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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting. With me is my co-host and good friend, JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm.
Today we’re going to talk about managing perks. As business leaders or HR professionals who make decisions on the types of perks to offer our staff members, we want to make sure the ones we pick actually help us attract and retain the best and most diverse teams.
So, JoDee, I invited a guest to our podcast today who really is an expert at this. It’s Amy Spurling, she’s the CEO and co-founder of Compt, that’s C-O-M-P-T. Prior to starting her own company, Amy Spurling was a CFO and COO for six companies and helped them build scalable businesses, ensuring they had enough funding and used those funds to find and keep the best talent. Working inside those companies, Amy helped raise over $200 million and hired over 1,000 people in 40 states in 15 countries. Amy stopped working for others and decided to build Compt because she saw an incredible need for companies to have a tool that enables them to better compensate and reward their teams.
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Welcome Amy, we’re so glad you’re here.
Thank you so much for having me.
So, Amy, what kind of perks are you seeing that most companies provide today?
There’s a pretty wide variety, and there’s different ways that companies are approaching it. So the ones that are going out and purchasing from a bunch of different companies. Student loan forgiveness is obviously a big one as people think about recruiting people, you know, under the age of 35. There’s a lot of debt out there, so there’s certainly a lot of student loan repayment. There’s also you know, you see a lot of family benefits, and as you have more parents traveling, Milk Stork is one that I see frequently as well, so that working moms can make sure that they can continue breastfeeding. So we see a lot of those types of things, but those are one-off solutions that impact maybe 10 to 15% of a team at any given time. So we are seeing this shift over to more platform-based benefits, where employees have more choice. So then a company will say, “we want to support health and wellness,” or, “we want to support continuous learning.” So broadening the concept a bit.
That’s wonderful. As a former CFO, did you ever have to say no to perks employees asked for? And if so, what kinds and why?
I felt like all I said was no, unfortunately, like, that was, I mean, it was literally the most common word out of my mouth, and not because they had bad ideas. They had fantastic ideas, but it would come down to, you know, they’d come up with, somebody would come in and say, “Hey, would the company sponsor my 5K for Alzheimer’s?” Or, you know, “Will you spot, you, will you pay for student loan repayment or pet insurance?” and when you run the numbers, if only 10% of the team is going to use it, you still have to offer it to everyone, and so you end up burning your budget on something that impacts a tiny, tiny fraction of the team. So I felt like all I said was no, which was frustrating, obviously for the employees, but also frustrating for me, because we’re trying to create a really personalized experience for the team, but they had great ideas, just there wasn’t the mechanism to say yes.
What is it that employees really want out of their perks?
I think there’s, I mean, there’s a lot of things. One, certainly support for the things that matter to them individually. So even something like health and wellness, it means different things to different people. One of the companies that we’re working with was doing a gym stipend, and they were subsidizing one gym. Anybody could go, you know, they did 50 bucks a month, and they saw that 10% of the team was using it. And they changed that into a stipend where employees could decide what health and wellness meant for them. And that’s where the first month there were 330 different items the team did, so 330 health and wellness items for a team of 120 people. So it’s just, you wouldn’t create that kind of a program internally. Every single person wants something different. It’s, it’s certainly the age of personalization.
Yes, for sure.
So, we were going to ask you, do you think that perks will go away during the next economic downturn? The time of this recording, we feel like we’re in one. It’s March, mid March of 2020.
I don’t think perks are going to go away. I do think that the way they’ve been delivered and offered is going to have to change, and that’s something that I’ve been watching. So at, CFO hat, first thing you do when your budget starts shrinking is looking at all this discretionary spend, and perks is absolutely part of that. The challenge though, is that you still need to have the best people around the table, and we were already in a skilled labor shortage. So there’s, you know, over 6 million jobs that are open in our top 10 cities in the US can’t be filled, and that’s everything from lawyers and accountants and marketers and engineers to baristas and drivers, and people, you have to have some sort of a skill to do it. If those aren’t being filled, now companies have even less money to attract and retain those people, so they’ve got to figure out a different way of doing it. So I don’t think perks go away, but I think that one-off things that are hitting 10% of the team, I think a lot of those are going to go away, because it’s just not a scalable business model on either side of the equation.
Yeah. And, you know, we’ve certainly heard more conversation recently than ever before in the history of business about people working from home, which I think is interesting. I, I feel certain we’re going to deal with this virus and, and figure this out, and I, I think it will have been an interesting test for organizations to have figured out, you know, did it work, or what did they do well or not well, and certainly a test on the employees’ part, too, to see can they keep doing it, but so is it really, remote work a perk enough in itself for people who can work from home?
