David Batstone and Caralee Adams
Triage Consulting, a health-care consulting firm in San Francisco , knows how to treat employees who log in long hours on the road. Consultants typically work Monday through Thursday out of town for about four months at a stretch. The company picks up the tab for one of three options on the weekend: Consultants can fly home, fly to another city or have a family member or friend flown into their location for the weekend.
“It allows employees to maintain a work-life balance,” says Vanna Shir, a director at Triage since it started in 1994. Flying someone out to spend a weekend at their company-provided apartment, with a rental car and often some leftover money from the weekly meal per diem makes them “super-excited.”
And then there is the sabbatical perk for frequent travelers at the 170-employee company. For every month consultants spend out of town, they bank one day toward a sabbatical to take at the end of their fourth year. In 1999, her co-workers sent Shir off with a case of peanuts as she embarked on a six-week sabbatical with her husband to visit 25 baseball parks across the country. “We are like a family. It makes me very proud of where I work,” says Shir.
Corporate executives love to complain about benefit plans. Who can blame them? Faced with intense pressure to slice expenses and fix their balance sheets, benefit expenses look like the fat cow in the pasture that they cannot butcher.
But the tyranny of the urgent often causes us to mistake a productive dairy cow for a side of beef. Truth is, employers turn out to be the biggest winners when perks match worker needs. Innovative benefits keep a company’s best workers around longer, lead to higher morale and boost productivity.
There is a simple explanation for these results: Employees are looking for more control over their workplace environment. “Don’t forget, this is a new breed of employee that are not just employees, but modern consumers and 21st-century citizens,” explains Katherine von Jan, trend director of Faith Popcorn’s influential think tank BrainReserve.
Innovative benefits enjoyed their heyday back in the dot-com era as companies competed for top talent. Once the bloated dot inside the com burst, however, most companies scaled back on lavish perks and went back to a meat-andpotatoes benefit package: health care and pensions.
Now, with the economy and job market improving, executives are looking again at benefits as a way to recruit and retain the best workers. At a minimum, companies want to be recognized as an employee-friendly place to work, according to Katie Popp, a project director at The Great Place to Work Institute, a research and management consulting company based in San Francisco. “Companies are starting to pay attention to … what employees need in life,” says Popp. “It’s less about money to give employees expensive things and more about treating employees with respect and treating them fairly.”
Von Jan notes that worker expectations will become even more dramatic as the group she calls Millenials enter the workforce. Thanks to Baby Boomer parents who encouraged their children to think for themselves and challenge others, including authority, this generation is entering the workforce demanding to be heard. At the same time, the Boomers are approaching retirement age and want to spend their last few working years with a more enjoyable balance to their lives and workplaces. Add to that the infamous Generation X, which places family and personal endeavors over career advancement, and you’ve got three major blocs of workers who can turn the system in a whole new direction.
Companies indeed are deploying innovative benefits to put fun and purpose – if not convenience and ease – back into work. Below we feature companies that are helping to change the meaning of work.
Hyperion, a software company in Santa Clara, Calif., demonstrates the kind of creativity that workers adore. Hyperion’s parking lots haven’t been the same since launching its “Drive Clean to Drive Change” initiative last November – an offer to employees of $5,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid or other fuel-efficient car. All the program’s slots (50 each quarter, at a total cost of $1 million a year)are filled by employees who are either behind the wheel of a greener car or on a waiting list to get one.
“Drive Clean” has become a recruiting tool, attracting sought-after engineers who heard about the company because of the initiative. In the words of Hyperion CEO Godfrey Sullivan, “We want people to be as proud of our culture as they are of our software.”
An Apple a Day
Savvy benefit plans are helping employees live healthier lifestyles. A company can save a tremendous amount by implementing inexpensive prevention programs to keep workers fit. It sure beats paying to treat expensive medical conditions down the road.
