The workplace is changing beyond hybrid or remote work. As turnover rates increased across industries over the past year, it is clear that more employees than ever are reflecting on their priorities. People aren’t just motivated by the size of the paycheck, but rather, how their job makes them feel.
“The world of work has changed,” says Khalila “KO” Olokunola, VP of Human Resources at TRU Colors Brewing. “Understanding people is no longer an option, it’s a priority.”
Employee benefits are not simply about healthcare packages and retirement plans. Now, they are a reflection of the needs of an entire company. When done right, benefits can be a part of a company’s culture, and can be a key draw for new talent as well as keeping current employees happy and motivated.
Two leaders, Beth Rivera, Head of the People at Uncommon Goods, and Olokunola, detail how their two companies have taken the time to understand their teams and build benefits that best support their people in their careers.
“As a mission-driven organization coming out of a pandemic and a tumultuous 2020, we’re finding that people are thinking more about their careers and career trajectories and what matters to them,” says Rivera. “Working for an organization that really cares about some of the same things that they care about is one way we’re starting to attract some great talent and onboard some new team members.”
Uncommon Goods is an online retailer, focusing on gifts and handmade goods created by independent makers and businesses. They are based in Brooklyn, NY, and prior to the pandemic, all 200 year-round team members worked onsite at a single location. When COVID shut things down, their entire warehouse closed voluntarily for several weeks. Then, office workers remained remote while warehouse team members who could get to work safely and without public transportation were asked to return. An additional transportation reimbursement was offered to returning team members in addition to the bike reimbursement all team members are offered.
Now, to try to best serve all departments, Uncommon Goods has created new initiatives. First, for office workers, they have begun what is called the “Uncommon Workplace,” in which employees can work remotely or in the office.
“We basically said, ‘you choose’,” says Rivera. “And empowering our team to make the decision has really helped. Especially from a retention perspective. We asked our team what matters and we listened to them. So that has helped retain our talent, giving them the autonomy of choosing what’s going to be best for them.”
Unfortunately, team members working in the warehouse do not have the same flexibility. Instead, when the warehouse reopened, UncommonGoods implemented “thank you pay.”
“For every hour that the team was working onsite, they were getting an additional $2, regardless of their role,” says Rivera.
More so than a standard raise, the “thank-you pay” is meant to express appreciation to the team members for working in a warehouse during hot summer months, all while wearing a mask and gloves.
“Thank-you pay” then got bumped to $4/hour during the peak holiday season. And this is all icing on the cake, as Uncommon Goods starts its minimum pay at $20/hour (New York’s minimum wage is $15/hour).
Uncommon Goods continues to prioritize the health and safety of its team members all while deepening their commitment to fostering a culture of diversity, equity and inclusivity. They’re investing more in the ongoing development of team members with new programs, too. Uncommon Goods offers Bravely, an online professional coaching platform, to all year-round team members free of charge, and hosts monthly virtual panels that are also presented by way of viewing rooms to onsite team members. These panels highlight different communities within the company. Past panels have been inspired by Black History Month, Pride Month, and AAPI Month, offering these groups a voice, as well as a company-wide opportunities for mental-health education and support.
TRU Colors is a North Carolina based brewery that aims to change perceptions by hiring active and rival gang members.
“When our team members come in, we understand that professional success is predicated on personal success for them,” says Olokunola. “So we focus on those personal items, making sure they have stable housing and reliable transportation, and understanding healthy relationships.”
Many of the benefits implemented by TRU Colors are there to help aid employees in both of these facets of life. There are mandated monthly wellness days, in which employees pause in lieu of a standard lunch for activities like onsite yoga sessions and catered healthy meals. In addition to their local and national community resource guide filled with resources The online support community and therapy service Togetherall is in the works to become complimentary to all employees. They have hosted health fairs, so that employees unfamiliar with the process of signing up for healthcare and appointments gained the knowledge to do so.
Beyond taking care of the individual, TRU Colors strives to bring understanding and connection across the company. Two of their programs – “Incluserships,” in which two hires from different backgrounds (gang /non gang) spend time together to learn about each other and their similarities; and “Reverse Mentorships,” where a seasoned employee shadows a new hire and learns from them – bridge that gap by allowing people the time to connect with each other in meaningful ways – bridge that gap by allowing people the time to connect with each other in meaningful ways.
“It starts with a conversation, not with a Slack message or an email,” says Olokunola.
Benefits for the people, from the people
The traditional health and insurance benefits are still important – and sometimes, so are educational sessions on these topics – but a more creative approach is crucial. Not all benefits work for every business, which is why it’s important to maintain open communication with your employees to understand their wants and needs.
“What we’ve learned in 2020 and 2021 is that even though Tru Colors is a for-profit brewery, we are people-focused, purpose-driven and profit aligned,” says Olokunola. “And if you keep those three things upfront, you’ll be able to meet your people where they are, challenge any situations that may hinder the success of the culture you’re trying to build , and be able to create unique and innovative benefits from the ground up and not the top down.”
Both TRU Colors and Uncommon Goods set examples for intentional and people-focused benefits that improve the company culture and overall experience for employees. Benefits like these keep people motivated, engaged and hopefully on your team for years to come.
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