One of the greatest hurdles for human resources and people leadership teams are designing flexible and global reimbursements programs. Espresa hosted a leadership forum for global reimbursements with cross-industry leaders to discuss what they are seeing, experiencing, and trends for a new model of spend now, versus spend later reimbursements.

Featured speakers:

 

Discussion topics:

  • Global reimbursements and benefits parity
  • Lifestyle Spending Accounts (LSAs) versus 401k and other bucketed benefit budgets
  • Flexible reimbursements that go beyond fitness, including tuition, child and eldercare, ergonomics, and more
  • Mental health, stress management, and meditation

Watch the virtual forum video and/or read the transcript below.

Global Reiumbursements Leadership Forum Transcript

(Modified to remove superfluous language for readability)

Alex Shubat, Moderator and CEO, Espresa // Welcome to our chat on global reimbursements. I really appreciate the time that our panelists are giving us to come and share their wisdom with us. In addition to introductions, what’s on your mind, what are you facing? What are your challenges? What are your key accomplishments for this year or for next year? What would you like to do?

Susan Lovegren, Former CPO of Medallia and Juniper Networks // Thank you so much, Alex, and good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you’re calling in from. My name is Susan Lovegren and I am the former Chief People Officer for Medallia, Juniper Networks, AppDynamics, and Plantronics, which has now become Poly. I’ve spent my career in human resources and can say it has been a fascinating journey. The world of HR continues to change as does the world of work. And I think it’s a wonderful time to be in this business. I’m currently working as an advisor with six different HR technology companies in various phases of their growth. I’m also on a nonprofit board of trustees, Second Harvest Food Bank, which is part of Feeding America.

What’s really top of mind for me, and has been such an interesting year is that there’s just an explosion of HR technology solutions that I am super excited about in terms of absolutely transforming the employee experience. There are interesting opportunities where we’re going to see continued automation, continued creativity, and the opportunity to improve the lives of the people we serve in our companies and our organizations.

Nora Laure-Campbell, Manager, Total Rewards and Systems, AlayaCare // My name is Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell. I’m not a standard HR professional. I entered the HR world through consulting in the field of wellness in the workplace. Then I realized that the more I was working with clients, I realized there was so much more to do and that wellness, benefits, total rewards, and everything that the employer is putting forward to create that experience for employees are intertwined. I kept on exploring new roles with innovation in mind and trying to gain additional knowledge of how to best support our employees in the workplace.

Right now I am the manager of total rewards at AlayaCare. We are a technology company in the healthcare space and have a home care platform. What is really top of mind for me is the talent war right now. We are, like other companies, always challenged in finding talent, the best resources to support our mission and to support our growth. That is why what’s top of mind for me is creating a distinctive experience for employees because we’re never going to win the war on money. There’s always going to be someone that’s larger than us, that has deeper pockets, that can increase someone’s salary tenfold.

What we want is to create this experience for employees, be competitive in the market, and provide an experience that is meaningful to our employees so they want to stay with us, they appreciate the journey, and they want to continue with us on the mission.

Tracy Hess, Employee Services Program Manager, ServiceNow // My name is Tracy Hess. I am the current employee services program manager at ServiceNow. I am not a classic HR person. My history is more in facilities and operations with real estate. I was always in charge of programs, like fitness, events, and cafe food and beverage. There is a lot of overlap with these programs, whether it’s wellbeing, fitness, or HR. I have been working in that field for about 10 years. I was in a company called Quora, which is a question and answer website, previous to ServiceNow. I was also at a company called IXL Learning, which is a distance learning online platform.

The main things that I’ve been thinking a lot about are return to work when it comes to the hybrid work role, employee experience, how we can find benefits for people to come back comfortably, and what that looks like. I think that’s a big challenge that we have. And to be able to put on events that are both virtual and in-person once we’re back in the office.

