From retirement and health plans to unlimited paid time off, work flexibility and hot new benefits such as student loan repayment and professional development, these companies are leading the pack when it comes to innovation in the field.

BASF Corp.
Work-life balance is often a buzzword at most companies, but for global chemical company BASF Corp., it’s a mission. The company’s commitment to creating a culture that is supportive of employees at work and at home has earned accolades as well as praise from its employees.

“When [employees] are stressed out about what’s going on with their childcare or what’s going on with their financial situation, that takes them away from being productive and engaged and happy at work,” says Mollie O’Brien, director of total rewards at BASF Corp. “Corporations are realizing they need to keep up with this.”

In a matter of speaking, O’Brien says, work-life balance benefits — think flexibility, childcare and comprehensive wellness — are underrated in the workplace. Such benefits may not get the same attention as salary or retirement, but ultimately they are just as important. “The compensation has to be competitive, but it has to be about the whole package,” O’Brien says. “Flex work is critical. It cuts across all demographics — male, female, older, younger — it doesn’t matter who you are, everybody wants it. Everybody wants to use it.”

Some other innovative solutions embraced at BASF? Creative workspaces in the firm’s headquarters, which include coffee bars and designated quiet areas, and opportunities for employees to challenge themselves by taking on new roles — or new locations.


JPMorgan Chase
Despite the prevalence of autism in America — one in every 68 children in the U.S. is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control — benefits for the condition aren’t nearly as common. But more employers are now warming to the idea. Financial giant JPMorgan Chase is one of those companies.

Bloomberg/file photo

The investment and retail bank began offering autism benefits to its 160,000 U.S. employees starting on Jan. 1, 2014, following a well-received autism awareness event that took place inside the firm in 2013.

“It was so well received that people asked for autism coverage in the medical plan, and we launched that [in 2014]. We continue to see very happy families and employees,” says Lyn-Marie Pilgrim, executive director, benefits design and strategy, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase provides coverage for the initial autism diagnosis and the various types of therapies that are often prescribed for the neurobiological disorder. “That could include ABA, cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional counseling, periodic developmental screening, individual or group family therapy, speech and occupational and physical therapy as necessary. And, of course, medication management,” she says.

Netflix
It’s hard not to talk about Netflix when discussing paid leave benefits. The streaming giant famously announced last year it was offering as much as one year of paid time off to new mothers and fathers. That was in addition to the company’s unlimited-time-off policy for vacation and sick days.

“Netflix’s continued success hinges on us competing for and keeping the most talented individuals in their field. Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home,” said Netflix chief talent officer Tawni Cranz in a blog post announcing the change. “We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances. Parents can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back out as needed. We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.”

The company’s paid leave policy has garnered almost as much interest as its show revivals. That’s because it’s simply not done often — or at all. Only 12% of U.S. private-sector employees have access to any paid family leave through their jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Unlimited time, of course, historically has been almost unheard of.

Boxed
Last year, Boxed CEO Chieh Huang made quite the splash in employee benefits when he announced that he would start paying for the college tuition of the children of his employees. But this year, he went even a step further: Huang said he was going to pay for the wedding expenses of all employees. “Our goal is to strengthen the overall employer-employee bond,” he says. “I think paying for college tuition and wedding expenses helps us do that.”

The company’s unconventional benefit offering, Huang says, is simply the right thing to do. “I realized only two people out of 20 could afford private transportation to get to work,” he says. “Even if we doubled their salary, these people couldn’t afford a car or a college education for their kids. So I decided to do something about it.”

Huang is now writing college tuition checks for four students. He has committed the value of a chunk of his Boxed stock to fund the benefit as more students become eligible for the program over the next five or six years. By that time, he hopes the company will be sold or go public and that half of his stock will easily pay for all these college educations. “The folks who have been with us for the ride and are present on that day will be eligible for the benefit,” he says.

What’s more, all full-time employees are eligible for dental, vision and healthcare plans and participation in the 401(k) plan (no matching yet). The company also offers unlimited paid time off, maternity and parental leave.

PwC
Student loan debt has increasingly become a hot workplace topic. It’s no wonder: Student debt is a huge and growing problem in the U.S., with average student debt at an all-time high of over $37,000.

One company leading the charge of the trend of student loan repayment benefits is professional services firm Pricewaterhouse­Coopers, which this summer began helping nearly half of its 46,000 employees pay down their student loans.

The company will contribute $100 per month ($1,200 per year) for up to six years (a maximum of $7,200) to help non-management employees pay down their student loans. PwC pays the money directly to its employees’ student loan servicer, the middlemen who collect payments.

Part of the motivation for offering the benefit was the demographic of the company’s workers. PwC is a millennial organization; the average age of its employees is about 28. “Millennials tell us they’re living longer at home. They are delaying major life decisions like marriage and having children. They are putting off major purchases like cars. They’re not saving for retirement,” says PwC’s U.S. and global talent leader, Mike Fenlon.

Helping young employees with student loan debt is simply a good decision, Fenlon says. “Just as we have to innovate in business overall, we have to offer benefits that have the most value that will engage our employees.”

Michelin
Michelin has one goal when it comes to the well-being of its employees: keeping them “as healthy as genetically possible.”

That’s what Barry Cross, Michelin’s senior director of total rewards benefits, compensation and retirement, says about the catalyst behind the company’s recent moves to create a sustainable culture of health that yields long-term, positive return on investment.
One recent move? Recruiting a chief medical officer. “It’s the first phase of a long 10- to 15-year policy,” Cross says.

Part of that long-term vision includes a variety of health tools offered to Michelin’s 22,000 North American employees, such as biometrics, personal health reviews and family health centers. Beyond improved health, monetary benefits act as an incentive for Michelin employees: They can earn up to $2,000 a year as a health reimbursement arrangement for a biometrics scan.

Michelin spends about $250 million a year on total healthcare, which includes four family health centers with annual operating budgets of $5 million. The Michelin Family Health Centers, located in Greenville, S.C. — also where the company’s North American division is headquartered — Lexington, S.C., and Ardmore, Okla., offer 30-minute appointments to employees. He describes the centers as “concierge medicine,” which is becoming a growing trend in the benefits package for employers.

Michelin is also creating call centers for employees to continue to improve their health. “Employees can call in and talk to a human being and get some real pointed advice,” Cross says. “We’re going to take that lead and engage more richly with our folks.”

Aflac
Sure, the benefits behemoth is known for its employee benefit offerings to other companies, but its perks for its own employees are equally as innovative. For them, it’s all about providing benefits —such as professional development — that both engage and retain workers, says Aflac’s chief resource officer, Matthew Owenby. And it’s working: The average tenure at the insurance firm is 18 years.

“If you take care of employees, they will take care of the business,” he says.

One of the things Aflac “really focuses on is coaching,” he says. “We have people tell us online what their strengths and weakness are. And then we put them into groups to network and discuss how they can get better at work.”

The company takes a wide approach to engaging different groups of employees, and Owenby recommends Aflac’s approach to reaching multiple groups. For its female employees, the insurer holds a “women’s tea” where women gather with female executives to discuss career development and challenges women face in the workplace. “It’s a small, simple thing that we get wonderful feedback for,” he says.

Aflac also holds “men’s coffee” meetings where men come together to hear from executives about workplace issues and strategy. “We talk about personal development and how people can advance their careers,” he says.

Employee surveys and reaching out via social media are ways the company targets its younger groups. “We have a nationwide career expo where we talk about our jobs, and in some cases we do speed interviewing,” he says. “Employees can connect to a real person who is hiring managers.”

Phil Albinus, Amanda Eisenberg and Sheryl Smolkin contributed to this article.

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