From the Family Medical Leave Act to the Pandemic, the Benefits Evolution with Aon
Andrea Herron 00:03
When future talent is deciding to apply for a job, what are their most important considerations? Well, if they’re like most of us right after the job description and salary range your employee benefits page is going to be next. The reason is simple. Employees directly relate benefits to their overall perception of well being. And HR leaders are constantly adapting their benefit offerings to meet the needs of their evolving workforces. But let’s be honest, some employee benefits are way more interesting than others. Hi, I’m Andrea Herron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces. Because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. In the season finale, we welcome Carol Slade egg, a partner at AON who serves as the firm’s work life consulting leader within the strategic advisory team. In this role, she provides best practice leadership on all aspects of work life time off and emerging workforce strategy. Welcome, Carol.
Carol Sladek 01:21
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank
Andrea Herron 01:23
you for having me. Oh, yeah. Happy for you to join. So I guess to just dive right in. I want to know, you know, as the founder of the worklife consulting division of your organization, I’d love for you to tell us a little bit about your career journey and evolution of starting this initiative. Sure.
Carol Sladek 01:40
Thank you. I appreciate that. So yes, I started about 34 years ago, I started when I was three at the time at Hewitt associates, which later became a AON Hewitt and now as a part of Aon, and I have been in HR my entire career, but specifically in the area of work life. And I’ve really had quite the adventure and pleasure watching this area sort of evolved over the last few decades. And I think really, for me, the journey started as I started my career. Back in the late 80s, I actually started out on a team of folks at Hewitt associates that were tracking legislation. And my manager handed me the Family Medical Leave Act, which at the time was kind of a long shot, you know, we didn’t really know what’s going to happen with it. And I started tracking that piece of legislation. As I did that I got a little bit more involved in some of the things that our clients were facing. And I realized that there, there actually was a need for our clients at that point, to sort of assist their populations with what we call it the time work and family balance. So there were a lot of women that had come into the workforce. And there were that many were having children a little bit later, their early 30s. And were facing trying to make that decision of whether they after they had their children that came back to work, or plants were really faced with trying to get these women back into the workforce that they sort of invested in, as well as, you know, kind of recruiting folks from the outside. And being the kind of organization that place that people want to to work with. So I actually had the pleasure of going to our then CEO, and asking him if we could create a consulting area in this area. And he happened to be a gentleman who was raised by a single mom, so uncharacteristically at the CEO level, he really got it and understood what I was talking about and the kinds of things that our clients might be wrestling with. So simultaneously at Hewitt associates, we started what later became a work life area, but at the time was, we actually call them mommy’s Helper, that shows you how long ago it was. And yeah, we basically helped these women with childcare needs and things that they needed to come back into the workplace. At the same time, we started a consulting area with our clients, and you know, trying to kind of stay one step ahead of our clients. I was learning and growing and taking all that experience that and talking to others in this area, and growing the consulting area. So, you know, that fairly quickly turned from, you know, mommy’s helper into kind of work and family assistance. So helping employees bounce their jobs and their lives outside of, of work with their families. And that was employers kind of got more sophisticated with the area and realized, hey, helping, you know, recruit and retain women is only one piece of the puzzle, it sort of grew into the area that we now refer to. And that’s really helping all employees across a broad spectrum of needs, across generations and all the things that they have in their lives, balancing that with their their lives at work in finding that Win Win balance for employees and for their employer.
Andrea Herron 04:36
While there is a really quite a remarkable amount of change that has happened from starting, you know, the original family medically, which was this idea that people didn’t even know what path to now having state specific leave laws and you know, work life balance thing, a whole area of discussion. It’s really evolved dramatically and it’s it’s pretty amazing that you’ve been able to kind of see that transition and help people through it and different organizations throughout that whole journey,
Carol Sladek 05:05
it truly has been fascinating. And then you kind of layer on top of that all of that change over all of the years, the differences between, you know, employers and their cultures, industries, specific jobs and all the sort of uniquenesses. One of the things that makes work life, so very different than other sort of traditional total reward areas, benefits compensation is that you can’t really come up with one work life solution that works for everyone. Because people’s lives are different, they’re in different places in their lives, they need different things, family situations are different, and so on and so forth. So work life really is an area where an employer has to kind of look at look for an array of solutions that can meet the the various needs of their population. So it’s been really fun to work with employers across all different areas and industries, and seeing what does fit in their own particular population, making that connection and seeing that broad reward both, as I said, for for, for the employees, as well as from the employer perspective.
