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How inclusive employee benefits attract, retain, and unite diverse workforces

HR experts, local businesses, and employees weigh in on what it takes to create culturally competent benefits.

For a new mother “staring down a formula shortage and the skyrocketing price of diapers,” extra money goes a long way, says Lauren Schneider, senior PR manager at the Boston-based employee perk software company Compt.

Compt offers its employees a stipend they can spend on anything, from utility bills to gym memberships, or yes, diapers. The flexibility of the program reflects a pivotal truth: Every employee is different and, therefore, has different needs. 

But most employee benefits are exclusive by nature, explains Compt founder and CEO Amy Spurling. “For example, childcare benefits only work if you have or want kids,” she says.

To offer benefits that support a diverse workforce, employers are weaving together a wide range of offerings, from in-office benefits to family leave, employee growth, and more. Doing so can help companies stand out in a tight labor market and drive employee engagement and productivity.

“When you support your team and treat them as people, not work robots, you see a boost in productivity, happiness, and engagement,” says Spurling. “It sounds simple… that’s because it is.” 

While the concept is straightforward, designing a cutting-edge, culturally competent program can be challenging. Here’s how Boston-area organizations are supporting diverse workforces and keeping up with ever-changing expectations.  

Understanding changing family dynamics 

A woman wearing overalls and a woman wearing a blue shirt look at each other lovingly while sitting on a white couch with a young blonde boy in a green outfit sits between them and a slightly older brunette boy wearing a yellow and white shirt sits on the floor in front of them.Flexible options are needed to reflect changing family demographics, says Point32Health’s Jim Gallagher.

“We recognize that families are built in different ways,” says CarGurus senior director of total rewards and benefits operations Kate Eastman.

To that end, the company’s robust offerings for families include adoption assistance up to $10K a year, with a limit of $20K total; paid leave for primary caregivers; and various types of support through Care.com’s [email protected] online platform, including care for children, adults, seniors, pets, or homes, Eastman says.

“Broad, flexible options are needed, because the definition of family continues to evolve,” says Jim Gallagher, vice president of marketing and product strategy at Point32Health, the parent company of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan.

According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, married couples with children under 18 account for only 19% of households. Increasingly, single parents, LGBTQ+ parents, and multigenerational households are redefining the family unit. 

“A growing recognition of what it means to service diverse populations is requiring health plans to rethink everything,” Gallagher says, including what a benefit even means. It’s important to know how to better meet the needs of employers and employees and “connect in a deeper, more meaningful way,” he says. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care works with companies of all sizes to ensure they are offering “culturally-sensitive, appropriate, and cutting-edge” benefits.

In addition to customer feedback and market research, Harvard Pilgrim leverages its parent company Point32Health’s diverse workforce of 4,000 employees as an “incubator,” testing and assessing innovative offerings that might make sense for its customers, too.

During Open Enrollment period, a critical time for employees to assess their current benefit offerings, Point32Health provides an online benefits decision support tool, MyHealthMath, to help employees in choosing a health plan that was cost effective based on their household’s specific health needs. The tool compares medical plan options and ranks them to make it easier for an individual to decide which plan is right for them. Earlier this year, Point32Health also offered an innovative, first-of-its kind multi-cancer early detection blood test to employees who met certain eligibility criteria, including age and family history of cancer, as part of two-phased pilot of GRAIL’s groundbreaking Galleri® test.  

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Connecting benefits to culture and mission

Taking care of employees goes beyond medical and dental coverage, says Angelica Eling, senior design program manager at Klaviyo, a marketing automation platform headquartered in Boston. She is impressed by the way her company prioritizes well-being.

“Employees can be reimbursed for any book that piques their interest — and there’s seriously no limit! — chat one-on-one with a third-party coach from Bravely, an on-demand coaching platform, or practice mindfulness and meditation with the free Headspace app subscription. If you’re struggling with something, there’s probably a resource for it,” she says.

These benefits link to company values, explains Lisa Maronski, head of people at Klaviyo. For example, the free book policy and coaching platform reflect a commitment to continual learning — “knowledge without constraint,” Maronski says. 

A person wearing white sneakers, black leggings, a white T-shirt, and a brown watch leans down to pick up a plastic water bottle on the ground.At Bevi, employees can take paid time off to volunteer for causes that matter to them.

Additionally, the company offers an annual $3,000 learning stipend to all of its employees.“To offer benefits in a way that only a subset of your employee base can use them, because of demographics or other reasons, really flies in the face of what I would consider inclusive benefits,” Maronski says.

All Klaviyo employees can take advantage of these perks and pursue learning opportunities that reflect their interests, needs, and backgrounds.  