Tracy Desmond, Head of Global Benefits, Wellbeing, and Mobility, Airbnb// I’m Tracy Desmond and I lead global benefits, mobility, and wellbeing for Airbnb. Prior experiences are ServiceNow, Tesla, Box, and a few other companies. I’ve been both on the consulting side and then also on the employer side. I’ve known Alex and the team for a few years as Alex and the team have built out the Espresa platform. We’re a global company, so we have employees in many, many countries around the world.

I’m really thinking about benefits, perks, employee experience, and engagement as we come to this new revised normal, and with employees, some working full-time remote, people moving countries, people moving states, just much more flexibility and how we will structure and design our benefits, perks, and wellbeing programs. Also how we will communicate those to people around the world.

If there are any things in place that we can have so that people have more flexibility to move around the world, that’s one of the things we’re trying to do.

Christopher Renz, Co-Founder, Nua Group, and former Mercer Executive // My name is Chris Renz. I am a partner at a consulting firm called the Nua Group. Our firm was founded about four years ago by myself and two others that spent most of our careers at Mercer in benefits, compensation, and HR operations. Our customers are most focused on what the Tracys both said which is preparing benefit programs and policies for the new hybrid working environment, increased remote workforce, some by choice and some by policy. I’d say the twists to their answers that we’re spending a lot of time on are linking both HR policies, compensation adjustments, and the benefits and perquisite programs together, and how they all need to be adjusted for really a new long-term working model.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // We hear the words reimbursements and allowances and perks and lifestyle spending accounts, which are also known as LSAs. There’s a wellness wallet. There’s the stipend. What name resonates with you, what are you using in your company, and what have you used in the past?

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Susan Lovegren, Advisor and Board Member // Initially, the terminology would be more around perks or wallet share. But the term lifestyle spending accounts really encompasses the direction that companies are going in. Everybody is struggling with how can you be more flexible with your portfolio of perks or benefits? How can you be more personalized in what you offer to people? I think putting things under a larger umbrella of really what’s most important in an employee’s lifestyle and meeting your employees where they are in terms of what they need is much more relevant than the term perk or reimbursement. That’s more like a one-time thing or a singular program. [LSAs] are much broader than that. Based on the companies I’m working with, they’re all thinking about it as much more of a portfolio and much more broadly. That’s the term that really resonates.

Putting things under a larger umbrella of really what’s most important in an employee’s lifestyle and meeting your employees where they are in terms of what they need is much more relevant than the term perk or reimbursement.

Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell, AlayaCare // I definitely agree with Susan in terms of having a name that encompasses multiple types of expenses of perks and that larger umbrella. For me, and maybe it’s also the Canadian market, but it all started with wellness accounts initially which were insurer sponsored and administered. Then lifestyle became more popular because wellness means something different to everybody. But for us at AlayaCare, we wanted to be even more flexible. That was a real struggle, finding what we would call this type of benefit. We actually decided on the simplest way, which is called a flexible allowance, because we are integrating different categories, which are wellness, lifestyle, productivity, and work from home into those accounts. So we really wanted to make sure that our employees could pick and choose whatever they needed and we wanted to stay a little bit away from the term reimbursement because, for us, it’s about engaging the employee. It’s about offering a benefit that is going to have the employee come back and use it on an ongoing basis.

It’s not just about a transaction.

Tracy Desmond, Airbnb // I’d say the same thing. I remember when it was just fitness reimbursements many, many years ago. I think Salesforce was one of the first companies to do that and have a card, and then certainly with LinkedIn and PerkUp. It’s definitely evolved over time to encompass many more things and I think COVID certainly pushed that forward even further. So if it’s something that you deem as wellbeing or wellness or fitness or mental health or life and family or lifestyle, I think more and more companies are getting rid of what restrictions and letting people define it for themselves.

In the past, you actually had to show receipts and then it would be called a reimbursement. It was something that was just being put straight into paychecks than in the allowance space. It’s been interesting to think about flex and flex benefits because I think many companies are moving towards a more flex benefit where you have a budget, a pot of money, and allowance, and you’re going to be able to choose where you put that in what makes sense for you.