Andrea Herron 06:02
And that makes a lot of sense, just depending on the types of roles people have and the industries they’re in. Do you think that there are certain industries that still struggle with work life balance? And you know, if so, have you seen any examples of them trying to become more accommodating in this area?
Carol Sladek 06:20
I think a lot of employers still struggle today with work life balance, I don’t know that it’s necessarily industry specific. But there are some trends. I think that for for many, many employers, what makes it complicated is if you really are trying to match up the needs that employees have, and the needs that the business have, has, and try to find those solutions that work for both. That tends to be, you know, what’s the most effective exit type of programs and policies. But if you really are looking at those needs, at the same time, you’re working with a moving target, because your employee population is changing, and business needs are changing all the time. So what works, you know, in one year might not work in the next year, and what works for one set of employees might not work for another. So that’s kind of just a back backdrop is that you can’t have kind of one set of programs that work for everyone. And even from a consulting perspective, it’s always a very sort of customized individual approach for an employer, we can’t go in with a here’s the latest and greatest, you know, retirement offering or, you know, healthcare offering, we’re really looking at matching up those needs. That said, I think it’s always easier in industries where you’ve got a more professional workforce, more of a workforce that can kind of do their work, from any time any place, that certainly helps, it’s definitely easier to create work less solutions, where you have a population that’s a bit more homogenous, because you have, you know, fewer moving targets, if you will. Additionally, we’ve seen these offerings, more commonly in industries that have a high percentage of women. Because as evolved, as we have become still a lot of these responsibilities do fall more on women. And then we add to that, you know, today, we have the fact that a lot of the needs in your workforce are driven by multiple sets of folks in terms of generational differences. And right now the biggest proportion of our workforce tends to be the millennials. So we’re really much more focused on those Gen Y doesn’t make sense to the Gen X. And then the emerging folks and Gen Z coming in. I think the biggest challenges from an industry perspective are typically operational for one thing. So anywhere where you have sort of 24/7 24/7 scheduling becomes a lot harder to create initiatives that really help those folks. So you’ll you’ll see less sort of work life type programmatic things, for example, in a healthcare setting, or you’ve got nurses that have to be staffed on a hospital floor, it’s harder to offer them, you know, certain types of flexibility and so forth. A lot of hourly, you know, sort of manufacturing jobs, those are things that are a little bit tougher to find solutions. And then I think, besides operationally The other area where we see industries kind of pushing back really are more sort of cultural, where you’ve got more of paternalistic industries, where you’ve got kind of old world timecard, you know, punch the clock kind of thinking, those tend to be areas where it’s a little tougher, but you do see more work life initiatives in more forward thinking organizations. And that’s why you often see, you know, the high tech organizations kind of leading the pack, you’ll see anything financial services, insurance, again, where you have a high percent of women and professional jobs. Those are areas where we see more work life rather than less.
Andrea Herron 09:28
Yeah, I would agree. I’ve seen similar trends within the various industries in my own career and experience. And I think if we’ve learned anything in HR, it’s that there is no one size fits all. And it really reinforces, I think the need for HR professionals to be true business partners and support the unique workforce that they have because you can’t replicate it. It’s always changing with turnover. Your leadership may change and shift and evolve, and hopefully it does over time, and there’s There’s no cookie cutter solution, which makes our job harder but infinitely more interesting.
Carol Sladek 10:04
And particularly, I think in work life, because there are always new ideas, floating new things coming up new programmatic elements, new ideas from leadership, new ideas from competitors, if you will, well, there’s almost always change in this area, there’s a constant need for employers to feel like they have to sort of keep up. I think parental leave is a great example of that trend. You know, even 10 years ago, we didn’t see anywhere near the explosion of parental leave policies that we’ve seen in the last five years. And some of that is driven by some legal issues and so forth. But a lot of it is just driven by the competitive pressure, an employer puts in a six week parental leave policy, and then suddenly, that becomes a huge recruiting tool, others do the same thing. So there’s always a lot going on in this area, there’s always a lot to kind of tracking and, and watch and grow. And I think employers who do the best in this area are those who are more adept to change, and more really focused on that, what do our employees what our business needs? How and how do we marry those two together?
Andrea Herron 11:02
Yeah, and speaking of trends, I know your organization just put out a large study with lots of interesting industry trends and data during the pandemic. And on the HR scoop, we really get inspired by those details and the little things that companies are doing to improve the well being of their employees. So you know, with that lens, I’d love to know, if you have any specific examples or, you know, points that the study shared that you could pass along to our listeners.
