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To Attract and Keep Workers, Make Sure Benefits Reflect What They Want, Say These People Leaders

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  • Employee benefits look different for everyone. Having one fixed set of benefits is no longer an option. Companies must reflect their workers’ needs on a person to person basis.
  • Fostering an inclusive workplace can not only attract new workers, it can more importantly keep retention rates up.

Recruiting qualified employees in the best of times can be a challenge, but attempting it in the wake of a global pandemic is even more difficult. The overwhelming feelings of uncertainty combined with an inescapable sense of loneliness, makes it easy to see why over 30 million Americans have quit their jobs since Spring 2021, in what's been dubbed the Great Resignation.

Now more than ever, employee benefits are among the most critical elements of a company's recruitment strategy. Benefits can not only attract workers, they also can foster workplace equity and a sense of belonging. Prioritizing the needs of employees was at the forefront of CNBC's Equity and Opportunity Benefits of Inclusion forum on March 7th.

Laura Fuentes, chief human resources officer for Hilton, and Celeste Warren, vice president of global diversity and inclusion at Merck, offered their views on what sets a company apart when it comes to equity and benefits.

One-size-fits-all benefits don't work

In terms of what's been working, the two agreed that paying attention to the evolution of employees over the years has been key. With younger generations entering the workforce, the one-size-fits-all model is no longer an option. There are upwards of five different generations at many companies, so tailoring benefits and policies to reflect these very different needs is critical.

"If you're creating benefits and policies and programs that aren't really meeting your employees where they are with their needs then it's just basically a waste of time, energy, and resources," Warren said.

The two credited much of their company's success to their analysis of data collected among employees over time. For Fuentes, all conversations surrounding benefits start with a simple poll or survey.

"Our HR operating model is based on data, so we always start any sort of cycle or benefits inquiry by surveying our team members," she said.

Through the use of surveys and data collection, companies like Hilton and Merck can get to the core of what their employees really need as well as what kinds of benefits would help them in the long run. These responses also contribute to matching internal data with external data, allowing analysts to compare results to other companies from which they can ultimately learn from.

If the pandemic has taught companies anything, it's that they must work diligently to offer better mental health services and de-stigmatize these difficult conversations for workers. Many companies, Hilton and Merck included, have finally begun expanding their mental health resources. By offering counseling and encouraging open conversations among other resources, Hilton has seen a 10% increase in their workers' level of comfort when talking about mental health, Fuentes said.

Focus on diversity, equity and inclusion

While significant strides have been made over the years in terms of fostering inclusive workplace environments, companies must continue to strive to keep moving their efforts forward. As Warren pointed out, every critical issue in society ultimately comes back to diversity, equity and inclusion.

"I think there is definitely a role that the private sector can play, whether that be policy or benefits," Warren said.

As both Warren and Fuentes noted, it is crucial to not only come up with new ideas to better their companies, but to deepen existing benefits and perks. While this differs from company to company, Hilton in particular has been striving to improve their educational benefits for employees.

"We'll partner with Guild to offer debt-free education assistance to our team members in the U.S. to allow them to pursue certification degrees, ESL, high school diplomas and advanced degrees," Fuentes said.

Ultimately, workers want to feel valued and respected at their place of work. As Fuentes put it, by being "diverse by nature and inclusive by choice," companies can not only attract workers but also keep them feeling appreciated and fulfilled in their day-to-day tasks.

To join the CNBC Workforce Executive Council, apply at cnbccouncils.com/wec.

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