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Christopher Renz, Nua Group // I agree with all those points. The only thing I would add is if you’re coming up with a name and a brand for the account to not just think about the programs you’re putting in there now, but strategically where you might be in a few years. I would be pretty broad and think strategically really how broad this type of account or allowance could get and ensure that the name and branding and language around it is going to support where you’re going.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // We’re seeing innovative company branding depending on what’s in the plan and matching a company culture and also a theme being presented to employees. Now, if you had a perfect world, what would be the key pillars of your plan and what would you like to deploy in your reimbursement programs? Obviously, the usual suspects are wellness, fitness, child support, financial, working from home, ergonomics, child adoption, etc. So if you had your choice, what would you like to have in your program?

Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell, AlayaCare // Before even going into specifics about what I would like to have in my program, I did ask myself what were the pillars of the program that I wanted to launch? And I think that I mentioned it earlier, but one of the main components was really to offer a distinctive experience. The other is to offer flexibility and increase the perceived value of the benefits that we were putting forward. My fourth pillar was really to support employees’ health and wellness. Health and wellness, fitness, family support, work-life balance, are all a part of it. We did create some categories for time savers and money savers because we really wanted to be inclusive and make sure our benefits were exhaustive.

We started by launching this global survey where we asked our employees what they cared about and about their satisfaction with their current benefits and perks. The results were so dispersed that we had to go back to the drawing board and look at how to satisfy everybody. For us, the solution was flexibility and to create all those categories and make sure we evolve them as we get feedback from employees.

Tracy Desmond, Airbnb // Again, flexibility as an employer, at least where we can from a tax perspective, not being the ones that determine what it is for employees. If you think through the wellbeing approach, I would cover things in the emotional support space, financial, and physical. For some companies, you may even include social or community, but some companies have whole separate teams and workstreams and programs that focus on that. So if you don’t, you can choose whether to weave that in or not. And then anything in that life, lifestyle, or family pillar I would also include.

It also helps us to not have 10 or 15 point solutions that we have to turn on that only a fraction of employees are using.

For all of us in the benefits or HR space, you’ve turned on various point solutions or vendors. More helpful to employees is the flexibility of having an allowance. It also helps us to not have 10 or 15 point solutions that we have to turn on that only a fraction of employees are using. Many of us have seen quite high engagement when we offer more of this flexible benefit to cover versus trying to pick 10 or five different vendors that we want to partner with to cover some of these things.

Susan Lovegren, Advisor and Board Member // It’s really about mind, body, and spirit. If you think of them as three pillars, so around the mind, benefits related to increasing whether it’s educational assistance or financial knowledge, et cetera. As you think about the body, it’s making sure you’re getting your employees healthy food, access to a gym, outdoor space, those types of things. And then really around spirit, it’s things like time off to volunteer to help in your community. It’s a broader range of things related to mental health, mental wellness. I think the key is flexibility or personalization is more how I like to think about it and if you categorize it kind of in those buckets, you can probably holistically come up with a package and a set of programs that are going to work for people at various stages of need. It’s a very simple way of getting your head around it, and a good way of organizing it.

It’s really about mind, body, and spirit.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // Why not use an expense reporting system like Concur or Expensify, that is built for expense reporting? We see a lot of clients, they’ll typically try to use an existing system, which makes sense, but there are always challenges. Obviously, those systems are not as optimized for something like flexible reimbursements for the mind, body, and spirit. So what will be your thoughts about using a system like that versus using an optimized system that has also an outsourced adjudication component?

Tracy Hess, ServiceNow // We actually went through this exact process when we were looking at our allowances. When we looked at Concur specifically for expense reports, we found they’re just really built for a few people, for example, when it comes to a sales team or travel. The burden seems to be on the employee for submitting receipts, and then it’s very manual for the manager or for finance to then approve each of these individual expenses. On top of that, it’s tough to track the budget. And so when you’re doing these manual expenses, it’s really hard to track when one person puts in however many receipts to know that they’ve hit their limit.

