Firm focuses on total wellbeing; absorbs premium increases
CHICAGO — Grant Thornton LLP, a leading audit, tax and advisory firm, is enhancing its benefits and rewards programs to meet the shifting needs and preferences of the COVID-era workforce. The firm is also absorbing employee premium increases associated with its medical benefits for the 2022 calendar year — a move that will help offset inflation and economic uncertainty for its workforce.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what workers need and expect from their benefits,” says Mike Monahan, Grant Thornton’s national managing principal of People & Community. “Today’s benefits must do more than just complement salaries; they must create total wellbeing across multiple dimensions: emotional, physical, career, social and financial.”
Lou Ann Hutchison, Grant Thornton’s managing director in charge of rewards and benefits, echoes this sentiment: “Companies used to think benefits meant health insurance and retirement plans. Today, benefits mean varied and flexible offerings that change depending on where people are in their lives and what they are experiencing.”
Hutchison points to pet-related benefits as an example: “Research has shown that having a pet is helping younger professionals contend with the stress and loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, benefits such as pet-adoption assistance, pet insurance and pet-sitting support are proving to be as valuable as a 401K or a flexible spending-account to many younger staffers.”
In contrast, Hutchison spotlights working parents, who’ve gotten value during the pandemic from childcare and home-life benefits. Meanwhile, she indicates that more seasoned professionals have remained focused on traditional retirement plans and financial benefits.
“It’s simple: People go through stages in life, but wellbeing is a constant,” says Hutchison. “Benefits need to reflect that.”
Mental wellness matters
The idea that employers should ‘meet people where they are’ is part of a move toward treating mental wellness like physical wellness. “In the wake of COVID-19, employers have to provide better mental-care benefits, instead of simply recycling benefits from the pre-pandemic era,” says Monahan, who also stresses that employers must “remove the stigma around mental wellness and create safe spaces for people to be open about their mental states.”
He argues that supporting mental wellness makes sense at multiple levels: “A mentally healthy workforce is one that functions well — and that’s good for our workers, our clients and our business.”
To this end, Grant Thornton offers several medical-insurance plans with mental-health benefits, bolstered by two employee-assistance programs with expanded virtual-counseling options. The firm makes its employee-assistance programs available to all its workers and their family members, even if they are not enrolled in its medical plans. In addition, Grant Thornton offers targeted benefits to support mental health, including those promoting fitness and supporting pet care.
Offering more and absorbing costs
Grant Thornton has further embraced the changing nature of benefits by taking its traditional benefits package — which includes items such as retirement plans and medical insurance — and layering on a host of newer offerings, including:
- Flexible work arrangements such as reduced-work schedules, compressed work weeks and flexible days — regardless of level;
- Flexible time off that allows employees to disconnect from work as needed instead of tapping into a predetermined set of paid days off;
- Expanded family-care benefits, including enhanced parental leave and access to childcare, eldercare, pet care, meal planning, housekeeping and other resources to support quality of life;
- Subsidized meal-delivery services;
- 40 hours of chargeable time annually to engage in volunteer activities;
- Flexible career-development and learning opportunities that work with people’s real-world schedules;
- Quiet hours and other measures to reduce the fatigue of video conferences and remote work;
- Lifestyle accounts that offer reimbursement for wellbeing expenses, such as fitness equipment purchases.
Further, Grant Thornton believes that offering ample and forward-thinking benefits also means doing so affordably. For this reason, the firm is absorbing employee premium increases for its medical benefits for the 2022 calendar year.
“We’re not going to let cost and economic uncertainty stand in the way of wellbeing,” says Monahan. “We’re making sure our professionals won’t pay any premium increases this year.”
Listening is key
The firm has also committed to listening to workers and soliciting feedback from surveys, business resource groups, advisory councils and general outreach. “We’ve paid attention to our employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand their pain points — and we are continuing to take their feedback seriously and design inclusive solutions that address their needs and offer support in their personal and professional journeys,” concludes Hutchison.
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