Ben­e­fits Pro­fes­sional of the Year

Like many tech com­pa­nies, Aka­mai strug­gled with stressed-out em­ploy­ees and a gen­der-diver­sity prob­lem. Sarah Sardella stepped up to the chal­lenge with a slate of new ben­e­fits that em­pha­size the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to work-life bal­ance.

Employee Benefit News - - CONTENTS - By Kathryn Mayer Pho­to­graph by Josh An­drus

Like many tech com­pa­nies, Aka­mai strug­gled with stressed-out em­ploy­ees and a gen­der-diver­sity prob­lem. EBN’s Ben­e­fits Pro­fes­sional of the Year

Sarah Sardella stepped up to the chal­lenge with a slate of new ben­e­fits that em­pha­size the com­pany’s com­mit­ment to work-life bal­ance. Plus, read about what the three other Benny Award win­ners are do­ing dif­fer­ently.

In the highly com­pet­i­tive, highly de­mand­ing tech in­dus­try — no­to­ri­ous for fast-paced projects and har­ried em­ploy­ees — work-life bal­ance of­ten seems like a myth. Not only do those en­vi­ron­ments leave many em­ploy­ees feel­ing over­worked and burned out — PayS­cale re­search finds that em­ploy­ees who work at tech com­pa­nies are among the most stressed — but they of­ten make it dif­fi­cult for work­ers, par­tic­u­larly women, to eas­ily jug­gle work and home life re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, like car­ing for a fam­ily.

It was a work­place chal­lenge shared by Aka­mai Tech­nolo­gies, the global con­tent de­liv­ery net­work ser­vice provider. And it was a chal­lenge Sarah Sardella set out to ad­dress.

“We op­er­ate in a fast-mov­ing in­dus­try, and for Aka­mai in par­tic­u­lar, our net­work needs to de­liver for our cus­tomers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the globe,” ex­plains Sardella, the com­pany’s se­nior di­rec­tor of global ben­e­fits.

Aka­mai em­ploy­ees are scat­tered all over the world: The com­pany em­ploys more than 7,000 peo­ple across 29 coun­tries; 3,500 of those work­ers are in the United States. Half of Aka­mai’s U.S. em­ploy­ees are lo­cated in the firm’s headquarters in Cam­bridge, Mass.; the other half are spread out across 16 lo­ca­tions. That means that jobs aren’t 9-5; meet­ings of­ten span mul­ti­ple time zones and con­ti­nents; and non­tra­di­tional sched­ules and bring­ing work home is com­mon­place.

“It’s no sur­prise that our em­ploy­ees can feel like they need to be ‘on’ all the time,” Sardella says, “and that means work and life fre­quently blur to­gether.”

That’s why, over the last few years, Sardella and her team set their sights on ad­ding a num­ber of work-life and fam­ily-friendly ben­e­fits that sup­port flex­i­bil­ity — from care­giv­ing ben­e­fits and backup day care to a tele­work pro­gram, un­lim­ited PTO and a paid fam­ily leave pol­icy. Those were in ad­di­tion to Aka­mai’s al­ready-en­vi­able suite of ben­e­fits, which in­cludes a ro­bust health and well-

ness pro­gram, tu­ition ben­e­fits and em­ployee stock op­tions.

Those ef­forts helped in­crease em­ployee sat­is­fac­tion by 6%, cre­ated a bet­ter work­place en­vi­ron­ment and landed Aka­mai on a num­ber of “Best Places to Work” lists — as well as help­ing the com­pany ad­dress its gen­der-diver­sity prob­lem. They also helped earn Sardella — who in her nine-year stint at Aka­mai has over­seen the evo­lu­tion of ben­e­fits from 1,500 em­ploy­ees in 13 coun­tries to its cur­rent size of 7,250 em­ploy­ees in 29 coun­tries — this year’s 2017 Ben­e­fits Pro­fes­sional of the Year ti­tle.

At­tract­ing women in the in­dus­try

His­tor­i­cally, the tech in­dus­try hasn’t been syn­ony­mous with fe­male em­ploy­ees. Aka­mai shares the same sit­u­a­tion: Men make up 78% of the com­pany’s work­force, Sardella says, and diver­sity and in­clu­sion has been a strug­gle. Bal­anc­ing child­care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with work pri­or­i­ties has of­ten been iden­ti­fied as a ma­jor cause of the gen­der im­bal­ance in tech.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics, 90% of peo­ple have missed work due to fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, for what the North­east Busi­ness Group on Health es­ti­mates to be an av­er­age of six missed days a year.

“There has been this glar­ing chal­lenge in front of us in terms of diver­sity, and we wanted to ad­dress this a lit­tle more in­ten­tion­ally,” Sardella says. “Gen­der was a nat­u­ral place to start look­ing at. From a ben­e­fits stand­point, you don’t want to say care­giv­ing is a women’s thing, but in prac­ti­cal­ity, child­care ben­e­fits, flex­i­bil­ity, paid fam­ily leave … some of that can be at­trac­tive to care­givers, who are more tra­di­tion­ally women.”