Carol Sladek 11:30
I think that what we found in doing the studies that we have done over the over previous years, but this one in particular, is that I think that the area of wellbeing really has grown dramatically. And I think you know, we’ve sort of identified in this study some some different areas of well being that employers are looking at, and trying to recognize and help their employees with, I think, traditionally, we think of well being as being more of the physical well being. So things in the area of fitness and weight loss and nutrition and those types of things. And those are still very important to employees. And it’s an area where employers do provide a lot of assistance and really do work with their employees to try to make sure that they keep up their physical well being. But as the particularly in the, you know, this pandemic era, we’ve seen well being expand quite a bit. One of the areas that that the study focuses on is really more in the area of emotional wellbeing. And this is particularly true during the pandemic, we see organizations really looking at how they can provide programmatic elements like their employee assistance programs for counseling and referral to help and things. And some of those programs have expanded a lot, in the last few years, expanded to helping with more than just the emotional component of it, but also in finding things like referral to various programs like childcare and backup care and care for elderly relatives and things like that. And we’ve seen a lot of support growing in recent months, even for things like, you know, remote learning, how do employees deal with working from home and, and the remote learning aspect of it with their candidates, tutoring programs, those sorts of things. So lots of other areas, they’re in the sort of emotional well being, we’ve also seen a particular focus on social wellbeing, which, you know, months ago, many employees were going to work every day and sitting in an office with their colleagues and having lunch and going to meetings and doing the things that we’ve considered as part of regular business, you know, along came COVID. And suddenly, we had this acceleration of, you know, work from home programs, other types of flexibility, we got immersed in it. And even for organizations that have never done it before, they had, you know, kind of no choice in many cases, and have a very large sort of sudden chaotic experiment. And that resulted in a lot of well being issues, emotional well being issues, social well being issues, career wellbeing issues. So there’s been a lot of focus in recent months on virtual work, other types of flexibility in terms of how employees can balance all the pieces of their lives, trying to help their kids who are at home trying to deal with daycare arrangements that are no more, and all those sorts of things. Also, from a work perspective, trying to create a virtual work environment that is the most effective. So for many organizations there, they didn’t even have remote work policies in place, much less practices, or, you know, sort of educational and training for managers and an employee. So there was a lot of learning that had to happen very, very quickly. A lot of networking has come out of the last few months. And so again, that adds to your, your social well being as well. Lots of groups that have come about so that employees can help each other as well. Then there’s the whole area of financial wellbeing. And that’s been another big area in recent years and again, has expanded quite a bit during this pandemic, you know, looking for resources to help employees manage their own financial situation, in terms of the pandemic trying to help folks With things like setting up their home offices, you know, subsidies, stipends, for childcare, backup childcare, even programs like concierge services, that have kind of gone by the wayside in terms of work life programs, or coming back to life, to help employees balance all these pieces of their lives and make everything sort of work. And then kind of Last but not least, the fifth year, it really is just the whole area of sort of career wellbeing. So figuring out how best and how effective to do your job, when you’re working from home, as I said earlier, manager, communication and training, the the whole idea of allowing people to really focus on time off and leave of absence, if that’s what they need, providing new and, and different types of leaves, like I mentioned, parental leave, even Family Care leave, many employers have very specific COVID leave programs right now. And all those sorts of things. So really helping employees try to put all those pieces together, and thinking of well, being really very holistically recognizing all of those areas of an employee’s life, as opposed to, you know, the more traditional kind of physical wellbeing area.
Andrea Herron 16:05
Yeah, I am so happy actually, to see the definition of well being expanded. And I, I believe, with COVID, you know, the workplace norms have been irrevocably changed. And we are pushed forward in time in a way that we haven’t been before. And, you know, we are whole people, we bring our whole selves to work. So it makes just intuitive sense to me that we should approach benefits and well being as holistic. And I’m curious in the study, or just in your experience, you know, have you seen tools, any specific tools outside of perhaps the, you know, standard EAP, or some of the legacy things that employers are doing to help their employees cope with all of these areas of wellness.
