma for its employees.

At Modern Health, Corcoran said, “We definitely have employers come to us and say, We need a benefit that's going to be really, really accessible and easy and work quickly and get people help that they need right away.”

As more employers have partnered with Modern Health, they’ve found with the simplicity of accessing the care, more than half of their members are not starting with one on one time with a therapist or coach. “They actually would prefer to start with maybe the self serve kind of digital content or meditations, maybe they want to go to a group session where they're, you know, seeing other people in community and, and feeling that sense of validation and community that they get there,” Corcoran said.

Ultimately, the expansion and diversification of benefits comes down to employees feeling trusted and valued by their employers. “They feel like, ‘Well, you're investing in me so now when I have a hard day at work, I'm not immediately scrolling through LinkedIn trying to find a job,’” Corcoran said.

Not only do companies need to consider the skill set of their potential candidates — they now need to attract them, and that includes more than just a dollar sign above the dotted line of an offer letter. Employers need to bring the right compensation, consider if they can offer a healthy employment experience, hire for cultural fit (in an employee-first culture) and offer accessible benefits that allow employees to take care of themselves sufficiently and the time to do so.

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