Visionary leaders are the ones who recognize opportunity in crisis, and whose view extends beyond quarterly earnings. Theirs are the socially responsible companies that see their obligations as encompassing not just their shareholders, but also their workers, customers, and the communities in which they operate. The pandemic forced many companies to do just that – to recognize their obligations to all their stakeholders and more intentionally try to address them both fairly and pragmatically. As HR leaders sift through the policy and benefit adaptations they made during the pandemic and decide which to keep and which to shed, they should carry that filter forward.
A survey of 500 Human Resource leaders and C-suite decision-makers, recently conducted by Care.com, 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.
Our research, as well as SHRM’s recent interviews with benefits experts, indicate that this means giving even higher priority to care-related benefits, implementing more flexible work and leave policies, enhancing mental health coverage, and embracing telehealth.
In our research, it was the senior leaders who best recognized the positive impact of care benefits, with 57% of them saying that their organizations are assigning higher priority to senior and child care benefits, versus 37% for lower level managers.
This new appreciation for employees’ caregiving responsibilities should extend to policies as well. That means that the 21% of employers who temporarily expanded emergency child care leave and 11% who expanded emergency elder care leave during the pandemic should consider making those changes permanent. So too should at least some of the 65% of employers who implemented remote work arrangements to accommodate employees’ child care and home schooling needs, and the 59% who permitted flexible hours. These adjustments are likely to yield results, not just in productivity, but in employee satisfaction and retention. In fact, a recent ADP Research Institute study found that “65% of workers are upbeat about the flexibility of opportunities they will have in the future.”
We recognize that tough trade-offs are required to invest more in creating family-friendly organizations. 89% say the pandemic has resulted in deprioritizing at least one type of benefit. Among the benefits getting lower priority today than before the pandemic:
• Paid vacation days (48%)
• Commuter benefits (40%)
• Tuition reimbursement (40%)
• Food or meals (39%)
• On-site child care (37%)
Some of these demotions may seem counter-intuitive, especially if you are trying to build a generationally diverse but socially cohesive workforce. But of the 41 million Americans serving as unpaid caregivers to the elderly, 10 million are Millennials. In fact, one out of three Millennials currently provides care to an elderly friend or family member, and another one-third expect to do so within the next five years. And though Boomer workers’ days of caring for their own young children may be behind them, they are keenly aware of their adult children’s challenges (and may be stepping in to help with them).
For the first time in history, we have four generations in the workforce and it’s incumbent upon employers to create benefit offerings that serve them all. As Care.com’s 2019 research revealed, across all generations and genders, workers and consumers define socially responsible companies based on the wages and family-friendly benefits they offer, and value working for and buying from those companies.
While the pandemic has weakened us in a lot of ways, it’s strengthened our ability to have empathy for others. HR leaders have the opportunity to build on that awakening, to use both policies and benefits to create more just, empathetic organizations.
Read the full report here.