Picking a new perk? Better know your “why.”

There’s a lot to think about when deciding on a new perk or benefit. How to get the most bang for your buck when rolling out new perks or benefits.
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5 min read

“Twelve to 18 months.” That’s how much time Alice Vichaita, Pinterest’s head of global benefits and mobility, said she and her team spent creating Pinterest’s NICU parental leave benefits, which were publicly announced at the end of 2021.

In an interview with HR Brew, Vichaita described the steps required to go from ideation to execution, including meeting with the Pinterest Moms and Caregivers employee resource group, benchmarking Pinterest’s parental benefits against competitors, formalizing a set of recommendations for leadership’s review, receiving approval, and then finally announcing the policy.

Before any of that could happen, there was an entire iceberg of work that had happened below the surface: Vichaita and her team had to pick the kind of benefits they wanted to create in the first place.

Deciding which program to develop can be a herculean task in and of itself. More than ever, workers place a high value on total rewards, but there are five generations of workers in the workforce, each with their own preferences for perks and benefits, complicating the question of how to prioritize program rollouts. To help better understand the process, HR Brew interviewed a dozen people who focus on rewards and benefits to find out how they zoom in on company priorities and pick their next perk or benefit.

Find your “why.” Julie Barker, consultant and CEO of Cultivate Talent, which provides foundational HR consulting to help organizations scale processing, including recruitment, compensation, and benefits, suggested HR begin by getting specific about their goals.

“We start with the why we’re doing this? What is the outcome and the impact we’re looking at? What is the ultimate cost, but what is the value?” Barker said. “Being able to tell that story…be able to show value with that [benefit] in terms of budget, and then moving forward.”

Heather Larson, SVP, client advisor and producer at Lockton Companies, believes it’s particularly important to understand whether recruiting or retention is top of mind, because the benefits that cater to each will likely look different. She believes benefits that move the needle on employee wellbeing over the long term often aren’t the ones candidates are most excited about.

“So we have to balance: Okay, what are we trying to do to help people live healthier lives, but also, what are we doing to be a really attractive place to work right now? Because nobody looks at somebody’s website [or] at their new hire recruitment document and goes, ‘Oh, I love they offer Livongo for diabetes! That's amazing! I can’t wait to work there.’”

Dive into data. Enspira CEO and founder Kurt Landon told HR Brew that once HR teams know their overall “why,” they are “just completely hungry for data” to help them identify the specific new perk or benefit to invest in.

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Larson, Landon, and Barker all suggest measuring benefits usage and preferences with employee-engagement surveys.

Steven Kapper, associate client partner at Korn and Ferry, compares potential new benefits offerings head-to-head. Kapper says this technique, called a “conjoint analysis,” can yield surprising results. Sometimes employees place higher value on benefits that cost employers less to provide.

Kapper asked employees,“Do you want five additional days of PTO or do you want a winter shutdown (which, in this case, was four days out of the office)? And, surprisingly, the individuals placed a greater value on the four days out of the office for the winter shutdown.”

Though employees had less total time off, “when you have a winter shutdown, nobody’s bothering you at your company,” Kapper said.

But, but, but...Jordan Peace, CEO and co-founder of Fringe, a lifestyle benefits platform, cautioned that even after surveying employee preferences, it’s borderline impossible to please everyone by offering a point solution (a specific service offered by a vendor, typically to fill a gap in a company’s benefit package).

“If we do a survey, and 15% of people say they wanted this, and…15% was the highest [percentage], there’s still 85% that’s like, ‘That’s not what I voted for.’” Peace said. “There’s always a big disappointed group.”

One method of combating this problem could be thinking about employees as personas—such as generational groups or employees who share common interests or concerns—and trying to build a benefit strategy broadly around perks and benefits that meet most needs of multiple personas.

“Obviously, you can’t take a workforce, even if it’s 100 people, and look at everything, person by person,” Landon said. “So typically we'll see personas developed where this persona—they’ve got student loan issues, and they’ve got fertility issues, and they’ve got pet care issues, for example—that’s a persona, and then you kind of go on from there.”

No benefit Band-Aid. In nearly every conversation, experts circled back to understanding HR’s why for creating a new benefit. Will it improve employee experience at home or at work by adding something new? Will it help to alleviate stress? Jonathan Shooshani, president and co-founder of JOON, a benefit aggregator, cautioned that investing in yet another perk won’t matter much if the company culture is otherwise affecting employee well-being. 

“Benefits are not a catch-all cure, or a panacea for bad culture,” Shooshani said. “It’s not gonna matter what type of health and wellness…benefits you have—you got to fix that first.”—SV

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SusannaVogel1 on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Susanna for her number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.