Sotheby’s joins growing number of employers implementing student loan benefit

Add Sotheby’s to the growing number of employers that are turning to student loan repayment benefits to attract and retain talent.

The international auction house said Tuesday it will contribute $150 each month toward employees’ repayment of the principal amount of the debt, up to $1,800 per year, beginning Jan. 1.

The program — which will be offered through student loan repayment platform Gradifi — has no lifetime limit. The company says it will cover employees for as long as they remain an eligible full-time U.S.-based employee of Sotheby’s with qualifying student loans.

Echoing other employers that recently implemented the offering, Sotheby’s called the benefit a “key differentiator” in a hot job market. With the nation’s student debt collectively nearing $1.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve, companies are beginning to add student loan repayment programs as a way to tackle the problem. It helps employers, too: 86% of employees would commit to a company for five years if the employer helped pay back their student loans, according to the American Student Assistance.

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“[We] feel strongly about doing all that we can to make Sotheby’s a best-in-class workplace,” says Jill Bright, the company’s executive vice president of human resources and administration. “This is a benefit that differentiates us in the marketplace, particularly when student debt is on the mind of so many employees — both recent graduates and parents who have taken responsibility for their children’s debt.”

All eligible Sotheby’s U.S. employees who have outstanding student debt with an accredited loan organization — including former students or parents responsible for their children's debt — may participate in the repayment program, the company says.

The partnership with Gradifi also offers Sotheby’s employees access to advice on refinancing and college savings programs, among other related topics.

Sotheby’s joins several other companies that have recently rolled out student loan repayment benefits. Estée Lauder announced earlier this year that it now makes a $100 monthly contribution to employees’ student loans, up to a lifetime total of $10,000. Clothing retailer Carhartt, Pure Insurance and Crystal & Company, a national insurance brokerage firm with 450 employees, also announced similar plans.

See also: HR pros bust student debt benefit myths: ‘It’s not terribly expensive to fund or administer’

Though student loan repayment benefits are popular — more than a third of employees say student debt repayment is a must-have offering, according to Unum — just 4% of companies offer the benefit to employees, according to the latest statistics from the Society for Human Resource Management.

While the number of employers providing the popular new benefit is modest, many industry insiders expect the number to grow significantly in coming years.

Statistics point to a widespread student loan problem as evidence: Seven in 10 college graduates have student loan debt, and the average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears. Nearly 20% owe more than $100,000.

Bright says those dire statistics are among the reasons why Sotheby’s is implementing the benefit. “It’s about Sotheby’s playing a role in addressing the student loan debt crisis as a whole. We want to set an example and do our part,” she says.

The benefit can help employers reduce workers’ financial stress over their debts — which inevitably make its way into the workplace in the way of lost productivity, presenteeism and more, experts say.

“While only a tiny percentage of companies offer a student loan repayment benefit, as that percentage increases, it will have tremendous impact,” Bright says.

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