- Employee benefits are a way to attract and retain talent, improve employee morale, enhance productivity, and define company culture.
- Every company offers paid time off, but a few do things differently. REI, the apparel company, gives employees 2 additional days of leave called "Yay Days" that they can spend on an outdoor activity. Airbnb gives its employees a $2000 stipend to travel and live at different Airbnb listings.
- Similarly, while maternity/paternity leave grow common, some companies like Spotify, Patagonia, Capital One offer benefits that cater to different stages of parenthood.
- Companies like Amazon and Starbucks spend millions of dollars to up-skill their employees through technical programs and sponsored college education.
Employee benefits refer to the compensation and rewards that an employer provides to its employees in addition to their regular salary or wages. These benefits can come in many different forms, such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and more. This blog post lists some of the world's best and most creative employee benefits programs across categories like paid leave, up-skilling, and maternity/paternity benefits.
Before we delve into these programs, let's understand why companies offer these programs in the first place. In my last blog post, I traced the evolution of employee benefits through the industrial revolution. Employee benefits became widespread at the start of the 20th century as a way to attract workers, retain them, and increase their productivity. Here's a quick recap. Employee benefits can benefit companies in several ways:
- Attracting and retaining talent: Employee benefits can help a company attract and retain top talent by providing a competitive and attractive compensation package. This can help to differentiate a company from its competitors and make it more appealing to job seekers.
- Improving morale and motivation: Employee benefits can help to improve employee morale and motivation by demonstrating that the company values and cares about its employees. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and a more engaged and productive workforce.
- Enhancing productivity and performance: Employee benefits such as wellness programs, flexible schedules, and paid time off can help to reduce employee stress and improve work-life balance, leading to higher productivity and better performance.
- Managing costs: Some employee benefits, such as group health insurance plans, can be more cost-effective for employees and employers than individual plans. This can help to manage costs for both the employer and the employee.
- Building a positive company culture: By offering employee benefits, a company can help to build a positive company culture that values and supports its employees. This can lead to a more cohesive and collaborative work environment.
If you're in the process of designing benefits for your employees here are a few programs you can take inspiration from!
Beyond Paid Time Off:
Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) “Yay Days”
Staying true its brand, the apparel company REI gives all its employees 2 additional days of paid leave called “Yay Days”. Employees are meant to spend this time outdoors on any activity or project of their choosing.
Each employee receives Yay Day coupons that they can trade for time off. When they request their yay days, employees fill out cards for their managers explaining how they’ll spend the day.
SVP of HR Raquel Karls says that Yay Days boost employee camaraderie and engagement, as employees embark on spur-of-the-moment adventures, and then return to swap stories and advice about hikes, bike trails, and parks.
Since it’s only 2 days of additional leave at any time of the employees’ choosing, REI’s yay days do not come at a significant cost to the company.
Numerous employer awards and a score of 88% on Great Place to Work show that REI’s employees really do love their workplace. Interestingly, the “Outdoors”, “Outside”, and “Community” are among the most frequently used words by employees in their responses on Great Place to Work’s trust index survey - a testament to how well-aligned employees are to the company’s mission.
Airbnb’s $2000 Travel Stipend
One of the most coveted Airbnb employee benefits is a $2000 annual travel stipend. Paid out quarterly, it lets employees stay at any Airbnb listing in the world. This gives employees the chance to use the product and engage with the host community.
$2000 per employee
“We will build better products if our team is as diverse as the community we serve,” says Mike Curtis, VP of Engineering, Airbnb. “We are determined to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds at Airbnb, and we hope that Airbnb Connect opens up new opportunities for people.”
Beyond Maternity/Paternity Leave
Fertility and Childcare Benefits for Spotify Employees
For expecting and prospecting parents, Spotify may be among the best employers to work for. All of its employees (5000+ people) are entitled to 6 months of paid maternal/paternal leave. This period can be split over many smaller periods for the first 3 years of the child’s life. Furthermore, Spotify grants its employees a benefit of up to $10,000 that can be spent on IVF, egg freezing, and other fertility treatments.
“The way that country approaches things like family-friendly benefits weaves very much into our company culture,” says Michael Kim, Spotify’s head of HR for Asia Pacific and Japan.
It is estimated that Spotify spends an average of ~$10,000 per employee per year excluding the cost of paid maternity and paternity leave.
Spotify says that stronger salaries are required to be competitive, and innovative. “If we cannot maintain Spotify’s culture as we grow, we could lose the innovation, teamwork and focus that contribute crucially to our business,” the company’s filing defends.
“The war for talent is so competitive,” says Michael Kim. “[Today’s workers] care much more about a comprehensive overall total reward package than your traditional, what’s my salary and what am I going to get in stock.”
Patagonia’s On-Site Childcare
To cater to the needs of their close knit employee community, Founder Yvon Chouinard and his wife began an in-house childcare service that is today The Great Pacific Child Development Center. While it may have started out as a day care centre, the GPCDC is now a place of learning and exploration. Yvon Chouinard himself says that the children that attend Patagonia’s childcare programs are the company’s best products.
The Great Pacific Child Development Center has a climbing wall (a nod to the company’s founding as the go-to gear shop for alpinists), garden, playground, mud kitchen, and space for 100 children, from newborns to 9 year olds.
Apart from on-site childcare, some of the policies that make Patagonia especially friendly are the 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, and a travel support program for nursing mothers.