At Bevi, the Boston-based creator of filtered water dispensers, perks are tangible representations of the company’s mission: to make the beverage industry more sustainable. The company incentivizes employees to choose eco-friendly commuting options and offers paid volunteer time for environmental and social justice causes. Other notable benefits include ESG investment options, individualized parental leave, and flexible return-to-work programs.

“At Bevi, offering inclusive benefits means listening closely to the needs and priorities of our employees when designing benefits programs, just as we listen closely to our customers when designing products,” says Kristen Albertsen, Bevi’s vice president of people. “It means genuinely understanding the ‘why’ behind the ask and taking into account edge cases and considerations, so that every employee — regardless of personal or professional circumstances — feels heard and welcome at Bevi. This matters, because a diversity of voices and viewpoints on our team is critical to accurately reflecting the diversity of our customer base — and to delivering the best customer experience and product as possible.”

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Bringing your whole self to work

Shannon Daly, senior director of global benefits at VMware, a cloud computing company with offices in Boston, says the company wants people to bring their “full, authentic selves to work,” so they can leverage all their skill sets as they tackle challenges. 

Our policies and practices support our diverse communities – and one of the ways we aim to do so is by offering benefits and programs tailored to the unique needs of our employees,” she says.

These benefits include offerings that support women’s rights, veterans, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

A group of people wearing pink VMware shirts smile at the camera.Boston-based VMware offers benefits that allow employees to bring their “full, authentic selves to work.”

VMware’shighly competitive suite of benefits specifically tailored to the growing LGBTQIA+ community” include transition support, gender reassignment surgery, and robust family planning offerings, Daly says.

Boston Scientific similarly strives to create an organization “where everyone feels they belong and can do their best work,” says Gail Beauregard, vice president of global total rewards.

She explains that when employees feel “supported in managing and prioritizing other aspects of their lives,” they are more engaged, productive, and “empowered to bring creative problem-solving and take smart risks.” This advances the company’s mission of transforming lives through medical innovations. Boston Scientific’s holistic offerings include support for adoptive parents and parents through surrogacy, flexible parental leave policies, mental health support, and back-up care options. 

“We recognize that caregiving doesn’t just mean parenting but can extend to other family obligations like caring for one’s own parents,” Beauregard says.

Point32Health’s Gallagher notes that over 53 million Americans are providing unpaid care for a family member or friend, which can be a mentally and physically taxing role. To address this growing trend, Point32Health company Harvard Pilgrim Health Care will roll out a new service for fully insured businesses in January of 2023 to help people navigate the complex task of caregiving. Doing so can free up employees’ time and increase productivity, he says.  

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An ongoing process — never one-and-done 

Part of what makes maintaining an inclusive benefits program challenging is that you must continually evaluate your offerings. Bevi is revamping its benefits using surveys, focus groups, and internal and external data to understand what benefits matter most to its workforce. This year, it is rolling out a Summer Fridays program to build better work/life balance for employees.

“Inclusive benefits recognize that not every employee fits a ‘standard’ benefit need, and also that employee needs change as they go through different stages in their personal and professional journeys. We aim to listen to our team, to tailor our offerings where possible, and to continuously improve,” Albertsen says.

Eastman at CarGurus advises “companies looking to offer culturally competent benefits to stay close to the market and to talk directly with their employees about their needs and how certain benefits do (or don’t) work for them.”

CarGurus monitors sentiment around its benefits offerings through focus groups, ongoing employee engagement surveys, and “dialogue with our Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders and members, such as from the [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] ERGs.”

In spring 2022, Klaviyo began a systematic review of its perks and benefits, with a focus on expanding its mental health program, which currently includes free subscriptions to the Headspace app, telehealth, substance abuse support, a global employee assistance program (EAP), and company-wide mental health days. 

Educating employees about these offerings is also an ongoing process, Maronski says. Klaviyo uses weekly meetings, “lunch & learns,” newsletters, dedicated Slack channels, and Wiki pages to share HR news. 

Leadership must also understand company benefits. Boston Scientific provides training to engage with employees on their well-being and discuss relevant benefits, understanding “managers are on the front lines of the conversations that matter most,” Beauregard says.

Building an inclusive benefits program requires education, feedback, time, and partnership. But the efforts pay off in multitudes by attracting and retaining diverse talent, reinforcing company cultures, and ensuring people feel supported and cared for.  

Point32Health, the parent company of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan, strives to be a different kind of nonprofit health and well-being company, with a broad range of health plans and innovative tools that make navigating health and well-being easier and lead to better health outcomes. We are committed to providing high-quality and affordable health care to everyone and creating healthier communities across the country. To learn more about our health plan options for businesses of all sizes through Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, visit www.harvardpilgrim.org

 

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.

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