It was late 2021 and Betsy Goldberg was sitting in her Seattle home, looking online for a new career opportunity, when she happened upon a director of communications role at AI-focused Shelf Engine. The posting grabbed her right away.
“I remember seeing the first words of the job description read something like, ‘At Shelf Engine, our mission is to reduce food waste through automation,’” she says. “That mission made me perk up, and after clicking into the description, I realized my skills were a match and the benefits were very attractive.”
The benefits were unlimited PTO, full coverage of employee premiums for medical/dental/vision, one free lunch per week, one free happy hour per week, a remote work option, and pre-IPO stock options, just to name a few. Goldberg submitted her resume, landed the job, and is thrilled with her decision.
But are benefits what have kept her at Shelf Engine? “I think benefits are important as a baseline, but right now people are looking for more than that,” she says.
Goldberg is passionate about Shelf Engine’s mission to use AI to reduce food waste at grocery stores; in fact, she says it is one of the biggest reasons she took the job.
“The definition of what employees are looking for today has expanded greatly,” she says. “Yes, job titles, salaries, benefits are still important. But people want to be happy at work and want a mission they are contributing to. They want to feel valued and important. I think employees can write their own ticket right now, especially with how the market is.”
A little more than 800 miles south in Oakland, California, Ioana Ellis serves as the interim chief human resources officer (CHRO) at fintech card issuing company Marqueta and is seeing some startling trends in attracting and retaining talent.
“Since the onset of the pandemic,” says Ellis, "there’s no playbook for what’s happening from the perspective of HR and company leaders. It is all new.”
From a benefits standpoint, Ellis is seeing an increased focus on supporting employee health and wellbeing. This also includes expanding the definition of an employee’s family to offer more inclusive coverage of loved ones and those an employee may be caring for.
One-size-fits-all benefits no longer work. [...] Start looking at which benefits are being used to understand common denominators.
—Ioana Ellis, interim chief human resources officer, Marqueta
Additionally, the need for financial literacy has gone up since the onset of the pandemic, she says, noting that many current employees haven’t experienced an economic downturn. She sees an opening for companies to help staffers understand how to manage their money as part of an overall hiring package.
So what are the things that will help your company stand out when hiring and retaining top employees?
Here are a couple suggestions that may help.
Customize Your Benefits
This doesn’t have to mean different benefits for each of your staffers. Instead, Ellis suggests looking at benefits usage and tailoring future perks to those numbers. “One-size-fits-all benefits no longer work,” she says. “Start looking at which benefits are being used to understand common denominators.”
Business owners can do this by looking at benefits numbers with a benefits administrator, sending out surveys to employees, and scheduling one-on-one conversations with employees a few times per year to get a read on their preferences.
G2i, a marketplace for software developers, has tailored its benefits based on employee feedback. In late 2021, the company tried offering a four-day workweek (32 hours) every other week. Within a few months, productivity was so high that management decided to make it a permanent policy, upping the frequency to weekly.
This benefit was a strong attractor to Maebellyne Ventura, who, earlier this year, was looking for a job. She soon landed the role as G2i’s director of growth marketing, and says the abbreviated week has been a positive experience.
“It’s a 32-hour week for full-time pay; we aren’t working 10-hour days to make up for the day off,” she says. “We stick to that timeline through ruthless prioritization of tasks. We set our goals quarterly and create what we call ‘hell yeah’ objectives. Each person has one. And we have to be realistic. It puts everything into perspective.”
Focus on Your Mission and Culture
Like Goldberg, top employees are attracted to companies that live their missions and promote positive and inclusive cultures. As a business owner, if you’re concerned that you don’t have the funds to create those two things, Goldberg urges you to think again.
“A strong culture and mission that unites everyone is very powerful, and it doesn’t have to cost money,” she says. “If your company is involved with a community organization, for example, give time off to volunteer.”
She recommends spelling out your company mission on the top of your careers page to attract those aligned with your values. Doing so can create a common purpose that helps staffers feel more connected.
Not sure how to create a positive culture? One idea is to give employees permission to go after the types of projects that are most exciting to them, Goldberg advises. Many, she says, will feel like they are contributing at a higher level and with more influence than if they were in a large corporation—a big perk to a small business setting.
“The bottom line,” she says, “is to remember that employees are a huge reason for the success of any company. Show how much you appreciate them. It will pay off.”
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