I don’t think of remote work as a perk, in the same way I don’t think of commuter benefits as a perk. It’s, the company gets a huge benefit in both scenarios, with commuter benefits, “Great, you paid for me to get to my job. If I take a different job, I don’t need this perk. This is not an actual perk for me.” With remote work, companies don’t have to pay for real estate, they don’t have to pay for utilities, they don’t have to pay for all kinds of things, and they can get amazing talent a lot of times a lot cheaper than if it’s just somebody sitting in downtown San Francisco or New York, and so I don’t view that as much as a perk as a way of doing work. And so I think that’s, we are going to see a big shift, because it’s interesting, I was talking to a banker earlier today, he was talking about how in 2008 and 2009 the conversation was, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to move to remote work, you know, because people are gonna move outside the cities.” And that happened for like a year, and then everybody moved back, like, and that happened.
The difference now, though, is that we have much better tools. There are a lot of amazing tools. I mean, we’re sitting here on Zoom, that didn’t exist in 2008, video conferencing, you needed cameras set up everywhere, and it was this whole complex structure. You don’t need that now. I haven’t taken a phone call on my phone in probably a year and a half. It’s all through my computer. And so it’s really easy to work remote, and a lot of employees are going to figure that out right now and be like, “Wait a minute, why am I commuting three hours a day, like, that’s a waste of my life.” And companies are going to realize, “Hey, we can actually do this.” And we’ve got amazing fully remote companies that are doing it. Now you’ve got companies like Envision, 100% remote, and they get amazing talent. This is very doable, and it’s much healthier, quite frankly, than commuting and sitting in a car for three hours each day when you’re not seeing your family or, you know, spending time with your kids or whatever it is, or just living your life.
Or exercising, yeah.
So, Amy, what is the perk that employees ask for the most?
There is no one perk that makes everyone happy. That’s, that’s the, that’s the reality. Every single person wants and needs something different, and that’s, that’s the challenge that HR has been tasked with. Because even something like food, you know, seems like a great perk, and it was one of the ones that was early adopted, “Okay, we’ll feed people, everyone’s got to eat.” I mean, you’ve got keto, you’ve got Whole 30, you’ve got vegan, you’ve got nut free, you’ve got pescatarian, you’ve got, like, all these different things, and then you just have people who are like, “I don’t like tacos,” and you’re like, “I’m out,” like, “what am I gonna do?” You’re still not able to make everyone happy, even with something that is a basic human need, and ultimately, it’s not a perk enough for somebody to be super excited about staying in a job for it. So I think it’s getting out of the, what’s the thing that’s going to make you happy, to being, “Okay, this is what we thematically want to support. This is what’s core to our culture.” You know, “We’re a pet first company, a family first company,” you know, “We want to support your career growth,” whatever it is, now let employees be adults and decide that for themselves, because we are all adults working in these companies, and we shouldn’t have things dictated to us, especially when it’s our compensation.
Yeah, that’s fair. Well, a perk that I’ve read about recently that has me very excited is graternity leaves. It’s people, when they become a grandparent, that are wanting to have, spend some time with the kids.
Don’t you think? And I think that, given the fact that we have so many of us baby boomers still working, a graternity leave is a way to differentiate yourself. Although, then again, it might be one of the 10% things, you know, that maybe it doesn’t have a wide enough appeal. I don’t know.
I mean, it’s interesting, if people start expanding, we’re already expanding when we think of parental leave, where, you know, men are getting access to or, you know, other parents are getting access to leave, which I think is fantastic, by the way, because in a family dynamic, unless you have co-parenting happening, there is, one parent is taking a step back in their career, and that’s usually the woman, and that is very frustrating to me. When you encourage and support co-parenting, suddenly everybody has access. And I love the idea of then expanding it to, you know, kind of the “it takes a village” concept, where you could allow for grandparents or aunts and uncles or whoever, like, why is the company dictating who is in my family or what family means to me. Let me decide that, and you decide what you’re going to support, because it’s not like, grandparents aren’t gonna be able to go on short term disability, fathers, right now, can’t go on short term disability. I think we need to rethink how we how we pay and structure this, but I love that concept. That’s awesome.
Yeah. I do too. So what advice do you have for listeners who are thinking that they want to add perks as a part of their total rewards or reconsider what they have been offering?
