This is the perfect time to re-evaluate what we offer to employees and why, including age-inclusive benefits and eldercare.
Few events have affected the fabric of our daily lives on such an impactful scale as COVID-19. With about one-third of Americans are working from home for the foreseeable future due to coronavirus, many offices often sit completely empty. The space we perhaps painstakingly designed or adapted to bring out the best in our teams? That is no longer a recruiting, retention, or productivity asset.
We haven’t always connected a physical office space with corporate culture. It’s remarkable to think about how two young founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, started a technology and office culture revolution when they founded Google in 1998. That was the beginning of open office spaces and laid-back casual dress in the office. It came with the idyllic imagery of collaborating while sitting on a bean bag, jotting the next big Google idea on a white board with coworkers before hopping onto a Razor scooter to make your next meeting. Hard to believe, but the open-office trend has been persistent in the workplace for over twenty years now.
Office Spaces Continue to Evolve
Over those twenty years, our office spaces have continued to evolve and iterate. They’ve been upgraded with each new innovative perk and deliberate decision. For HR partners and leaders, their responsibilities have expanded to providing free lunch and snacks – whether fun and indulgent or nutritious and vegan-friendly. HR has also been tasked with finding space for employees to decompress, discovering ever-inspired caffeine choices, and inventing ways to encourage collaboration, productivity, and a sense of belonging. In fact:
- 31 percent of employers now offer free snacks
- 95 percent have kitchenettes
- 78 percent have free coffee
- 13 percent have partially or fully subsidized cafeterias
But what happens when no one is in the office?
And furthermore, when we are able to all safely return to our office spaces, what happens to our snack stations? Our collaboration areas? The completely open office plans and other clever details to encourage people to brainstorm and connect? These sources of innovation and employee bonding are now potential liabilities: Virus-spreaders that, for the time being, sit mostly lonely.
Benefits Were Never About Nap Pods
The reality is, though, benefits were never really about nap pods, energy bars, and canned caffeine.
COVID-19 has laid bare what employee benefits are truly about. If your employees can no longer get free lunch or catch up over a free cup of coffee, how connected do they feel with each other? If employees no longer step foot into an office designed to inspire them and help them do their best work, how connected do they feel about working for your company? Perhaps most importantly, what kind of employee benefits do they want?
Is enduring this pandemic bringing to light that our employees want benefits that can positively impact their quality of life on a deeper level? And not just unlimited espresso?
Our office space here at Homethrive is no different. While staying in a practical budget for a growing company, we tried as best as we could to make it fun and appealing. No, we don’t have free lunches. But we tried our best to make it comfortable and memorable. We wanted to be a place where young talent feels excited about coming to work every day. A place so inspiring everyone had every intention of doing their best work.
“You’re on Mute!”
And my workdays are probably the same as yours now. I’m fortunate enough to have a home office that I’m taking Zoom call after Zoom call in. It’s been “connecting” – for lack of a better term – to see my colleagues and employees in their apartments and homes. And its’ been fun, every once in a while, to see a furry friend or roommate walking by in the background. Over the past several months, we’ve been finding surprising ways to bond over how our lives have changed in this new normal. And I’ve learned more about the unique family and living situations of my employees. One team member with a nurse roommate, for example, has been staying somewhere else; a senior leader moved her father out of his nursing home into her home to care for him.
We all look silly wearing headphones. We all still fumble when sharing our screens on Zoom. And, like everyone else, we repeatedly say, “You’re on mute!”
Prioritizing Age-Inclusive Benefits
Throughout this very human transition, we’ve realized that so many of the employee benefits we’ve been focusing on are centered around a physical space and tangible offerings. We considered other perks that encourage health and wellness such as discounted gym memberships most important. For example:
- 13 percent have onsite massage therapy services
- 21 percent of employers have quiet rooms in their offices
- 32 percent offer a fitness center membership
- 60 percent provide or subsidize the cost of a standing desk
And yet, fewer than 10% of employers offer eldercare benefits.
So many of these perks are also age-specific. But are not age-inclusive benefits. Sure, collaboration spaces are great. But someone in their mid-50s is not going to comfortably chat in many of the chairs that these spaces feature; they may fear getting back up once they sit in a bean bag chair. The foosball table is fun. But how many team members not in their 20’s use it? How many team members use it period?
Time to Re-think Benefits Budgets
This is a tremendous opportunity for all of us. As leaders and advocates for our teams and employees, we can take a step back. We can realize our employees bond with each other and feel connected to our companies on deeper levels than the sum of the benefits and perks we previously offered. And now that a stunning office space is no longer on the table? This is the time to be creative with how we compete for the best talent. We can and should make a play for the best talent in more meaningful ways, including age-inclusive benefits and eldercare.
It’s also a time to reevaluate where we are spending our benefits budgets. A time to expand to new and innovative benefits that reflect the ways that our lives are changing. Providing support for the new stressors in our lives like caregiving for aging partners or parents, for example.
Our urgent need, really, is to help our employees be productive, happy, balanced and satisfied. Life is stressful in new ways, but we’re also grateful and focused in new ways. So, within their new normal, let’s find new ways to help our employees live better.
By the way, those “young founders” Sergey Brin and Larry Page? They are now both in their late 40’s. And they aren’t getting any younger.
I’ll leave you with that.