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Build an Unbiased Benefit Strategy

Julie Wittes Schlack on March 26, 2021 10:06 AM

A survey of 500 Human Resource leaders and C-suite decision-makers, recently conducted by, reveals that many companies are abandoning the “nice to have” benefits critical to a centralized workforce (such as free lunches and commuter benefits) in favor of benefits that have greater impact on the way we work today and will continue to work tomorrow.

The pandemic has opened society’s eyes to the extraordinary challenges that essential workers face daily, and forced more public discussion of the unmet needs of working caregivers in particular. Many participants in our research have reflected on how COVID-19 has fueled their empathy – in part because they themselves have not been immune to the effects of school closures and lockdowns.

But HR professionals must be especially vigilant not to use their own experience as a template, because they are not immune from their own demographically driven biases. For example, in our research:

• Senior care benefits are seen as just “nice to have” by 51% of respondents under 35 years-old, whereas only 28% of these respondents view child care benefits as just “nice to have.”

• Older respondents are much more inclined to combat employee attrition with an increase in senior care benefits than are younger ones. Those over 44 years-old select this option 54% of the time, while those under 35 only do so 29% of the time.

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And because as they are genuinely eager for insight and feedback from their employees, HR leaders tend to believe that their workers are more forthcoming than workers report being. For example, 52% believe that most employees are completely open and honest about their benefits-related concerns and needs with their HR department. But in a July 2020 survey of 1,000 working parents, an identical proportion of respondents—52%—indicated that they hide their child care concerns from their employers and colleagues.

Even before COVID-19, the Pew Research Center found that parents (50% of mothers and 39% of fathers) were concerned about being passed over for growth opportunities or being perceived as being not fully committed to their work if they shared their work/life challenges. And McKinsey/Lean In report that during the pandemic:

• 29% of women have experienced discomfort sharing work/life challenges with their managers (1.5 times more than men);

• 24% of women have worried about how their work performance would be judged due to their caregiving responsibilities (2.1 times more than men);

To keep their hands on the pulse of workers’ needs, HR leaders will need to continually experiment with new ways to solicit employee input on benefits, because gender and age-related biases express themselves even in their choice of methodology.

Read the full report here

Julie Wittes Schlack

Julie Wittes Schlack is a research consultant, founder, and former SVP of Product Innovation at C Space Corporation. She is the author of This-All-At-Onceness (Pact Press, 2019).