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Supporting Small Business Employees in a Top Companies World

Staying competitive with employee benefits as a start-up

Last week, LinkedIn came out with its annual Top Companies 2018: Where the U.S. wants to work nowreport. As described, “From Starbucks to Spotify, the 2018 LinkedIn Top Companies represent the companies where professionals most want to work across the U.S. — based on the actions of LinkedIn’s more than 546 million professionals (over 146 million in the U.S. alone). They are respected brands and innovators, and all attract outsize attention by jobseekers.”

The report goes on to list the top 50 companies with a three part bio: a brief description of what makes the company unique, the companies’ global headcount, and a bit about what defines their unique culture and/or employee programs. While I am so proud of the companies on these lists for the amazing cultures they’ve created and how they continue to push the envelope for employee programs (a few I’ve even had the honor to work with!), I can’t help but recognize that such articles can be discouraging for many managers and leaders who feel they lack the bandwidth, budget, and resources to even begin to compete with them for talent. The article serves as informative, but a big reminder, of where many small business strive to be, not necessarily where they are now.

Now, being that I work in the benefits and perks space for tech companies, I had a lot of people forward me this article. Most were my clients who range from just a few to several hundred employees or low thousands. They were excited at all the things these companies were doing, but I know also disheartened, trying to figure out how they were going to do “anything like this” at their companies, given the costs and resources required.

My response to these articles is always the same: I’m going to take a second for a “pulse and perspective check.”

I’ll start with some numbers: the smallest client on the LinkedIn list was over 1,200 people, and the largest half a million. The latter of which, was of course, Amazon. At the top of the list, Amazon is stated as having a global headcount of almost 600,000 people. The number is 599,000 to be exact. (As a reference point, when I left Seattle in 2010, the whole city had 608,000 people.) Google, coming in second, has “only” 80,110 employees, but is valued at $101.8 billion. And third, Facebook, might only have 25,100 employees, but they have 2 BILLION people using their product. The summary is, people know who these companies are. They want to work there, because these are the most known companies to work for.

Now, let’s get back to who my post is trying to reach, because in my opinion, this is the majority of you (you hard working, amazing small business people, you). For every Amazon, Facebook, and Google – there are 28 million companies categorized as “small businesses” in America; that’s in comparison to the 18,500 “large companies” in the US. So, if you were feeling a bit bummed out that your companies presence, culture, and benefits don’t yet identify with the “cool kids” on LinkedIn’s list right now, this is a reminder that you’re not alone.

Yet, while you’re not alone, I still recognize you want to compete, you want to have a culture employees tell all their friends about, and you’d like to support your employees in every way you can. And that’s hard. So how do you do that?

I read the article to see what we were up against… and more so how exactly they picked these companies. There’s another linked article, “How we created the 2018 LinkedIn Top Companies list”, and I noticed the irony of the top theme being: “They’re thinking beyond perks”. If you’re anything like me, I was obviously skimming this article specifically for benefits – so I was not about to be fooled. I know these employees are well taken care of. As I read, I made note of a few in the top:

  • “Google’s enviable perks include free cafes and espresso bars, and at some offices, bouldering walls, sky-high dog parks and indoor fire pits.”
  • Facebook extended its bereavement leave policy last year to up to 20 days, a policy developed after Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg suddenly lost her husband.”
  • Apple employees get a 25% discount on the company’s devices. Moms get 18 weeks of paid maternity leave (dads, six weeks), and Apple will pay to freeze your eggs if you’re looking to defer parenthood.
  • Spotify offers employees six months of paid parental leave, one month of flexible work for returning parents and foots the bill for egg freezing and fertility assistance.
  • Samsung employees get time off for volunteering, and can enjoy other benefits ranging from back-up daycare services to student loan refinancing.
  • Deloitte has a 16-week family leave option that can be tapped into when employees have a new child, need to care for an ailing spouse or domestic partner or turn their focus to tending a parent.

I could go on – there are many listed – but the point is, perks “don’t matter”, but they matter. It’s catchy and it’s what people, particularly in tech, like to talk about when it comes to benefits. Statistics show it too: 69% of employees report that they might choose one job over another if it offered better benefit.

So, let’s shift gear back to the small employers and how they can play in this space. How do you offer creative benefits, perks, or support if you don’t have the budget? My biggest advice is that, when you are getting started in this space, you don’t have to SPEND to SUPPORT.

When I ask a friend for a recommendation on where to get my haircut, I don’t expect her to pay for it. But I do appreciate her advice, information, and help – and thank her for pointing me in the right direction. (Google pays for haircuts, but my friends are debt-ridden Millenials, not Google.) The metaphor is silly, but it’s important. Employees, Millenials like me or not, crave support and advice. Glassdoor recently found 87% of surveyed employees expect their employer to support them – but to be clear, support them in balancing their life between work and personal commitments. Employees are balancing a lot: they may be trying to eat healthier, search for the right gym, try to manage their stress or mental health, sort out their finances, or plan for a family (or all at once) – and find time to do this while working part or full time for you.

I don’t think people in management or HR roles credit themselves enough for how valuable their ability to just acknowledge and recognize even non-monetary support can be. A great example was with a client I recently explored adoption benefits with. An employee had come to HR, after having trouble conceiving, looking to adopt a baby. HR quickly realized they had no resources for this. The team spent a whole week putting together a cost analysis for adding an adoption policy to their benefits. They told me they’d read that some companies gave as much as $25,000 to employees to adopt a baby. Ultimately, they decided that this was just something they “couldn’t fit in the budget” and added it as an item to revisit next year.

I ended up following up with the client, and letting them know that in the time being, they could give the employee some free resources from the Dave Thomas Foundation. The website is full of resources to help employees get started, and has an easily downloadable booklet. They added it to their intranet. Now, when an employee searching “adoption” in their benefits, the PDF Guidebook is something that pops up.

The employee experience is just this: they doesn’t receive a blank search result when looking for something that is important and meaningful to them. When you’re small, it’s a start.

The same can be done in many areas of employee need. When the Napa fires broke out, I gave clients a list of free therapy apps employees could download, and employers sent out a heartfelt email with resources like those and their EAP. When clients say they can’t afford speakers to come into the office, I suggest they do an internal survey and find out if there are any employees who’d like to step up; there’s usually a few folks more than willing to share their love for meditation, public speaking, or Powerpoint skills (what’s more stress inducing that those last two!). And when people realize they have a void in an area, like the adoption, or parenting benefits, or cancer resources, or caring for an elderly parent – I send them a link, a flyer, a support group, anything that at least makes there not be a total void for that employee looking for help. These serve as the first building blocks for what eventually become more robust programs, with time!

Get creative. Research. Create a community. Some of my favorite, and most meaningful benefit stories are from my clients who are scrappy and making a dollar out of 15 cents, every day.

I would love for more companies to make the public spotlight for the unique and amazing ways they support employees with little budget – so let’s keep the conversation going. What creative offerings have you come up with?

#LinkedInTopCompanies #smallbusiness #perks #startups #employeewellbeing

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