Want to Attract Top Talent? Provide the Best in Employee Benefits: Financial Wellness Plans

The first quarter is widely known as the biggest hiring season of the year. As you post job listings, interview candidates and narrow down your top choices, you may wonder: In a job applicant’s market, how am I going to ensure that the best and brightest join my team?

Over 300,000 jobs were added to the market in December, which means you have to work harder than ever before to win over top talent. And it’s not just about getting the best candidates in the door — Americans are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate since 2001, making employee retention just as important.

To attract and keep the best candidates around for the long haul, your company needs to re-evaluate its employee benefits packages — starting with understanding what exactly employees are looking for. One key area to consider is offering comprehensive financial wellness plans to your employees. Here’s why.

They Can Help You Exceed Employee Expectations Without Flashy Perks

Studies have shown that as many as 60 percent of people cite benefits offerings as a major factor in their decision to accept a job. But because 401(k)s, health insurance and paid holidays have become the norm, they may no longer help your company stand out in the job market. On top of this, studies have shown that employees may not actually care about flashy perks like pingpong tables or yoga in the office.

Although they may not sound particularly exciting on the surface, financial wellness plans are the next big thing when it comes to employee benefits. Much like health insurance, financial wellness plans provide practical and actionable support to employees. For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 2018 financial wellness survey found that over 50 percent of employees are stressed about their finances and want help. The state of financial wellness in the U.S. speaks for itself — student debt is skyrocketing, savings rates are down and more Americans are retiring later in their careers.

Comprehensive financial wellness plans support employees on topics including legal issues, taxes, insurance and identity theft, and often include personalized advice from a certified financial planner (CFP). While some financial wellness programs are only geared toward retirement planning, financial planning isn’t solely centered around this topic — it’s something that takes place in many different facets of life.

They Apply Throughout Every Phase of Life

Holistic financial wellness plans ensure that employees feel prepared for life’s biggest moments — and they make it easy to find all of the advice one may need.

For example, an employee who plans to get married may find they need an attorney’s guidance with a prenuptial agreement, or help with taxes because they have a new double-income status after the big day. Sending a child to college is another life event that can be a lengthy and complicated financial process. With the help of a CFP, parents can figure out how much they should be putting away each month so they don’t have to worry about how to finance their child’s education.

Beyond life’s big moments, financial wellness plans ensure that employees feel prepared for the unexpected. In the instance that an employee finds themselves with a life-threatening illness, medical leave and health insurance may not cover all needs. Financial wellness plans provide an extra level of support — they can aid employees in determining how to best finance their care, and an attorney can help to parse estate plans or hospital agreements. In moments like this, employees shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay their bills — they should simply focus on getting better.

Also, there are some things that can’t be planned for — identity theft, for example, which reportedly was the fastest growing crime in the U.S. last year. A comprehensive financial wellness plan includes identity-theft protection, along with resources to help employees regain their identity in case of an emergency.

But beyond major and unexpected life events, financial wellness programs provide resources for everyday planning. Financial wellness plans have employees covered in terms of monitoring their credit, providing assistance with taxes or helping them proactively create an estate plan.

If your company is looking for ways to provide depth and breadth to your employee benefits package, financial wellness plans may be the perfect solution. While health insurance and paid time off aren’t going anywhere, it’s going to take more than free snacks in the office to bring in the best candidates. Providing a financial wellness plan as part of a well-rounded benefits package can help you win the most qualified new hires and keep employees around for life.

Maintaining Workplace Culture with Free-Range Employees

Did you know that one in three Americans currently engage in freelance work? That’s almost 54 million people, and that number is expected to rise significantly by 2020. Those freelancers, often called “free-range employees” are in many respects the future of work. And smart companies are focused on creating a workplace culture that can adapt to a workforce comprised of not only full time employees, but a cadre of freelance talent as well.

So what gives? Why is there such a large increase in freelancing? In part, the answer lies in a changing work culture. Technology aside, the desire for increased flexibility to achieve a good work-life balance is extremely important, not only to a younger Millennial cohort, but also to GenX’ers, GenY, and their Boomer counterparts.

“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.”

—Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director

While there are financial benefits relative to a freelance workforce for both individuals and the companies who hire them, the other side of the coin is that companies are finding it increasingly difficult to manage and maintain this unique new work culture, especially as freelancers interface with full-time employees.