Carol Sladek 16:51
I mean, absolutely, and I completely agree with you. That is it is refreshing, and very, very helpful to employees to look at the whole point, to look at well, being holistically. And to think through all of the different areas that employees are wrestling with, you know, in terms of code, we see, you know, a lot of newer things that many employees hadn’t necessarily wrestled with, to the extent that they are today. They, you know, things like isolation, even for folks who were already working from home, this is a whole new world financial stresses folks didn’t have before, as you know, many have job loss in their homes or other financial pressures and difficulties, the you know, the inability to get out to your gym and do your regular physical activity, in those kinds of things, that, as I said before, the whole issue of elearning, for many parents has been a tremendous difficult burden, you know, that the idea that you send your kids off to school, and your teachers are responsible for really helping them until they get home, and you help them with their homework at home. Now, you’re part of that. And again, the area of child care. In the past, you know, we have employees who went to work and, and they either had someone come to their home or their child, and that was taken care of for them. But each one of these issues are, these are areas that employers are looking to provide help to provide that programmatic assistance that I was speaking about terms of work life assistance, there’s a need that employees have. And if the employer can help them make that piece of their life easier, then they’re more likely to be able to be productive and effective employees as well. So really can be a win win. So again, terms of the types of initiatives that employers are offering, it’s really a wide array of different things. I think it’s been, it will be seen as kind of a checkerboard of programs, really, alternatives and things because I think employers also have realized, and especially those who have done work life traditionally, and have done it well realize that, you know, employees have different levels of emotional commitment to different pieces of their well being. So as parents of young children, even for example, you may have a different level of commitment to, you know, having a childcare provider or going someplace else to take your child or are using backup here. So again, I go back to this sort of array of programs is the most helpful for employees, because then there’s kind of there’s something there for everyone. So we’re seeing a lot of different things, that employers are doing creative solutions to sort of help employees with these new, different types of issues. From an elearning perspective, for example, I mean, two years ago, you’d never have seen employers looking at things like virtual tutoring programs and things like that micro schools and, and those kinds of programs that you don’t ever even heard of a few years ago. And then there as I said, there are some very traditional sort of work life programs that have just exploded, like flexibility. And all of that is changed as well because as we in the past, as we offered flexibility as an employer offered flexibility, it typically was to you know, pretty much accommodated and Play, as I mentioned early on the roots of work and family and work life are about getting women back from maternity leave. So flexibility has traditionally been something that employers offer, it’s going to help an employee adjust their schedule, or where they work or how they work, get their work done. Well, you know, fast forward to 2020. And that game is tremendously different. Now, many of us can’t be in the workforce. And so there are there are employers, we’ve had some of these programs or policies that I’ve had to offend them and change them and enhance them and those kinds of things. But we’ve seen a lot of different types of programs, again, looking at trying to help with the isolation, expanding EAP programs and things like that, and to help employees with different ways they can get physical activity if they can’t get to their gym. And as I said earlier, trying to help with financial stress and providing resources there as well.
Andrea Herron 20:49
Yeah, and again, there certainly is no one size fits all. But those are some helpful tips and ideas. So thank you for that. I’d like to take a slightly different angle. Now. I’m curious, with many employers utilizing rewardable, employee activities to drive participation, have you seen an increase or decrease in those rewardable activities? Or, you know, Has it hurt or helped participation given kind of the chaos in the world right now?
Carol Sladek 21:18
Well, I think there again, I don’t think it’s a one size fits all, I think we definitely still see employers providing, you know, rewarded activities. And I think we definitely see employers having a lot of success with those things. Some of the men have been adjusted for the circumstances of today, or for their workforce, or for particular needs and desires. And within their workforce. I do think things like health assessments and things like that still universally are extremely helpful to employees, particularly when you’re talking about any one particular. So for example, stress and an emotional well being in that in that area. There are many employees who haven’t faced many of the things that they’re facing today. So even take a basic sort of health assessment questionnaire sort of approach, and allow employees to identify what they need, and be very helpful both to the employee in terms of identifying what specifically they’re wrestling with and where they need help. But even more importantly, to the employer, in terms of figuring out how indeed, they can provide assistance that might be useful to the employee, in terms of participation in programs, I think rewardable activities over the years, have been very successful, getting employees to participate in pro in programs, to try different things and to do different things. And we see that even in the areas of some of the programs like networking, and getting employees to participate in, you know, social remote programs and things like that, just to get them involved in things where there are rewardable activities involved, we tend to get better participation. So the the impetus or the or the incentive might be a little different than it was a few years ago. But I still think the idea that the human behavior element behind offering someone a reward participates in something still is a very useful technique that employers are using.