For example, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury, Vt., offers lunchtime yoga classes in the firm’s meditation center – a 24/7 department the company set up at a cost of a couple hundred thousand dollars. ClifBar in Berkeley, Calif., lives up to its healthy outdoor image with a functioning climbing wall hovering over its office cubicles. The energy bar company also sponsors any employee who elects to ride in charity bike events.
Few companies address health and wellness as creatively – and aggressively – as Discovery Communications, based in Silver Spring, Md. If you are feeling under the weather, help is down the hall: In July 2004, the company (home of the Discovery Channel) opened an on-site health and wellness center staffed with a physician and a nurse practitioner.
Beyond emergency care, the health center provides physicals and routine prescriptions during flu season as well as sponsoring a skin screening day and special wellness programs for men and pregnant women. “We recognize that healthy employees will make a wealthy company,” says Evelyne Steward, vice president of the LifeWorks program at Discovery. The day the health center was launched, 100 employees signed up for physicals. Within the first year, 70 percent of employees at the corporate headquarters registered at the center. From a financial perspective, the center has shown a return on investment – saving the company $600,000 in direct and indirect costs to date, Steward says.
To encourage a fit workforce, Discovery also hosts an annual competition to encourage healthy living among employees worldwide. Employees in each region that lose the most weight and body fat receive a free plane ticket. Last year 1,000 employees participated; total pounds lost: 5,000.
The Family-Friendly Workplace
Innovative benefits tailor a work environment to fit individual needs. Some benefits – like flextime and telecommuting – add practically nothing to overall business costs but give employees the flexibility they desire to lead a more meaningful life. Other family-friendly benefits cost more, but create a work environment that keeps talent for the long haul.
The headquarters of SAS Institute, a high-tech company that creates business intelligence software, in Cary, N.C., has a lot to offer on its 900-acre campus. There is dry cleaning, child care and health care. The 4,100 employees at SAS can even get their car detailed, enjoy a massage or visit the hair salon at their workplace.
For eight weeks in the summer, employees can bring their kids ages 9-14 to work with them to attend Camp Awesome Adventure. About 80 kids per week play on the company soccer fields, softball diamonds and swim in the SAS Natatorium. They can join the Mad Scientist club to conduct experiments, sign up for Hooray for Hollywood to perform plays or put on an apron in the Cooking Club and whip up treats in the company café.
SAS Graphic Designer Mike Pezzoni has taken his kids Hayden, 12, and Sara, 14, to the company camp for the past six summers. In addition to the convenient drop off and pick up, Pezzoni enjoys using his lunch hour to play soccer with them or eat lunch together. “I don’t consider it work when I get on campus. It’s like a second home,” says Pezzoni, a SAS employee for 21 years.
The People Experience
The stiff competition for recruiting top accounting talent means that PricewaterhouseCoopers wants to do more than just offer good benefits. “Our goal is to build a unique people experience,” says Shannon Schuyler, national human resources director. “We want to make sure everyone here is a friend of the firm and even if they leave, they continue to perceive that PricewaterhouseCoopers is a great employer.”
To that end, the company offers generous maternity and paternity leave to cater to its young workforce (average age 27). On top of 12 unpaid weeks of leave, employees get 15 days paid time off during that first year after the birth or adoption of a child. “We want all people to come back and to feel comfortable with things in their personal life,” says Schuyler.
Conall Dempsey, a senior manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Philadelphia, used the 15 days after his daughter was born. “I was there for my wife when she had to go to the doctor herself, for the baby’s first visit to the pediatrician and some time to just be at home,” says Dempsey. “With your first baby, it can be like Armageddon at home.”
Many employees take advantage of flexible work arrangements including telecommuting, job sharing and parttime work. During the busy tax and audit season, employees can enjoy shoulder, neck and hand massages in the office and on-site yoga classes to reduce stress.
And you’d better use up your vacation time at PWC – or the company will make you. Individual notes are given to employees tracking their time off and trying to help them find windows of time to use it before year’s end. Some offices have drawings that employees can enter only after they have used all of their vacation time; prizes are given to those who traveled the farthest.