When we looked at the reimbursement program, we found that the approvals were more outsourced, so we didn’t have to deal with the manual work. And then we could look at the budget and know that we were hitting our budget.

The reimbursement program was also for all of our employees and not just a small group. So it was just much more scalable for us. And so we really found the value in using Espresa, for example, to be able to use that for our allowance program.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // When you talk about a system that’s built for just as a portion of the company versus the entire company and it’s worldwide, it creates a much higher throughput. Even if you have one percent of the people who have questions about the plan, somebody needs to answer those questions. That definitely speaks to outsourcing. Nora, since you launched recently, what did you investigate and what did you end up with?

Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell, AlayaCare // We were asked to look at what we were currently using in terms of different platforms because we have so many and are quite a young company. We tend to go with a multitude of solutions. One of the tools we’re currently using for expenses is Expensify. There was a question of, can this tool work for what we want to accomplish? Then what we realized was that the first thing is it’s not the experience we wanted to give our employees. So it did not support our strategy because we wanted to create that distinctive experience. We didn’t want employees to feel like they were just submitting an expense just like their cellphone bill or their trip expenses through that platform.

We wanted more flexibility in terms of tracking different accounts and budgets. We have specific subcategories of expenses like wellness, lifestyle, financial, social, and community wellness. We wanted to be able to track these, where our employees were using their allowance, and what they were using it for. We wanted to make sure that we could engage employees in coming back on the platform. And one of the other challenges was communication because many tools exist, but how can you make sure that employees understand your program and use it in the way you intended it. And that’s probably one of the biggest challenges.

When we were looking at different solutions in the market, we went from looking at, can an insurance carrier support us? We were looking at specialty vendors and simple reimbursement tools.

Then we figured out what we really needed was a platform, a holistic platform for Culture Benefits platform where we can educate our employees on different programs that we have.

We wanted it to become part of the experience that the employee could go back on the platform, get all the information timely on their benefits, on the different perks that they have access to. And that’s the reason we ended up working with Espresa for the flexibility, communication, and experience.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // Thank you, Nora. I like that you mentioned this low-budget first issue. With the expense report system, you’re just submitting expenses versus I now have $1,000 and I’m already $300 into it. It’s very visible upfront, so employees can see where they are.

Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell, AlayaCare // And one more thing if I may add is we were challenged in terms of how we would use our budget, because we did have a budget for an allowance for employees, but depending on the solution we were going to select, part of this budget would have been not directly given to our employees but rather used for the tool. So depending on the tool, the budget was definitely something that was of concern because we wanted to make sure that it was the best experience and the best value for the cost of the tool so that we would leave as much money in our employee’s pockets at the end of the day.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // Susan, what are your thoughts about using different tools?

Susan Lovegren, Advisor and Board Member // Totally agree with Nora. It’s really all about creating the best experience it possibly can. A lot of the classic platforms are what I often refer to as accounting platforms. They’re typically used for reimbursements related to travel, cellphone bills, or that type of thing. And they require different levels of approval and different people looking at what you’re being reimbursed for. And if you think about the benefits platform, you don’t necessarily want to be having somebody in accounting scrutinize your selection plan. It’s not really the experience you want.

You want to be able to view this really as a Culture platform, that you get to control your account, and you get to divvy up what you want to select, how that’s going to be supported and paid for.

