By Erica Sweeney, Insider, Inc. featuring Cecilia T. Williams, CFP®, AIF®, COO/CCO at Halbert Hargrove

Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Parks and Resorts announced in February that it would pay 100% of tuition, fees, and books for its full- and part-time employees who want to seek a higher-education degree.

The new benefits align with the Dollywood Foundation’s mission to “learn more” and has the country music superstar’s full endorsement. “She’s very supportive of the employees learning and continuing to grow themselves,” a spokesperson told The Washington Post.

Dollywood is the latest company — joining Best BuyStarbucks, and many others — to expand its benefits package to encompass financial wellness, hoping to attract employees and weather the Great Resignation.

Financial-wellness benefits are a way to compensate individuals for various expenses beyond their salaries, Rob LaBreche, the CEO of Enrich, which offers financial-wellness resources for workplaces, told Insider. The benefits can include paying for education, repaying student loans, covering childcare costs, matching 401(k) contributions, offering emergency savings accounts, and educating employees about personal finance.

The benefits were a “nice to have” for companies 11 years ago when he founded his company, LeBreche said. But that’s changing.

“I’ve seen in the last two or three years a complete pivot where companies realize that it’s more of a must-have,” LaBreche added. “From a company’s perspective, they want to help the employee, but they also know by helping the employee reduce stress, they’re also helping themselves.”

LaBreche said offering financial-wellness benefits is crucial as companies look for ways to keep their employees onboard at a time when millions of Americans are quitting their jobs each month.

“Companies are understanding that to retain employees, they need to think outside the box a little bit to provide benefits that have a high perceived value,” LaBreche added. “Financial wellness shows that we care about your financial life over and above just what we’re paying you.”

Forty-six percent of employers were offering financial-wellness programs in 2021, an increase from 40% in 2020, according to Bank of America’s Workplace Benefits Report. A Society for Human Resource Management survey also found that 26% of human resources professionals added financial-wellness benefits or expanded existing ones during the pandemic.

At a time when money is one of the biggest sources of stress, workers are increasingly seeking financial perks at work. A recent survey by financial advisory company Betterment found that 74% of workers would leave their current jobs for an employer that offered better financial benefits, and 68% would rather have better financial-wellness benefits than an extra week of paid vacation.

Financial-wellness benefits can support employees at different life stages

UKG, a human resources and workforce management software company created out of a merger between Kronos and Ultimate Software in spring 2020, offers a variety of benefits to support employees’ financial needs at different stages of their lives, Dave Almeda, UKG’s chief people officer, told Insider. These benefits include a 45% 401(k) dollar-for-dollar, no-cap match up to the federal limit; annual and long-term bonuses; tuition reimbursement up to $5,250 a year; $500 annual student-loan repayment assistance; childcare and child extracurricular-activity assistance; and financial wellness, literacy, and retirement coaching.

UKG also offers free tutoring services for employees and their families, unlimited paid time off, a 12-week fully paid maternity and adoption leave with $10,000 in financial assistance for an adopted child, and four weeks of paid paternity leave.

Additionally, the company launched the PeopleInspired Giving Foundation in 2020 to provide financial assistance to employees, contractors, and their families who are impacted by tragedies like weather-related events or the pandemic. Almeda said 130 grants totaling $325,000 have been provided so far. The foundation, which is a nonprofit operated independently of UKG, is funded via employee-donation campaigns when a need arises, and the company matches the contributions by 100%.

The response among UKG’s employees has been overwhelmingly positive, Almeda said, and use of the benefits continues to increase. About 90% of workers participate in the 401(k) match program, and more than 1,000 receive student-loan repayment and childcare assistance.

Since rolling out all of these benefits in January 2021, after its merger, Almeda said the company has added more than 4,000 new employees, including those who’ve joined as part of acquisitions.

“These financial benefits obviously help with recruiting and retention in a very competitive environment,” Almeda said. “But by helping relieve financial burdens and stress, we help employees bring their best selves to maximize their own potential.”

Seek employee feedback to ensure the benefits fit their needs

Financial-wellness benefits are not a one-size-fits-all package, so it’s crucial for companies to recognize that every employee has different needs, Cecilia Williams, the chief operating officer and chief compliance officer at financial management firm Halbert Hargrove, told Insider.

Halbert Hargrove offers unlimited vacation days, fully paid maternity and paternity leave of up to 12 weeks, equity-plan participation, a $1,000 monthly childcare reimbursement, matching contributions to 529 college savings plans, and charitable-donation matching up to $1,000. Bonuses of $75 are provided to each employee every time the company signs a new client.

Paid sabbaticals of $2,500 after 10 years and $5,000 after 20 years with the company are another benefit. Since the company offers unlimited vacation, employee sabbaticals can technically last as long as the employee wants, but Williams said most take two weeks. “We wanted to make sure we’re celebrating those that stick around with us a long time,” she said. The average employee tenure at Halbert Hargrove is 11 years, she added.

Continuing education is fully reimbursed, too. Williams used the benefit to pursue her MBA and said others have used the program to receive certified financial planning certification.

The company uses annual anonymous surveys conducted via a third-party survey provider and regular one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss benefits and get feedback to ensure they align with everyone’s needs. Williams said they continuously ask the question, “What has HH done well and how can we improve?”

“We try to get as much feedback as we can to see what benefits we’re lacking and what we need to go after,” she said. “That’s essential to making sure that they feel like this is the place they want to be for the long term, and we want to support that as much as we can.”

How to overcome challenges with financial-wellness benefits like cost and availability

Cost is one challenge companies face in enhancing benefits. Another is finding partners that offer global benefits when staff is located worldwide, Almeda said. “There are nuances and offerings in each region based on provider capabilities and the laws, regulations, and tax implications in each state or country,” Almeda added.

A robust financial-wellness package typically costs a few dollars per employee a month, LaBreche said, and companies should understand that the costs are offset by employees with higher job satisfaction and less stress over money.

“It really is a win-win,” he said, adding that many companies can also use the funds left over from their Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which covers retirement and health plans, to pay for financial wellness.

Organizations must commit to financial-wellness benefits as a long-term investment, Almeda added. Listen actively to employees, use data to track which benefits are being used most, and regularly get feedback from diverse groups of employees through surveys and focus groups to find out what their needs are and whether the benefits you’re offering are a good investment.

“You need to have people or teams focused not only on curating and administering the benefits,” Almeda said, “but to constantly be on the lookout for new and innovative offerings to differentiate from other organizations and show employees that you have their best interests at heart.”

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