Part of the challenge involves understanding the priorities that Horowitz mentioned, and also understanding how freelancers like to work. A recent study commissioned by Upwork and the  Freelancers Union contains some key insights on how HR professionals and managers can navigate and inspire this new workforce.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you build a blended workforce, comprised of both traditional employees and freelance (free-range) employees.

People Choose to Freelance Because of Flexibility

The freedom to choose when and where they work is a top priority for full-time freelancers. Some of this is connected to passion, but other responsibilities play a major role as well. Nearly half of the people that responded to the survey (46 percent) said they freelance so they can have a schedule that enables them to provide care for a family member. This could mean being home to greet children from the school bus or it might mean being available to care for an elderly parent, both of which are things that challenge workers today.

For companies, this means a change in focus—and while it can be uncomfortable at first, forward-thinking managers can actually use flexible schedules to their advantage. The nature and structure of freelance work prioritizes a “get it done” approach. A hard deadline and defined set of deliverables, as well as very clear expectations for quality, can actually cut down on inefficient meetings and de-prioritize activity that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line.

Embrace the Whole Human

In the past, companies wanted to maintain a separation between employees’ personal lives and their job. That’s simply not a realistic expectation anymore as employees expect that their lives outside of the workplace, and the responsibilities that go along with that, will be accepted and even embraced.

For freelancers, that expectation is even more pronounced. Fred Talmadge, a respondent to the Upwork and Freelancers Union study, described the 360-degree world he inhabits in his career.…

“Professionally, I learn more every day by working on different types of projects of my choosing as a freelancer, and it keeps things fresh. Personally, I like my independence and can set my own schedule. I take my daughter to school and take time off when I want. When I was still at my traditional job, I dreamt of working on my own, and freelancing online has provided me that opportunity. I do not have any intentions to go back to a traditional job.”

Optimize Technology for Free-Range Employees

For companies with free-range employees, the latest and greatest technology is critical since most freelancers depend heavily on it to obtain and complete work. Seventy-three percent of freelancers said technology makes it easier to find work, and more than half had acquired a project online in the last year, up from 42 percent the year before.

Remote workers expect technology to be quick, easy to learn, and painless. Keeping up-to-date with the latest in technology, such as cloud-based collaboration tools, videoconferencing, messaging tools and the like will help ensure productivity. The reality is that employees already expect and are using consumer-grade applications for tasks like messaging and file sharing. That seamless productivity means happy employees, who are more likely to contribute their best work and most creative thinking.

Instead of Building Big Culture, Build it Small and Regularly

The days of the annual review that determines an employee’s entire fate are long gone. Not only do free-range employees expect consistent feedback on their work, they also want to know how they can improve and further develop themselves and their skills, and they want to know it now.

For many corporate-minded managers, this shifts the model for apprenticeship and mentorship. Making time to connect regularly in 10, 15, or 30 minute increments is likely to be the cornerstone of the future workplace, whether your team is remote or on-site. It’s a trend that complements the fact that younger generations are accustomed to being constantly connected.

Set Aside Specific Creative Time

One of the fears that corporate leadership expresses about freelance and remote workers is that they will waste time and be less productive. Interestingly, there’s a fair amount of research that suggests remote workers are actually more productive. Companies experimenting with remote work sometimes even find that there are radical cost savings.

However, even experienced freelancers admit that creativity is sparked through interaction with other people and for many companies that’s built into an office environment.

“Bumping into co-workers, chatting in hallways, sitting down over lunch, a day at the office results in dozens of interactions every day. The result, shown both anecdotally and in statistics, is more creativity and greater effectiveness. For instance, in one study tracking the behaviors of a sales team of a pharmaceutical company, when a salesperson increased interactions with coworkers on other teams…by 10 percent, his or her sales also grew by 10 percent.”

For companies that include free-range employees, it’s particularly important to make time for creative sharing and not let that time get bogged down with administrative items.

Even something as simple as setting up a 30-minute weekly brainstorm meeting, whether that’s done in person or by videoconference—and sticking to it—can make a huge difference, generating ideas that will resonate the rest of the week.

It will be increasingly important, now and in the future, for businesses to fully embrace the new freelance work culture and make it work to the advantage of both the employees and the company.

photo credit: Invisible Desktop via photopin (license)

A version of this post was published on MillennialCEO on 12/10/2015