Andrea Herron 23:03
And we’ve certainly all increased our comfort with doing things online that we probably wouldn’t have done before. Like, yeah, like it or not. And I think that has a lot of really promising implications for how we support remote workforce going forward and helping them feel a lot more included. Whereas before, it was kind of like, well, you’re not in the office. So sorry, you don’t get to come exam. Now. We’ve we’ve been forced to reevaluate that, which again, I think is, you know, so I’m trying to find Silver Linings here. And I think this is one. Oh, I
Carol Sladek 23:36
think it definitely is, I think the acceleration of the trend in remote work and flexibility has been hugely significant. You know, for years, I’ve watched employers kind of struggle along this path. And for years, I have been a presenter at conferences and talked about all the benefits of flexibility and allowing people flexibility and doesn’t have to cost a lot and has a great reward. And still, we’ve seen progress in this area sort of inch along. And I truly believe it’s because our culture is very much rooted, or has been, I should say, pretty COVID has been very much rooted in the industrial age. And we’re still very face time in hours oriented. And then you fast forward to this pandemic, and the explosion of work at home and the need to create these programs and policies. And suddenly, as I said, we’re immersed in this, we have no choice. So we probably jumped ahead a good 1015 years of where we would have been if we continue along that fence employers because they had to, in many cases, created so many digital tools and techniques, in different ways that we can connect all kinds of different platforms and things we you know, we’re doing meetings now via all these different video platforms and conference platforms that even six months ago, full months ago, employers really shook their head and said, Now we’re young you got to travel there and be there in person face to face is important, right? And why That is still often preferable, we have learned to substitute to substitute some of these digital mediums and to find ways to be together and create the same element of productivity as we did before. I also think another element of this is that employees have realized that they might prefer some of the new world, right? There’s a silver lining, where many before would have thought now I don’t think I would want to work from home or I don’t think I’d want flexible hours. I like it the way it is. Many now have found Oh, yeah, you know, it is kind of nice to be able to run downstairs and throw a little laundry in and run back upstairs do another conference call. Right. So there, there are silver linings for both the employer and the employee and the employer perspective, many have told us through the studies that we’ve done, that employees are actually more productive, because there’s less sort of clutter in their life in terms of the office interruptions and, and those sorts of things. So I think that is a definite silver lining, if you will, to the situation that we’re in right now. Is this acceleration of a trend that employers really approached with a lot of trepidation? Yes, certainly,
Andrea Herron 26:05
you can be more productive at home without the distractions of the the stop bys. And the impromptu meetings, I will say maybe less productive, because I’ve had to wash towels three times in a row, because I forgot to put them in the dryer. But you know, those are small prices.
Carol Sladek 26:21
Right, exactly. And I’m generalizing too. I mean, I think, well, for some, this has been a really terrific experiment, both the employer and the employee. For others, it’s just been more chaotic. There are those who find it very difficult to be isolated. There are those there are many who are wrestling with their kids at home, trying to, as I said before, kind of deal with elearning and their jobs at the same time. And they just felt really overwhelmed. That there are some silver linings. It’s not all silver lining, of course.
Andrea Herron 26:49
Yes, yes, I know, the world has changed, but we’re keeping up. Great. So for the final question here for our time with you, I would love for you to share with our listeners something about yourself that not a lot of people might know some surprising tidbit you’d like to share, I think
Carol Sladek 27:07
what I would share with this group is that I am a 13 and a half year breast cancer survivor. And that definitely, as a Work Life Consultant over the many years has kind of added to my journey as well. As you go through that kind of treatment and just the whole illness, you will learn a lot about yourself. But you also learn a lot about those around you. And you’re you become a lot more grateful for the little things every day, walking the world revolves around you in a completely different way. And really living each day with gratitude has made a big difference. For me, I think, from the being a work license holder, too. I learned a lot firsthand, or I guess I should say I was taught a lot about well being on all of these fronts that we talked about, not only the physical of course, but the support emotionally and socially and, and career wise, and even some of the financial the time off and disability programs and things.
Andrea Herron 27:59
Yeah, well, of course and congratulations on on beating that and continuing to live a healthy life. And yeah, what a an experience to give you some really personal insight into how this, these types of changes impact people’s lives. So that’s a great thing that you can pass along. Thank you. Absolutely. Great. Well, thank you again, so much for your time and your insights here. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Carol Sladek 28:24
absolutely a pleasure was all mine. Thank you very much.
Andrea Herron 28:28
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