I think I would first do inventory of what you are offering and what the engagement is, because what most companies we talk to find, one, there’s a lot of money being spent. But you know, you do an engagement survey for your team and, “So these are what we’re offering, what do you like, what do you not like?” And everybody is like, “Check, check, check, check, I want all of the things, and I also want this other thing or other five things.” That’s usually what comes back, and you’re like, “Well, that didn’t help me at all.” And now it’s just spend more money, but thinking about what is that engagement? What are the outcomes you want to see in the team? Is it, you know, getting to a higher utilization across your perks so that you know that the team is more engaged with it? Is it being able to focus them around your culture rather than being what’s the cool, new, hot thing that everybody’s gonna love? Because not everybody’s gonna love it. And thinking about that and then crafting something that is more, that can allow for that personalization. I do think there’s some, a lot of companies have been doing stipends for a while. I think it’s a great approach to that. I think there’s some challenge administratively with doing that, but it gets closer to personalization for employees. So thinking about how you support that personalization.
I liked your, your, you mentioned at the top of the podcast about the, kind of having a cafeteria, or I think you used the word, a broader term. I was talking to one of our clients recently who said that they’re offering some student loan repayments to their employees, but they’re offering it under their wellness benefit. As a way, their wellness benefit is x amount, and so some people might use that to go to the gym, and now some people could use that as a way to pay off a student loan, and I thought that was very creative, of thinking about it as always employees get x amount, but what what they’ve done is broaden the wheel of what was covered.
I love that. We have, one of our customers has a wellness stipend that is for your financial, physical, and mental wellness. And so they’ve done that kind of broadening, which, when you think about it, like, all of those things do impact your, your livelihood and well being. And so I love that you’ve got somebody who’s doing that, because I think it makes a ton of sense. Like, if you are stressed out because you are in so much debt, your health is going to take a hit. And if you can help take that stress level down, it just makes sense to do that. So I love, I think more and more companies are letting go of the extreme restrictions, “Here are the things that you can do,” and give you a really detailed list of all the ways you can use this benefit or you can’t use it or whatever, instead of going through that process which is onerous for the administration and for the employee, saying, “Here’s what aligns with our culture.” You know, “We want to support your wellness, we want to support your family, we want to support whatever it is,” and then let employees be adults and do things that matter to them. You’re going to get that engagement you’re looking for, it’s going to be a lot easier to manage, and everybody is just going to be happier. Like, it’s just, it’s moving the needle in a really interesting way.
Amy, how can our listeners reach you if they have questions or want to engage with you?
They can reach me at my email address, so it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s C-O-M-P-T dot I-O. They can certainly reach out to me there, or, you know, I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn as well, on just Amy Spurling.
Well, thank you so much. You really have made me think about perks and benefits and a different way today. Thank you.
My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
So, JoDee, it’s time for best practice sharing on being responsive. I think all of us, whether you’re an HR professional or business leader, you want to be responsive to the needs of your employees, to your customers, to your vendors, whoever it is who needs, needs you, but we also recognize that you’re trying to do everything and sometimes feel like you’re drinking from a firehose. So we thought it’d be good today to talk about, what are some things that you do to make sure that you’re being responsive to people. So, JoDee, I have some things that I do and then I’d love to hear some that you do. I am maniacal about having a to-do list, and it can’t – until I do it, I cannot take it off that to-do list. How about you?
So I don’t actually use a – I use a different version of a to-do list. I’ll say, I try to keep my inbox very small. I try to keep very few things in my inbox so that I know what’s in there, if I need to respond to you. And I know if I can’t respond with a full answer right away, I try to respond to say, “I’ll get back with you in a couple of days.”
Just acknowledge you got the message, which I think is really a great technique.
And then, I kind of, my different version of a to-do list is to put actions on my calendar.
I’ve seen you do that. So you really know you’re going to get back to so-and-so on such-and-such a date about something. It’s not that you have an appointment, but it’s like an appointment to a commitment that you’ve made.
I know several people on our team, I haven’t gotten into the habit of doing this, but several people on our Purple Ink team use a Trello board to to track their to-do list, too, and that seems to work really well for them.
I’ve seen some people, in their efforts to be responsive, is, if someone asked them for something, they always say, “Could you please shoot me a quick email on that?” or “Can you text me on that?” Because they believe if they’re, you know, busy doing something else, that unless it gets written down and it hits them a second time, it won’t get done. So I know it can be kind of deflating, if you’ve just shared something with someone and they say “Would you mind putting that in an email?” You know, you just aren’t, you’ve gone through and you’ve orally told them something, but I do get that, and for some people, they need to see it in writing before they can remember to do something.
