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Alight named by Fortune as one of the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ in 2024

Thoughtful benefits strategy key to supporting today’s diverse workforce

By Michael Rogers

Since the days of the Industrial Revolution (and even prior), the way employers engage with employees has been in a constant state of flux. From workplace safety initiatives and the advent of retirement benefits to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments, the evolution of the workplace and the workforce has been extraordinary.

In recent years, we’ve experienced a seismic shift in the employee-employer contract that has presented both challenges and opportunities for the Human Resource function and organizations as a whole. There is now an expectation that employers meet the needs of employees and their dependents in ways previous generations could never have imagined. Mental health days, student loan repayment and menopause support are just a few examples of once-rare benefit offerings that are rapidly becoming standard fare.

While the pandemic served to heighten awareness of the need to support employees and their families across the wellbeing spectrum, in no way is this merely a COVID-era phenomenon. As organizations recognize the importance of delivering a differentiating employee experience, they are coming to accept this level of support as a critical component of the employee value proposition. With talent becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain, strengthening the employee value proposition is vital.

At the same time, employers are reaping the benefits of the most diverse workforce in history in terms of age, ethnicity, religion, gender identity and so on. The richness of experiences, backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives brings diversity in thought to the table, giving the organization a competitive edge. In fact, study after study has shown that companies that are committed to DE&I are the most financially successful.

One size does not fit all

While the advantages of a diverse workforce are clearly understood, there is less clarity around the challenges inherent in supporting employees with such vastly different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. Rather than trying to craft a benefits strategy that meets everyone’s needs, I believe the answer lies in understanding that people engage with benefits differently and using data and technology to personalize their experience.

As recently as 10 years ago, HR was relatively two-dimensional in its benefits strategies, but the increasing diversity of the workforce, coupled with the recognition that wellbeing is key to unlocking productivity and profitability, has led many employers to rethink their approach. Increasingly, they are chucking the one-size-fits-all approach in favor of a benefits strategy that takes into account the unique makeup of the workforce and how it influences the way they engage with benefits. A 22-year-old is likely to engage with health benefits much differently than a 62-year-old, for example.  

It's important to keep in mind that diversity encompasses far more than someone’s age, race, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation. While those are all crucial factors, there is an increasing recognition of the social determinants of health (SDOH) – that is, the nonmedical factors that influence health and wellbeing outcomes. These are the circumstances in which employees and their families are born, grow, work, live and age, along with the wider set of forces and systems that shape their daily lives. Examples include safe housing, transportation and neighborhoods; economic policies and systems; language and literacy skills; racism, discrimination and violence; and more. 

Consider this example: One family (with children) lives in an affluent Chicago suburb, while the other resides just a mile away on the west side of Chicago. The suburban family has access to seven urgent care centers, while the only option for the family living in the city is the emergency room. Adding to the city family’s difficulties, they don’t have a car, so they must rely on a bus or Uber to transport them to the ER. Well aware of these obstacles, they may wait until the condition has deteriorated to seek medical assistance, negatively impacting the outcome. Not only do they spend hours in a crowded emergency room, they are forced to scramble to find someone to watch the children – and the resulting expense is significant.

Situations like this are why it’s key for organizations to employ SDOH data to personalize the benefit experience. Telehealth would be a great option to help close the gap for the city family in our example. While the rapid rise of AI has drastically increased employers’ ability to radically personalize the employee experience, engaging with technology involves more than data alone. Encouraging employee resource groups to provide feedback and actively participate in discussions about the data is essential. It's not just about the information. It's about how the organization uses it to create a more inclusive and equitable environment.

Pivotal partnership

In my day-to-day, I work closely with our global inclusion and diversity leader, Xan Daniels, to ensure equity in benefits at Alight. Xan has a deep breadth of knowledge and partners with Alight leaders to ensure inclusion and diversity is visible, valued and sustained across the organization. Much like the diverse workforce brings diversity in thought to the table, Xan brings diversity in thought to our HR and benefits strategies – and to me.  

Many of our conversations revolve around the fact that supporting a diverse workforce typically doesn’t require the addition of programs, rather to ensure that existing programs don’t exclude anyone — intentionally or unintentionally — from whatever they are trying to achieve. Take family-forming benefits, for example. Traditionally, such support was sought primarily by married couples dealing with infertility; these days, it is just as likely to be utilized by LGBTQ couples or single women who have decided to pursue motherhood.

Across the benefits spectrum, flexibility is key to supporting a diverse workforce. At Alight, we recognize that employees don’t all celebrate or recognize the same holidays, for example. While many people value having Christmas Day off, others observe Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa or Eid. Giving employees the flexibility to use PTO on the days that are meaningful to them says a lot about the culture of the organization and their respect for each employee.

Likewise, providing wellness days — with no questions asked about why employees are using them — is another way to effectively support a diverse workforce. Whether someone needs a mental health day to decompress or time off to care for a sick child, aging parent or ailing pet, creating a flexible policy that lets the employee decide how they are going to use that time goes a long way towards building a relationship of mutual trust. When trust is strong, engagement and productivity soar, stress and burnout decrease and the company gains a competitive edge.

Michael Rogers
Michael Rogers
By Michael Rogers

As chief human resources officer, Michael is responsible for leading Alight’s global HR function and defining and executing its people and talent strategies. With nearly 20 years of HR leadership experience, Michael is focused on growing and retaining exceptional people to help drive the success of Alight while ensuring its 16,000+ colleagues across the globe have fulfilling careers. Michael is focused on improving employee experience while driving a high-growth and performance culture.

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