It creates this certain level of trust that we’re implementing this for your benefit and we want it to be a great experience, ease of use, and we want to trust you to do what you want with it. It puts the onus on the employee to use it and to manage the account to meet their lifestyle. It’s positioned very differently and I think it’s a much more elegant solution. Again, it’s separating it more from a transactional kind of experience with your employer and employee to really want to have more of that relationship or partnership. Those are some of the subtle, but super important differences.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // I appreciate that, Susan. You touched on an interesting point. The majority of the reimbursements, submissions, and claims, will go through, but there’s always a case where an employee misread the plan, and somebody needs to say no. No one in finance or HR wants to be the bad guy, or has time for that administration. That’s the value of outsourcing this because the vendor can take 90% of that 1%, and then maybe only escalate a couple of cases back to the benefits team to say, “Look, maybe it’s happening a lot. Maybe we should tune the plan because this question keeps coming up.”

Another question that comes up a lot with potential clients and what’s happening in the industry is that a lot of the companies here are US companies, and also have international locations or campuses. They want to always think about the global perspective of this specific benefit. So how do you think about the US versus international? And there are definitely multiple ways of doing it because you can say, if I give somebody a $1,000 in the US and you can use what’s called purchase parity tables, that’s equivalent to maybe €900 or maybe it’s equivalent to so many rupees and so on.

That’s just one way. I’m sure there are other challenges because different countries have different benefits already built into their environment. It’s not simple to just do a currency conversion or purchase parity conversion. Some of our companies have 20, 30, and one we’re talking with right now has 80 locations, around the world. How do you think through that? I want to ping Tracy Desmond here to kick us off because she has deployed global plans and has good experience in that area.

When you’re going through the design, make sure that you’re including your stakeholders in regions around the world and depending on the size of your company.

Tracy Desmond, Airbnb // When you’re going through the design, make sure that you’re including your stakeholders in regions around the world and depending on the size of your company. That might be your benefits team in the region or your total rewards team, or it might be talent or HR partners, and really get their input. What I’ve typically seen happen is you get your baseline plan pulled together of the types of things you were thinking about covering, and then obviously a little bit about the intent of the program, and then make sure that people are weighing in from the very beginning around the world as to things that the US-based team isn’t thinking about, and even things around language and description of things.

Things as simple as a gym or a health club might be called something in one country, but it’s called something else in another.

You want to make sure that you’re being inclusive in the language you’re using.

From the very beginning, getting that stakeholder input doesn’t mean you’ll include every single thing that is suggested or floated, but I think at least getting that input from the very beginning is a smart move. Then as you build out your communications, as you start tightening up what that plan design is going to look like, make sure that you’re having different people in different regions and different countries read it over to make sure that it’s going to come across the way that you want it to come across. So I think part of it’s in the design.

You brought up purchasing power parity. Some companies, depending on how they handle the total rewards space, may do that. Whether you take a straight world bank percentage or what I think is another decent idea, maybe you’ve got three bands. You’ve got a US or North America band, and then maybe you have Singapore and India and some other countries in another band and another grouping. You may not necessarily need a different one per country. And then I think you need to think through what you’re actually going to cover.

I’ll give Airbnb as an example. We have Airbnb credits that employees can use. Is that something that you would want to apply purchasing power parity to because the person may be traveling around the world, and I’m not sure if an adjustment would need to be made in something like that? But something you’re purchasing in the country maybe it would. Once you know the design, the types of things you’re going to cover, then you can make a determination as to how you’re going to apply that.

And then one question, Alex, about if certain benefits are covered from a market perspective in a particular country. Let’s just say food allowances or something like that, and then you were also planning to cover it as part of your wellbeing allowance or this allowance that we’re talking about. You can determine how you’re going to phrase that and whether you’re going to include it or exclude it, or how you’d come up with that. As part of that stakeholder input were any of the things you were planning to have globally already covered in a particular country and how do you deal with that? I think your CFO would love for you to just pull it over so that it’s not two different benefits, but that’s not always the case in market.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // Thank you, Tracy. Really appreciate that wisdom and experience. I’ll pick Nora now because she has also launched a global plan. How did you think through that, Nora?

Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell, AlayaCare // I didn’t even think it that way, but Tracy just told it so well in terms of involving stakeholders because that is actually what we did. And so we launched for Canada, the US, Australia, and also some of our offshore contractors that are scattered across the globe. From the very inception, even when we launched our survey to understand what employees cared about, we actually worked with local stakeholders to make sure our questions and the language we used were meaningful. When we gave examples, that employees could relate to them. And that’s something that they really appreciated. We kept that involvement throughout building the program.

For us, it was really important to offer a unique experience. I mean, at one point we couldn’t find a vendor that could support us. So we were actually thinking of launching different vendors for different regions. But then when we did, I mean, it did definitely solve our issue of wanting to offer this similar experience, but then to adapt programs based on the local reality. So in terms of the content of our program, 80% is probably the same across all different countries where we launched with some adaptations.

One we did was based on COVID. The reality of some countries is they did not have to work from home.

We introduced work from home special allowances for our employees that were impacted by COVID and that have been working from home. In terms of the amount that we were giving, that was probably our biggest challenge. Really determining how much because we wanted to make sure that we were fair with all of our employees. We analyzed the value of our total rewards package by country based on what we were offering in terms of healthcare benefits, what we were offering in terms of pension and retirement savings, certain perks, and also compensation because we don’t have the same offering depending on the local market.

We did some tweaks. One curveball we actually had was that some employees from different jurisdictions couldn’t share the information. We had to make last-minute tweaks and launched to bring back that balance in a couple of months knowing that it was not perfect (right now).

We had to be sure the message was right and that employees were satisfied with the programs.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // Thank you for your wisdom, Nora. When we talk about global, what typically comes up a lot is that if you are a US company, then you’re also used to some of the US plans like let’s say HSAs and FSAs. These plans are very US-centric and they’re common to all companies. For example, a company adjudicating FSAs is doing the same thing for every company.

Because the plans are different in the US, the LSA plan is per company, and every company decides what it wants to do.

So the vendor needs to be trained on that specific plan, the adjudicating member, and then because it’s different for every country, you might have different plans which are being localized and could be localized with what’s included in the plan, what the currency is, what the payroll cycle is.

All needs must be optimized per region. That adds another complexity that typically the traditional HSA or FSA adjudicators are not trained to do so. That creates another major challenge. Chris, you see a lot of companies that you deal with and you have many, many years in this business. What are your thoughts and how do you advise companies about their global plans?

Christopher Renz, Nua Group // Tough to say much more than Nora and Tracy Desmond, here. Super comprehensive and valuable answers that I would have struggled to say as well, but agree with all those points. The only other thing I would add is I would, in the design process, ask your vendors that you’re going to be working within those countries for data not just on what’s offered by other companies in those countries, but what the elections look like.

Where are the dollars going? What our employees on the ground, based on this vendor’s book, their block, what are they choosing?

And that may influence not just what you offer, but even the amount. If it’s all going into one spot and that wasn’t really what you intended, that could influence your thinking. Use that essential experience data from the market as another prong for your decision-making.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // I appreciate that, Chris. Let’s go to the next very challenging topic I believe people want to hear about. As a benefits HR team, you envision a great plan on creating an allowance reimbursement for LSA, or whatever you may call it. It has a serious budget associated with it because it’s per employee and even if it’s $100 a month, it’s $1,000+ per year, times the number of employees. We know the participation rates are very high. As a senior benefit leadership team, how do you then go to your executive peers, to the CEO, to the CFO and say, “We believe this is very good for the company and we would like to spend money accordingly? Now, we know we have other benefits we’re considering, but we believe this is very key.”

What is the secret sauce that you’re saying to your executive team?

Is it because you’re becoming more competitive versus other companies or are you just trying to match? Is it because you know it’s going to improve their morale and employee experience as retention and help with recruiting? I’m sure there are many buttons you can push. Let’s start with Susan. I’m sure you’ve been in that standup position many, many times, how did you win those battles? Tell us.

Susan Lovegren, Advisor and Board Member // I don’t know so many tricks, maybe tips, but I think a big shift is by being the type of leadership team and company that really listens to your employees.