Sardella found the so­lu­tion in a num­ber of ben­e­fits: A tele­work pro­gram called Aka­mai Any­where that al­lows work­ers to do their jobs en­tirely off-site; up to $5,000 to help with ex­penses per adop­tion (fam­i­lies are able to use twice); a $500 voucher to­ward hir­ing an au pair; and a suite of fam­ily care ben­e­fits through provider Care.com.

Through the Care@Work pro­gram, all U.S.-based Aka­mai em­ploy­ees get un­lim­ited pre­mium mem­ber- ship to Care.com — which pro­vides re­sources to help em­ploy­ees find on­go­ing care for their kids, par­ents, pets or home and ac­cess to se­nior care plan­ning ser­vices to help them eval­u­ate se­nior care op­tions for el­der par­ents or other rel­a­tives. Ser­vices also in­clude sub­si­dized backup care — 15 days per year per em­ployee (in-home by nanny and at des­ig­nated child­care cen­ters) and a 10% dis­count on child­care at in-net­work cen­ters.

By of­fer­ing ben­e­fits that help sup­port them, Aka­mai hopes to not only re­tain and en­gage tal­ented em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing women, but also to at­tract fu­ture work­ers.

“A com­pet­i­tive ben­e­fits pack­age is es­sen­tial in at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing ta­lent, es­pe­cially in the high-tech field, where ta­lent is scarce,” she says. “Some ben­e­fits are ta­ble stakes at this point — things like in­sur­ance and a re­tire­ment plan. It’s the pro­grams that go be­yond the foun­da­tional ben­e­fits that typ­i­cally serve to dif­fer­en­ti­ate one com­pany from another. Those are also the things that em­ploy­ees tend to talk about the most.”

In May, Aka­mai rolled out its most re­cent ben­e­fit, a gen­er­ous paid fam­ily leave pol­icy aimed not just at new par­ents, but any­one need­ing to care for a fam­ily mem­ber. Em­ploy­ees with at least three months of ser­vice are el­i­gi­ble for up to 10 weeks off for ma­ter­nity leave, pa­ter­nity leave, adop­tion leave or leave to care for an ill fam­ily mem­ber. Birth moth­ers also get eight weeks through the com­pany’s short­term dis­abil­ity in­sur­ance; all told, 18 weeks. At the same time, the com­pany ex­panded its paid mil­i­tary leave from two weeks of paid leave for em­ploy­ees tak­ing part in mil­i­tary du­ties to up to six months of paid leave.

“We took a long time to de­cide what to do with that [leave pol­icy] and get the data on what’s hap­pen­ing there,” Sardella ex­plains. “There are com­pa­nies do­ing dif­fer­ent and very gen­er­ous things, but we wanted to do what was right for our com­pany.”

Aka­mai is right on trend — even ahead of the curve — with paid parental leave. It’s one of the hottest ben­e­fit trends, in­dus­try in­sid­ers say, though it’s still not as widely adopted as ex­pected.

Only about 13% of pri­vate-sec­tor em­ploy­ees have ac­cess to paid fam­ily leave, gov­ern­ment num­bers es­ti­mate. Still, with the U.S be­ing the only in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tion not to man­date paid leave for moth­ers of new­borns, smart em­ploy­ers are try­ing to fill the gap.

The re­search speaks for it­self as far as the ben­e­fits of em­ployer-pro­vided leave poli­cies: A Deloitte sur­vey found that 77% of work­ers say that paid fam­ily leave could sway their choice of em­ployer. An EY sur­vey found that more than 70% of em­ploy­ers of­fer­ing im­proved leave poli­cies re­ported an in­crease in pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Sardella says feed­back among em­ploy­ees, so far, has been es­pe­cially pos­i­tive.

“An em­ployee ap­proached [our chief HR per­son] re­cently and was so thank­ful be­cause we changed our fam­ily paid leave pro­gram, and he and his wife just had a baby,” she says. “[When he was on leave], his man­ager called him and said, ‘Guess what, you are get­ting six ad­di­tional weeks on top of the four you al­ready are get­ting.’ And the guy said it changed every­thing — his wife had a dif­fi­cult de­liv­ery, and he was able to be there for his fam­ily.

“To hear those sto­ries, it means so much,” she says. “Ad­min­is­ter­ing ben­e­fits has its own chal­lenges, and do­ing it well is its own feat, but be­ing able to look at your com­pany and fig­ure out what they need and get cre­ative about how to ad­dress that, and stay com­pet­i­tive and stay cost-ef­fec­tive — that’s the fun stuff.”

It’s not only fun, but in­stru­men­tal in ad­ding value for work­ers.

In the firm’s lat­est en­gage­ment sur­vey, 83% of Aka­mai’s U.S. em­ploy­ees and 78% of global em­ploy­ees re­ported sat­is­fac­tion with ben­e­fits. U.S. num­bers are up 5% from 2012; global num­bers up 6% from 2010.

