By Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero
A 2017 Gallup report on employee engagement paints a sad picture of the modern workplace. Only 33 percent of employees remained “actively engaged” at work last year, meaning they felt that they had the opportunity to do their best, were surrounded by leaders and co-workers who encourage achievement, and their opinions counted.
The remaining 67 percent of workers, Gallup notes, aren’t necessarily disgruntled; it’s more like they just don’t care. They show up and do the bare minimum. They rarely go out of their way for customers and are notably less vigilant about, well, everything.
Simply put, they’re not happy.
But employers can change this by creating a work environment that fosters productivity, financial security, and trust. Here’s how.
Building the Perfect Workplace for Employees
If the goal is a workplace that stands out to applicants and keeps employees invested, the traditional benefits found at virtually every company won’t get you there. Instead, find out what your employees really want and build a benefit package that supports their common goals.
- Operate outside the traditional office
A room full of grey cubicles and carpet is both a red flag to applicants and a depressing daily environment for current employees.. Moving away from the traditional office and employing a remote team has plenty of benefits for your company and your people.
Companies like Buffer have discovered this, reporting that employees are not only happier and feel like they have more freedom, but are also much more productive when they work remotely. Other well-known organizations like Basecamp and Mozilla operate according to a completely remote business model, relying on a number of online services and tools for communication and project management.
At Student Loan Hero, all of our employees work remotely. Working from our headquarters or main office isn’t even an option, because we don’t have one! Most of our people work from home while some take advantage of coworking spaces such as WeWork, with Student Loan Hero covering the costs. Because of this flexibility, each employee can choose a space that fits his or her work style and personal tastes.
Not to mention, a remote team also allows you to work with talent from anywhere in the world. Our tech team, for example, is based in Russia. And one of our employees lived and worked from Columbia for several months—just because he could.
By offering remote positions, employees can work with autonomy from where they are most comfortable, without the constraints or distractions of an office. Telecommuting is a huge attractor for applicants, it lowers (or even eliminates) the overhead of maintaining an office space, and it creates a huge hiring advantage for us as well, since our applicant pool spans the entire globe.
- Tailor financial benefits to employees
Our feeling that workers wanted more than just a 401(k) was confirmed by findings from our employer-sponsored student loan repayment assistance survey. The results showed that more than 75 percent of respondents valued student loan repayment as a workplace benefit; 17 percent stated it was a “very important” benefit to be included in a job offer, while 22 percent stated it was “extremely important.” In fact, almost half of respondents said they’d prefer help paying their student loans over a 401(k) match.
This result caused us to seriously rethink our benefits. As of 2016, we now offer the option to receive a three percent match of salary on retirement savings or loan repayment assistance, whichever each employee prefers.
This is just one example of tailoring benefits to employee needs, but the opportunities are truly endless. Other benefit options include tuition reimbursement, access to financial advisors, or employee discount programs.
- Build trust with unique vacation options and flexible hours
While two weeks of paid vacation used to be the norm, research has taught us that employees not only want more flexibility and control when it comes to their free time, but that having it makes them happier, healthier, and more likely to stay.
One benefit trend that answers this call is unlimited vacation time, a perk offered by top innovators such as General Electric, GrubHub, Netflix, Hubspot, and yes, Student Loan Hero.
The key is giving employees the flexibility to take time off when it suits their needs. Modern employers are finding that traditional vacation makes employees feel constrained, whereas unlimited vacation makes them feel empowered. And if they get all their work done and done well, who really cares how many days they take off each year?
It’s true that offering unlimited vacation isn’t feasible for every company or industry, but you can still build employee trust by offering other unique time-off perks. Instituting half-day Fridays in the summer, providing extra time off around federal holidays, or even doling out bonuses to help fund employees’ vacations are all effective ways to offer unique vacation benefits.
Flexible hours are another perk that could help you attract — and keep — top talent. Although it’s easier to offer flexible hours when you operate a remote business, even some traditional offices let employees work hours that fit with their family responsibilities and busy lives. And when employees don’t have to feel bad about leaving work early to attend their kid’s open house or soccer game, they are generally happier.
Employees feel most valued when they feel like they are trusted, and what better way to show trust than to let them work the hours they want?
Businesses hoping to create workplaces where employees thrive need to think beyond typical compensation and benefits packages. The more you look inward, ask questions, and create perks and benefits that address the actual wants and needs of your people, the better chance you’ll have to stand out, attract better talent, and retain happy, productive employees.
About the Author
Andrew Josuweit is CEO and Co-Founder of Student Loan Hero. After graduating with $107,000 in student loan debt, he realized he wanted to help others become debt-free and financially independent. In 2012, Andy decided to take matters into his own hands by creating Student Loan Hero. So far, he’s been able to help 200,000+ people find smarter ways to pay off over $3.5 billion dollars in student loan debt.
About the Company
Student Loan Hero is an unbiased solution to organize, manage, and repay student loans. They understand that every student loan borrower is in a different financial situation and no “one-size-fits-all” solution is possible. Their goal is to help student loan borrowers understand their student loans and make intelligent repayment decisions.