There’s much more emphasis on listening to what it is that people are interested in.

That can come from your employee survey or polls data, but also this thing called social media. If you look at your Glassdoor and your reputation and how you’re doing out there on various sites, you get a pretty good indication pretty quickly as to what’s top of mind. That’s where you might see things around better benefits, better 401k match, those types of topics start to come up through those sources.

It’s a fairly significant way to influence your CEO and your CFO who are really sensitive to reputation management.

It’s not only being competitive in recruiting, but this notion of reputation management is significant. If you’re known in the marketplace as being cheap or inconsiderate of your employees, or you’re not listening to your employees, you’re going to have a much harder time around that war for talent as well as your ratings as a CEO. People pay attention to that. They pay a lot of attention to a CEO’s Glassdoor rating. It’s an interesting flip of the script around the signals and cues to be paying attention to.

I’ve worked for five CEOs directly and they all have either a monthly or a quarterly town hall meeting. And in those meetings, they really do appreciate positive news and inspiring employees, and being able to keep people pumped up and feeling good and cared for. Let’s give the employees some good news at this particular time, especially if they’re trying to balance out some other things or people have just come off some very significant workloads. Oftentimes CEOs will be looking for a program or an announcement. I can think of companies that I’ve worked with; gym memberships, global gym memberships being reimbursed. That was very strategically timed. It was something that was in our benefits plan that we were going to do all along and was really elevated in terms of having that impact on employees. And especially our international employees, we timed it by having our general manager of that group actually on the premises to give out branded gym towels, yoga mats, and that type of thing.

In terms of morale, you can opportunistically use those events, to continue the momentum and also to demonstrate, “we are listening.”

You said this was important around wellness, and here you go. We’re closing the loop. This is our solution. This is how we’re handling it. It’s being really strategic about it, but I wouldn’t discount the external point of view about reputation management as this other trigger along with cost.

The last thing I’ll say about cost is oftentimes there’s an assumption about how much something is going to cost. There’s cost and then there’s perceived value on a lot of these benefits, and sometimes the perceived value, for example, around workplace flexibility, that has the highest perceived value of any benefit and yet it really doesn’t cost a whole lot per se. So, high perceived value, low cost. There are other things that have a super high cost and a low perceived value. You want to make sure you’re understanding what all those things are. In terms of new benefits, really helping people understand too. Just because you’re introducing a benefit or a perk, doesn’t mean everybody’s going to run out and use it.

There could be an enhanced benefit around paternity/maternity leave as an example, it doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’re going to have a spike.

Your patterns are probably going to continue to be roughly the same, and it might cost you a little bit more. But again, the perceived value goes way up and your place as a competitive employer around benefits also improves in the marketplace.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // Appreciate that Susan. I’ll go now to Tracy Desmond. Tracy, you worked for some very well-known brands like Box and Tesla and ServiceNow, and now Airbnb. You’ve worked with some interesting management teams. It’s always about coming up with the next big program and getting everybody aligned. So, some of your thoughts?

Tracy Desmond, Airbnb // Data, data, data, data! Anything you can get from a data perspective related to market practice, related to your peers. I was really fortunate when I was at ServiceNow, we were launching the perk program with regular wellbeing surveys with our employees. We were getting monthly or maybe it was eight out of 10 months. We had survey data and people were actually mentioning perk and perk allowance and wellbeing and mental health and a lot of the things that were being covered under that. Also anecdotal stories.

As part of your data, we had different employees who sent to our CEO or our CHRO or head of engineering stories about how now their daughter could go camping during the earlier months of lockdown of COVID because of this benefit.

