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  • Writer's pictureJLA Insurance Group

Perks versus culture — is one more important than the other?

Throughout COVID, employers were quick to offer benefits in order to meet a myriad of employee needs. Yet without a strong vision of a company’s culture, those efforts could prove to be useless.

“We can have our employees set up with every perk out there — if you don’t have strong culture or empathetic leadership, is it really going to make a difference?” said Debi Yadegari, CEO of Villyge, a platform that helps managers to lead with empathy. “They’re still going to look for other opportunities. Culture is the foundation of everything.”

Yadegari joined other HR and adviser leaders at this week’s Workplace Strategies Agenda in Austin, Texas, to dig into how employers can offer perks that support a caring culture for employees. The first step for employers is to simply start listening, said Lori Lantz, SVP and chief people officer at CableLabs, a research and development firm.

“If you’re not really listening to your employee population, you could be picking the wrong benefits and it could be incongruent with your culture,” Lantz said. “If you’re engaging leadership in being mindful and showing compassion, and your perks are part of that whole experience, the perks and culture really support each other.”

The panelists discussed how COVID has fundamentally changed the work experience — both employees and their managers were “allowed to be human,” said Allison Cohen De Paoli, founder of Altiqe, a benefits consulting firm. As such, leaders need to reflect on why they may be offering a benefit or perk, and explore how that aligns with the larger purpose of the organization.

“You have to understand why you’re throwing the thing at them,” Cohen De Paoli said.

And with many employees still remote, creating a culture that supports them has never been more important, said Ed Ligonde, EVP of Nielsen Benefits Group.

“People aren’t in the office everyday and they’re working remotely so culture is 10 times more important,” he said. “As human beings, we’re emotionally driven — how do you bring everyone together, but separately?”

Whether it’s by promoting mental health benefits, offering unlimited PTO policies, or even providing trendier perks like pet insurance, connecting the dots on how the benefit will support employees and telling them why you’re offering it will increase retention, engagement and productivity.

“Culture is a felt experience — it’s the way we do things around here,” Lantz said. “When the way we treat each other and the benefits we offer are aligned, it brings longevity and people wanting to advance their career — all of those things come together.”

While it’s important to ensure culture and perks are in sync for existing employees, it’s even more critical when recruiting and retaining new talent. Data from The Muse found that 80% of millennial and Gen Z employees would leave their job in the first six months if their organization isn’t aligned with their values.

“It’s a huge problem if you’re not giving the right impression of who you are,” Cohen De Paoli said. “It’s a recruiting problem and not necessarily a retention problem.”

To solve for that, it’ll take consistent work and curiosity from upper-level management, Yadegari said.

“What’s the employee experience, what’s the employer's intention, and how are we going to close that gap?” she said. “When you do the right things, you build a positive relationship of trust. And then productivity really soars.”

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