How to build an inclusive employee benefits strategy

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Devin Miller
May 1, 2023

Finding and hiring the best talent is a challenge for people operations and human resources departments across every industry, and for almost every company within those industries. Although job-seekers are still prioritizing variables like office location and pay, other components are becoming increasingly important to top performers everywhere.

That includes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). According to Glassdoor, more than 3 out of 4 (76%) of job-seekers and current employees say a diverse workforce is an important consideration when they’re evaluating a company or a job offer. 

That same research indicates that almost one-third of all job-seekers (32%) would not apply to a company that appeared to lack diversity, and even more Black and LGBTQ professionals (41%) say they would not apply at a non-diverse organization.

Increasing diversity isn’t just about hiring; it also involves creating a welcoming work environment for people from all backgrounds, which includes structuring a benefits package that appeals to a wide variety of humans.

Understanding diversity and inclusion

What exactly is a diverse workplace? The term DEI refers to how employers attempt to cultivate and retain employees from diverse backgrounds, compensate them equitably, and include their perspectives and experiences in company messaging and narratives.

A diverse workplace accommodates, respects, and celebrates every employee’s individual and unique experiences and humanity, including their:

  • Ethnicity or race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Physical ability
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Country of origin
  • Veteran status

A diverse workforce can be a strong advantage for employers, as workers with varied backgrounds and experiences will have different approaches to solving problems. They also have distinct and diversified needs in terms of health and wellness, lifestyle, retirement planning, and financial success. Offering benefits that appeal to a wide range of people can help employers reach their DEI goals.

Identifying employee needs

Deciding that you’re going to make DEI a key part of your hiring and retention strategy is just the first step. How do you determine which benefits to offer your current and potential employees?

If you’re already surveying your staff to assess how satisfied they are with their jobs, then it should be relatively simple to add some questions to the survey about the benefits they receive. Ask them not only about their satisfaction levels with the current benefits offered, but also which benefits you could add that they would find most appealing.

It also helps to talk to your managers, even on a casual basis. They can share details about stress points workers might be experiencing: For example, perhaps staff in one department don’t particularly care about certain paid holidays, and they would prefer to have a day off work on a religious holiday that falls on a working day. This could be information that middle managers have about employees that is invisible to upper management.

You can also look at how employees are using other benefits, such as retirement savings accounts, health savings accounts, or flexible savings accounts. Are they taking advantage of these programs when you offer them? Are they making any hardship withdrawals from 401(k) or similar retirement plans? These data points can be an indication that some workers lack an emergency savings plan, and it might benefit everyone at the company to add one to your stack of perks.

Once you have added new benefits to your offerings, keep tabs on how many employees are using them and how they’re using them. This can help support decisions about future benefits as you continue to grow your team.

Tailoring employee benefits to different needs

Once you have a sense of which benefits you’ll want to provide to your employees, it’s important to ask yourself how those benefits should be offered. Not every employee is going to want or need exactly the same benefits, so consider how you can build some flexibility into your perks to make them more appealing across the board.

A good example of this is providing floating holidays in lieu of closing the office entirely for every worker. People who celebrate different religious holidays will appreciate the ability to take time off on the day that’s most important to their culture.

Ample paid time off for both sick and vacation purposes is another way employers can show support for a diverse workforce. And allowing flexible schedules for jobs that support it, where staff don’t have set working hours but can clock in and clock out at will, can be a relatively easy way to accommodate employee diversity.

Beyond your health and wellness programs, giving your employees several different options for financial security is also a good way to promote DEI — especially if you can prioritize programs that provide simple, seamless sign-up and immediate access to funds if and when they need it.

Ensuring accessibility

When your DEI-friendly benefits package has been finalized, you’ll need to consider how to share the details with your employees. Printed materials that explain each benefit and how to sign up are standard, but consider other ways you might be able to educate your workers about the available perks.

These might include videos hosted in a company portal, DEI-inclusive apps and software, and even providing one-on-one benefits registration training and support for managers and employees, so everyone knows where to go if they have questions about their benefits.

Communicating effectively

When you have a good idea what you can offer your employees and how those different programs will help foster workplace DEI, the next step is to generate engagement by getting your employees to sign up for these programs.

This means you’ll have to consider the ways your different employees prefer to gather information. Providing details about your benefits in the onboarding process is always smart, but many employees might not sign up for their emergency savings account right away because they’re overwhelmed by learning a new job.

So in addition to explaining your employee benefits during onboarding, include a section in your employee handbook or wiki (or both) that provides an overview of the benefits and how to register for them. You could also talk about benefits on workplace messaging platforms (such as Slack), create handouts or videos around how the benefits work, and break any registration or usage information into step-by-step action points that are easy to follow.

Consider how different workers might use your benefits and then tailor your language accordingly. You might talk about “family-building benefits” instead of “maternity leave,” for example, and encompass more options, including support for adoption fees or fertility treatments. And it’s also important to consider whether some of your employees speak a language other than English as their primary language, and then translate your benefits materials for those workers.

Evaluating and adjusting

How do you know whether your employee benefits package supports diversity and where it could be improved? The best way to determine how you’re doing when it comes to supporting your employees and their unique lived experiences is to crunch the numbers, or ask them directly — or both.

There are few different metrics you can track to help you understand how well your company is performing from a DEI perspective, including:

  • Employee retention
  • Participation rates in benefits programs
  • Monetary contributions to benefits savings accounts
  • Candidate experience survey results

From a qualitative perspective, you might consider conducting regular employee satisfaction surveys to ask them how they feel. If that seems like too heavy a lift, you can also glean evaluations by paying closer attention to what employees say about their benefits options in one-on-one meetings, onboarding training, exit interviews, performance reviews, and other methods of gathering opinions.

Then, use what you’ve learned! Take the data or employee feedback and ask yourself whether any of the benefits in your current offerings should be continued, expanded, or eliminated. You could even ask employees to share which benefits they would most like to see in regular surveys and use that information to help build an inclusive benefits plan.

Crafting DEI-friendly benefits is just the beginning

A company’s DEI efforts are becoming critical variables to top talent, and that includes a benefits package that recognizes and supports the diverse experiences that workers bring with them every day. It should include health and wellness, lifestyle, and financial support, and you should continually evaluate how many employees are using each perk as well as ask them directly about how they are using their benefits.

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