Though the company benefits from a tax deduction of $150,000 annually and childcare is paid for by employees in part, it is estimated that Patagonia spends ~1 million USD on its childcare program.
As a result of its parent friendly policies, Patagonia has high retention among working parents, especially women. On an episode of How I Built This with Guy Raz, Yvon Chouinard reasoned that with 70% of his workforce comprising women, including upper management, he could not afford to lose them.
Adoption and Surrogacy Assistance from Capital One
Capital One offers a generous program for parents seeking non-conventional methods to start a family. The company provides financial support up to $35,000 per surrogacy arrangement for all full-time associates. Expenses such as legal costs, attorney's fees, surrogacy agency fees, and some medical and travel expenses are eligible for reimbursement. In addition to generous maternity leave, associates can take eight weeks for Paternity Leave, Adoption/Foster Care Leave, and Birth via a Surrogate. These benefits help support associates to realise their family dreams, however they feel best works for them.
Beyond Up-skilling Budgets
Starbuck’s college achievement program
Through the Starbucks College Achievement Program, partners (employees, baristas, cafe staff) can get bachelor’s degrees from the Arizona State University that are fully sponsored by Starbucks. All employees need to cover is the cost of books and learning resources. They do not need to pay a tuition fee. The program is online and flexible so they can continue working while they complete their education.
Partners in the program receive an upfront College Achievement Plan Scholarship worth 42 percent of their tuition costs. This is funded by ASU and applied at the time they enrol in classes. Partners will also have access to financial aid grants and Starbucks will reimburse any remaining tuition and mandatory fees not covered at the end of each semester (two sessions). This means that eligible partners receive full tuition coverage as they work towards completing their degrees. Starbucks spends an average of $3000-4000 per student per year. Starbucks is committed to helping at least 25,000 partners graduate by 2025. Starbucks expects to invest $250M or more.
Apart from earning Starbucks invaluable good will and brand value, the program benefits Starbucks by improving employee retention and morale, as well as by increasing the skills and knowledge of its workforce. It is also part of Starbucks' broader commitment to corporate social responsibility and supporting the communities in which it operates.
By offering education benefits, Starbucks is able to attract and retain employees who are looking for opportunities for career advancement and personal development. This helps to create a more motivated and engaged workforce, which can ultimately lead to improved customer service and business performance. As of 2021, 4000+ students completed their degree through the Achievement program.
Amazon's Up skilling 2025 program
In 2019, Amazon pledged US$1.2 billion towards up skilling 300,000 employees for jobs of the future through the following programs:
- 'Amazon Technical Academy' helps non-technical staff increase their tech literacy and potentially move into software engineering
- 'Associate2Tech' helps fulfilment center workers move into tech roles
- 'Machine Learning University', helps those that already have a tech background move into the machine learning space, an area of work that has been taking off quite quickly over the last few years
- 'AmazonCareer Choice' helps fulfilment workers to help them advance their careers and take on new roles that they enjoy
- 'Amazon Apprenticeship' provides classroom training and on-the-job experience at the company. This program is certified by the Department of Labor
- 'AWS Training and Certification', a program that will help employees move into cloud computing roles, which have also become increasingly popular
Amazon estimates that it will spend $700 million - $1.2 billion on this initiative in the span of 6 years (2019-2025).
A tech-enabled workforce has a direct impact on Amazon's productivity as it continues to replace manpower with automation. In addition to preemptively preventing redundancies in their workforce, Amazon also benefits from the goodwill and boost in morale that an initiative of this scale garners.
“For us, creating these opportunities is just the beginning. While many of our employees want to build their careers here, for others it might be a stepping stone to different aspirations. We think it’s important to invest in our employees, and to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves." says Beth Galetti, Amazon's Senior Vice President of HR in a release.
What to keep in mind while structuring your employee benefits
Designing an employee benefits program involves several steps, including determining the needs and preferences of your employees, identifying the types of benefits you want to offer, and evaluating the costs and feasibility of implementing them. Here is a general overview of the process:
- Create a set of brand values that your company represents: Patagonia values sustainability and sustainable growth, Airbnb values exploration and adventure, REI values outdoor activity - each of these companies designed employee benefits that improve retention, morale, and also reinforce the company’s values and attitudes, making for better alignment.
- Assess employee needs and preferences: Conduct surveys, focus groups, or interviews to understand what types of benefits your employees value most. Consider factors like age, gender, family status, and income level when developing your survey questions.
- Determine the types of benefits to offer: Based on the feedback you receive from your employees, identify the types of benefits you want to offer. These may include health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, and flexible work arrangements.
- Set a budget: Determine how much you can afford to spend on benefits, taking into account both the cost of the benefits themselves and any administrative expenses associated with managing them.
- Research benefit options: Once you have a budget in mind, research the different types of benefit options available. You may want to work with a benefits broker or consultant who can help you compare plans and negotiate rates.
- Communicate the benefits package: Once you have chosen the benefits you want to offer, communicate the details of the package to your employees. Be sure to explain any eligibility requirements, enrolment deadlines, and the process for making changes to benefits elections.
- Evaluate and adjust the program: Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your benefits program to ensure that it continues to meet the needs and preferences of your employees. Consider conducting surveys or focus groups on an annual basis to gather feedback and make adjustments as needed.
Keep in mind that designing an effective benefits program is an ongoing process that requires careful consideration and attention to the needs and preferences of your employees. If you need help with this process, our team would be more than happy to get on a quick call with you to help you design one that's engaging, impactful, and memorable.