2nd Oct 2020
3 Min Read

Is employee engagement a painkiller or a vitamin?

Lindsay Kohler
Lindsay Kohler
People & Change

This article was originally published on 16 September 2020 on Forbes.com

A common lens through which venture capitalists view products when evaluating whether to invest or not is in terms of whether the product is a "painkiller" or a "vitamin." A painkiller is a must-have product. A vitamin is considered a nice-to-have product. This health analogy works well for human resource and benefits teams as they continue to evaluate what to offer employees to attract and retain top talent.

Traditionally, companies have had to master the art of providing painkillers — healthcare, retirement benefits, additional well-being resources, etc. As we move into an altered working landscape, what new benefits might people want? Onsite gyms might have tempted people in the past, but demand is now growing for more practical support, especially as remote working is no longer a "vitamin" to be dangled in front of employees. Engagement cannot be demanded. But it can be motivated through the strategic and creative use of new and innovative perks and benefits. Or, what teams can view as "vitamins."

What could these vitamins look like? Perspectives from three companies in vastly different industries give teams food for thought.

Provide leave for the things that matter most

Do you have a dog or cat that you refer to as your "fur baby?" Beloved U.K. craft beer company BrewDog understands that welcoming a fur baby into the family takes time and energy that new "fur parents" weren‘t expecting. Enter, "pawternity leave." That‘s right. A cute name for an even cuter benefit. Pawternity leave gives employees a full week of paid time off to welcome their newest four-legged addition to the family. While introduced in 2017, it‘s not hard to imagine the popularity of a benefit such as this during a time when animal adoption rates have boomed (thank you, Covid-19).

Keep the kids entertained

Companies do not have to provide on-site daycare to help employees take care of their kids. U.S. insurance giant John Hancock developed an innovative, four-week summer camp program for its employees‘ children. Camp activities offer a mix of online and offline curriculum that can be done with minimal parental supervision for kids ages 4-10. The activities include hands-on STEM puzzles and art projects, a pen pal program, a chore chart, and the opportunity to win fun rewards. With over 3,000 campers, the program has been a success. As parents grapple with the decision to send children back to school amidst a pandemic, benefits such as this that help keep children out from underfoot so working parents can focus will become increasingly valuable.

Break stigmas with benefits for previously taboo topics

Being on one‘s period is more than just "that time of the month." It is also a health condition. Some experience disabling cramping and migraines on top of the oft-joked about (but serious) effect hormone fluctuations have on mood and the ability to interact effectively. Zomato, one of India‘s largest food delivery companies, created a stir when they announced a menstrual leave policy for female employees, where employees can take up to 10 days off a year to manage uncomfortable side effects of having a period. Forbes recently discussed the economic and moral case for menstrual leave, and it is compelling. But beyond that, there is something to be said for offering benefits for previously stigmatized conditions, such as those that are covered by the broad umbrella of mental health.

Companies looking to differentiate themselves can do so by honestly assessing what their people need

It‘s not just free coffee in the cafeteria (though that‘s nice). It is about taking a non-traditional look at what it takes to support the evolving needs of your people. When you keep an open mind about what benefits and perks could be, you‘ll be better positioned to create truly unique programs.

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