I actually like that, too. I tell my kids that frequently, or my kids will call me or they’ll text me, and I’ll say to them, “Could you send an email?” because an email I can change into a calendar appointment.
So it fits into your system.
Whatever works, right?
I’ve seen some other people say, “You know, I try very hard when something arises to deal with it in the moment.” So if they used to have a tendency of, “Okay, well, I can get to this, I can get to that,” or “I’ll jot it down on my list,” or whatever, if they just take a breath and say, “Okay, is this something that we can deal with now?” Maybe there’s some things you could knock out.
You are exceptional at that, at getting back to me, at least.
Well, you’re my number one!
Very responsive about returning that. That’s super nice.
I think it’s because I have this pet peeve, I don’t understand when people don’t get back to people. I just, I don’t understand it. It, I can’t fathom why somebody doesn’t get back. I like to assume innocence, like, the first time, okay, they, you know, they forgot. But if that’s a pattern, drives me nuts.
They’re just ignoring you.
Yeah, exactly. So please, listeners, if you have any tips or practices of ways that you are able to be responsive, please call us, tweet us, put a message in to us, because we would love to share that with our other listeners.
Susan, we have a listener question today. The question comes from a listener who completed an evaluation on one of our episodes for SHRM credit, and they said, “I’m wondering how to work with two difficult bosses, specifically when leading up is not enough and these bosses are the executives. In my case, the actual owners of the company.”
Hmm, this could be tough. We do have an episode called “Managing Up,” and we talked about, you know, how do you really build those relationships with the people above you in the organization chart. But I don’t think we really talked about this. What if there’s two owners who don’t get along with each other, and you’re caught in the middle? So I think it’s just a great question. I actually did have one experience with this type of a situation in my career, and it, I felt like they would often come to me upset about something I was doing for the other one. And then I’d have to explain why I was doing it, kind of defend what I was doing in a positive way, and then I’d go back to the other one, and they’d be kind of upset when they find out the other person tried to get their fingerprints on it. Yeah, it could just be a bad, bad cycle. I think the right thing to do is, first of all, take a breath and realize it’s not you, that the disagreement, the issue is really between them. And if they… What I would probably do is I would sit down with each of them separately and privately and share that, “I love working here. I love the work, the job that I have.” But this is an issue that has you concerned. You want to be able to please the entire management team, in this case, the two owners, and you sense that there’s friction and that it’s impacting your job. But I’d give specific examples. “Here’s something that Joe asked me to do. Here’s what you then asked me to do. And it was in conflict, and I could tell when I shared that, it made you upset, and that the way that impacts me is I feel like I’m not doing a good job.” So I think it’s just communication, isn’t that the answer for almost everything, JoDee?
I probably would do each one of them one-on-one and get their advice. What might you add, JoDee?
I just 100% agree. I think going straight to the source and talking about it, they might not even know they’re creating an issue or a problem for you, so you have to bring it to their attention and discuss it and work through it.
All right. So good luck.
In the news, JoDee and I attended a learning session delivered by an EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Community Outreach Coordinator in Indianapolis back in February of 2020. He shared that currently, the number one EEOC charge filed in 2019 was for retaliation. In fact, 72,675 charges of discrimination were filed across the United States in 2019. More than half of them are for, for retaliation. The EEOC says retaliation occurs when employee – employers treat applicants, employees, or former employees, or people closely associated with these individuals, less favorably for either, perhaps participating in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit, or serving as a witness if you get called into, different type, someone else’s investigation or just for opposing discrimination. Perhaps something happens in the workplace, you call people out, you threaten to file a charge, even if you don’t do it, you could still be retaliated against. So once someone has raised a concern about discrimination, what we need to do as business leaders, HR professionals, is that we really do need to jump in and make sure that is handled respectfully, that there has been no adverse actions toward that person that, that occurs that could be perceived or be, actually, real punishment for having raised a concern, or for being vocal about a concern or assisting someone else in an investigation or lawsuit. The number two most common EEOC charge was related to disabilities. Of course, we have a podcast on that, “Recruiting and Retaining People with Disabilities,” where we talk about being a JoyPowered®, inclusive workspace. So hopefully you don’t get those types of charges. And the number three most common charge was age related. And once again, we’ve got a podcast on that, and that one’s “Aging in the Workplace,” which really hits on that topic. Bottom line, it’s important to keep focused on maintaining a healthy work culture where managers and employees understand your commitment to equal opportunity inclusiveness and that you can’t have any tolerance for bad behaviors.
Thanks for listening today.
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