Workplace Perks: The Importance of Employee Benefits

Competitive salaries are a big talent draw, but association employees are also looking for benefits that pay off for themselves and their families. Here’s what the latest ASAE Foundation research reveals about trends in employee benefits.

Associations can’t always compete with the salaries their for-profit counterparts offer employees. Instead, they try to attract top talent with their mission-driven causes and generous benefits. What are the workplace perks that help associations recruit and retain great teams? Using ASAE Foundation’s 2016-2017 Association & Compensation Benefits Study, Associations Now looked at three trends in association benefits. And to add some context to those numbers, association professionals shared how their organizations have managed these valuable offerings.

Taking Care of Time Off

Trend Although some leave benefits have remained remarkably static— for instance, a median of 10 days for sick and vacation days for full-time staff upon employment, according to the last three editions of the study—others have experienced a little more variation. For example, in 2012-2013, median paid parental leave was 40 days. This year’s survey reveals that the median has dropped to 30 days.

Takeaway For several years, the Consortium for School Networking offered female staff members 90 days of paid maternity leave, according to Chief Operating Officer Robert Duke. In September 2013, CoSN expanded the policy to include fathers and adoptive parents, but it cut the number of paid days to 30. Staff can take another 60 days as a combination of sick and vacation time.

Why the big change? Duke says the previous policy “was so generous that we were struggling to staff the organization.” When an employee goes on leave, his or her work still has to get done. That can be accomplished a couple of different ways—the remaining staff can divvy up the employee’s responsibilities, or the association can hire a temp. But for smaller associations—CoSN employs 12 full-time staff members—sharing the workload or hiring out can become taxing.

“We needed to find the right balance between our responsibility to our employees and retaining appropriate staffing levels so that we can continue to meet the needs and customer-service expectations of our membership,” Duke says. “Both are important to us.”

Meanwhile, Girl Scouts of the USA is using paid parental leave as a way to highlight issues that are important to the organization, particularly gender parity in raising children. Starting in 2016, GSUSA began offering its employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave in the event of childbirth, adoption, or foster care. “Demonstrating to our children that parenting is the responsibility of both adults in a two-parent situation is a vital aspect of creating greater gender parity within our society,” says GSUSA Chief People Officer Joanne Rencher. “And as more and more millennial employees decide to start families, Girl Scouts is working to stay ahead of the curve by ensuring our policies and benefits match the ways our families live.”

Setting Up Shop Remotely

Trend Associations increasingly are offering their staffs flexible work options, such as opportunities to telecommute or work flexible schedules. In fact, ASAE Foundation research shows that associations offering flexible work policies increased 21.5 percent over the past four years. And for the first time, more than half of the study’s participants are extending telecommuting as an option.

Takeaway The American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA) employs seven staff members, all of whom telecommute from Maryland, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Virginia. CEO Cecilia Sepp, CAE, doesn’t think of remote working as a benefit. “The benefit isn’t the fact that you’re working from a remote office,” she says. “The benefit is the flexibility and work-life balance.”

For example, remote employees get to skip out on the daily commute, which means they avoid the costs of public transportation, parking, and gas. And, Sepp says, employers benefit because staffers are less stressed and more focused.

But ACHCA wasn’t always all remote. Before Sepp’s tenure there, the organization faced some financial issues, which it was able to turn around, in part, by getting rid of its building and becoming a virtual organization.

“We have great people on the team,” Sepp says. “We have people who are very smart, dedicated, and they’re self-managing. And I think that’s very important because they’re the kind of people who I don’t need to keep track of, saying, ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’”

Sepp adds that a remote workforce gives you more hiring options. “You don’t have to be tied to a geographic location,” she says.

That’s a lesson that the American Immigration Lawyers Association learned as well. Theresa Waters, senior director for HR and administration, says AILA used to offer flex time within a certain window and allowed employees with more than a year’s tenure to telecommute one day a week. But a few years ago, when a valued colleague was relocating out of the state and asked to stay on as a full-time remote employee, AILA had to rethink its policy.

“If we didn’t try to make this work, we were going to lose that talent,” Waters says.

So, AILA granted the request, and because the arrangement was so successful, the association changed its policy to allow all staff to work remotely up to four days a week. Two other staff members who moved out of state are also full-time remote workers.

“Our success has hinged upon the fact that we realize the traditional in-office- worker mode isn’t the only way to accomplish our work, serve our membership, and have an engaged workforce,” Waters says. “Our remote workers are as engaged and productive as those that occupy ‘desk space.’”

Funding Education

Trend Just over 40 percent of the associations that participated in ASAE’s 2016-2017 study offer tuition assistance or education reimbursement, and that percentage more than doubles for associations with more than 100 staff members. In general, the larger an association, the likelier it is to offer this benefit.

Takeaway Aiming to draw millennials to careers in banking, the American Bankers Association last year established a generous tuition-reimbursement and education-assistance policy for its staff. Under the program, ABA contributes $100 a month toward an employee’s student debt, and it offers up to $10,000 toward undergraduate tuition and $20,000 toward graduate tuition.

Why? After taking the helm at the ABA in January 2016, CEO Rob Nichols traveled 105,000 miles around the country to meet with nearly 4,000 bank heads. In countless conversations, Nichols heard that millennials were entering the industry at a trickle.

Nichols notes that there is $1.3 trillion in student debt in America right now, highly concentrated among millennials. Roughly seven in 10 college graduates have student debt that averages around $30,000, he says.

“It’s stopping them or slowing them from entering into the economy more fully, from buying a house, buying a car, having kids, engaging in commerce, so there’s a broader economic impact on our nation’s economy associated with this student-debt overhang,” Nichols says.

ABA hopes its financial support of education-related expenses will attract and retain millennial employees. “We’re encouraging banks all across the country to do the same thing, so that if there are millennials looking at a bank or another local employer, this will be a deciding factor that would make a considerable impact on whether or not they would take a job or stay with an employer,” Nichols says.

As one of the oldest and largest trade associations in the United States, ABA is able to fund this benefit with its surplus operating reserves. However, Nichols says scalability makes this type of investment in millennials feasible for smaller associations with tighter budgets.

“We’re doing $100 a month [for reimbursement]—that seems pretty standard,” he says. “We have a $10,000 lifetime cap on it. You can, for example, raise or lower that cap, or raise or lower that amount. So, there’s a lot of ways you can make it affordable for your particular association.”

With 30 percent of ABA’s 360-person staff carrying student debt, Nichols says the benefit has been “phenomenally well received” at the office.

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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