“That’s above bench­mark and that’s around the world,” Sardella says. Com­par­a­tively, in a 2016 sur­vey of 600 U.S. em­ploy­ees across mul­ti­ple in­dus­tries by the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment, 68% of em­ploy­ees re­ported sat­is­fac­tion, while just 57% re­ported sat­is­fac­tion with fam­ily-friendly ben­e­fits.

“Does that mean our pro­grams are bet­ter than ev­ery other com­pany out there? No, they’re not,” she con­tin­ues. “But [those num­bers] tell me we have the right pack­ages, and em­ploy­ees are un­der­stand­ing what we’ve got and they’re valu­ing it.”

Valu­ing in­deed. Lifted in part by its gen­er­ous ben­e­fits — which Sardella says have dra­mat­i­cally changed the work­place cul­ture — Aka­mai con­sis­tently ranks among the Best Places to Work by a variety of out­lets, from Forbes to Com­put­erWorld.

Even on Glass­door — the web­site where em­ploy­ees and for­mer em­ploy­ees anony­mously re­view com­pa­nies and their man­age­ment — Aka­mai’s page reads like a com­pany ad­ver­tise­ment. On ma­ter­nity and pa­ter­nity leave: “The best I’ve seen.” Un­lim­ited time off: “The best thing.” Health in­sur­ance: “Amaz­ing! Great deal.”

“They are com­pet­i­tive with all of the big tech com­pa­nies, so their ben­e­fits pack­age is awe­some,” one Cam­bridge em­ployee wrote last month. The com­pany’s over­all score on Glass­door is 4.4 out of 5.

Still, it’s “not about mak­ing head­lines,” Sardella says. “It’s never been about that. It’s about do­ing the right

things so that em­ploy­ees come to work and think, ‘I ap­pre­ci­ate this be­cause I value it and un­der­stand it and it’s mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in my life.’”

Chang­ing the cul­ture

Right now, Sardella is work­ing on tak­ing the ben­e­fits frame­work avail­able to U.S. em­ploy­ees — both fam­ily-friendly ben­e­fits and wellness, a pas­sion project of hers — and ex­pand­ing it to its other coun­tries. “Be­cause it has changed the com­pany and the cul­ture, now em­ploy­ees are ask­ing for it; they’re crav­ing it, which is the per­fect sit­u­a­tion be­cause now we can de­liver what they want in­stead of say­ing, ‘Here, you need this.’ So there’s a de­mand we’ve cre­ated. And now we’ll be able to de­liver on it.”

Aka­mai’s wellness pro­gram pairs very well with its fo­cus on work-life bal­ance, Sardella says, es­pe­cial- ly when it comes to shift­ing com­pany cul­ture. The pro­gram, which launched in 2014, in­cludes every­thing from fit­ness chal­lenges and wear­ables to fi­nan­cial well­be­ing (free one-onone fi­nan­cial coach­ing and fi­nan­cial ed­u­ca­tion classes), and free on­site med­i­ta­tion and yoga classes.

Since its wellness pro­gram be­gan, the num­ber of em­ploy­ees who say Aka­mai cares about their health shot up 37% (from 46% in 2014 to 83% in 2016), while, in the same time frame, those who said Aka­mai en­cour­ages them “to lead a healthy life­style” in­creased from 29% to 72%. Ad­di­tion­ally, 73% of em­ploy­ees say Aka­mai Wellness has had a pos­i­tive im­pact on com­pany cul­ture.

Sardella says that’s partly due to the cre­ative and fun na­ture of cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties — events like its re­cent zom- bie-themed run, for ex­am­ple.

“Things like wellness and care­giv­ing ben­e­fits … that’s where we can get cre­ative,” Sardella says. “Some of th­ese things we have to do to be com­pet­i­tive in this space, and some of this we did be­cause we want to make sure we are cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that is fun and en­gag­ing and is sup­port­ive of peo­ple’s per­sonal sit­u­a­tions — mak­ing it easy to show up at work and do their best.”

Get­ting cre­ative with mes­sag­ing is also a big pri­or­ity for Sardella. The nearly 20-year ben­e­fits vet­eran says she strug­gles with a nearly uni­ver­sal prob­lem for ben­e­fits man­agers: Get­ting the mes­sage through to em­ploy­ees.

“At the end of the day, if you keep ad­ding stuff, it’s just more stuff that peo­ple don’t un­der­stand,” she says. “It’s re­ally about re­peated mes­sages over and over, and hit­ting them in dif­fer­ent ways.”

That’s why Sardella launched and re­lies on monthly “Ben­e­fits Blasts,” emails that high­light a ben­e­fits of­fer­ing and ex­plain why it’s im­por­tant and how em­ploy­ees can use it.

What­ever the project, Sardella says, putting em­ploy­ees first and mak­ing a real ef­fort to make their lives bet­ter is what be­ing a ben­e­fits man­ager is all about.

“Can we do cer­tain things bet­ter? Of course,” she says. “But from a trend stand­point, our sat­is­fac­tion rat­ings have gone up. When I look at what I’ve done at Aka­mai, I’m re­ally proud of it, be­cause I can see in that met­ric alone that peo­ple are hap­pier than they were be­fore. And be­ing in the cen­ter of that has been re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

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