Data, data, data, being able to show that to your leadership team. Whether it’s financial data, whether it’s engagement data, whether it’s the value perceived by these particular benefits, to be able to show that both internally that your employees are actually asking for it. And then also the market. Again, eight years ago, not a lot of companies had these now. It’s the norm how it’s structured and how it’s designed and the amount of it might be different, but it’s becoming more of the norm. It’s one of these things that more and more companies are starting to have at this point.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // I appreciate that. I was a CEO of a public company at large for many years. We’re all trained to look at data, so that’s definitely very, very important. Talking about this, again, back to budget and back to working with the executive team and the CFO. So every company, it doesn’t matter how big or small, high-flying versus struggling, we all have budget constraints and we all believe, let’s say you believe this is an important program having the total benefits budget. For example, let’s say a reimbursement LSA program versus the company’s 401k contribution. At the end of the day, it’s dollars coming out of your benefits budget.

We know that there are two different buckets, but if there’s a way you can somehow commingle the dollars, is there a way you could make that work? Is there some viable option because you might trade-off retirement dollars where if I’m millennial or Gen Z right now, probably that’s not the number one issue, even though I need to be educated and start thinking about it. But because I’m in COVID and I have kids in school who are also Zooming at the same time as I am, maybe they need support, what do we do in that case? And maybe I’ll start with Nora.

Nora-Laure Lefebvre-Campbell, AlayaCare // t’s a great question challenging question because we all deal with limited budgets. I was fortunate enough that when I started and had to launch this program, the budget had already been approved. But because it had already been approved, I was limited in terms of I couldn’t go right back to ask for more. I had to do a lot of thinking because one of the things we knew is that our employees really cared about retirement saving and 401k, or for Canada RSP matching, and also they wanted additional benefits and additional flexibility. We have a more traditional healthcare plan. I had to take everything into account and discuss the situation internally.

Like Tracy Desmond mentioned, data, data, data. I love it. Really looking at what are our challenges.

And right now one of the big ones was really retaining and attracting talent. And we wanted to launch something that would tell our employees we really want to improve your experience, we want to give you more, we want to support you. This is what we are giving you right now, but there will be more.

We really wanted to circle back in terms of the survey because we did ask them what was important, but couldn’t launch everything at the same time. It was really about building that long-term strategy and what we just launched at the beginning of the month is actually just phase one. That’s actually how we communicated it to our employees saying, “This is our strategy at a very high level. We are launching phase one now. And as part of phase one, we wanted to give the most flexibility.” We actually found a way to allow employees to use their allowance also for 401k or RSP matching. That was a technical challenge, but we were able to do a workaround so that at least, that money would really be impactful for every single employee.

They could really choose whether it was lifestyle wellness, their financial health, community involvement, divert it to charity if they wanted so.

To give that flexibility to our employees for now, but also communicate to our employees that more is coming in the future and take the time to build that business case, get that data so that we can compare ourselves with our competitors. Like Susan mentioned about reputation, Glassdoor, external feedback – that’s going to help us build the business case to go and get additional funds and help the CEO and executives see that this is an investment and not just spending.

Alex Shubat, Espresa // I know that you went through a challenge, and coincidentally we have other clients right at the same time looking for balancing the budget between LSA reimbursement versus 401k. This became such an interesting use case that our team had to react to it very quickly.

Now this is fully automated.

As an employee, I’m given a number. I’ll pick a number, $1,000, $2,000 a year, and I can say a portion of that will go to my 401k as a contribution, and the company takes that number and starts deducting it and copaying, and a portion of that will go through a lifetime spending account. So that’s an interesting use case. It’s coming up more and more. And again, the budgets are limited, so there’s no, yes, we would like to do everything, but employee choice. Giving employees the ultimate choice and let them make the decision.

Demographics are all over the place. People entering the workforce, people later on in their career. Their requirements are totally different. I really appreciate all of you joining. We’ll be sending materials. Our beautiful marketing person, Sylvia, created a blog with actually some reimbursement fan samples. So you will be getting that in your email. Look out for that. If you have any questions regarding reimbursements, LSAs, matching 401k with LSAs, we’re here to help and we’re here to support you. So again, thank you very much. Thank you our panelists. It was very, very educational, and we appreciate your support.

 

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