New Rules of Engagement: Go Beyond Basic Benefits

Family with their dog
Family with their dog

Healthcare, a 401(k), and PTO, once the cornerstones of a great benefits plan, are now merely table stakes. Today’s HR leaders are tasked not only with attracting top talent, but finding ways to keep that talent engaged so that they drive the business forward now and into the future.

Hear from HR leaders at Cone Health and Alston & Bird who discuss the diverse benefits programs and policies that make them stand out. 

  • Implementation of benefits like comprehensive family care and education assistance, which serve employees both in and out of work
  • The support systems in place to decrease employee stress, reduce burnout, and boost productivity 
  • Equity & advancement opportunities that keep employees engaged, motivated, and working towards better business outcomes 

Ready to evaluate new benefit program options? The Guide to Building a Child Care Center or the Family Education and Care Benefits Guide can help.



Read the full transcript

This presentation is part of the SHRM webcast series. SHRM thanks Bright Horizons for sponsoring this program and our series of free webcasts for the HR community. Leading our panel today is Elizabeth Myers, Ph.D., Senior Director of Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons Workforce Consulting. Dr. Myers, floor is yours.

Elizabeth Myers:
Thank you, and welcome everyone. I'm excited to be here today. As Mike mentioned, I am senior director of thought leadership for Bright Horizons Workforce Consulting team, where I work with clients and prospective clients on research to understand their employees' needs, as well as conducting original research within the human resources space. And we all know that employee expectations have evolved rapidly over the past several years, and they're gonna continue to do so, especially as younger generations enter the workforce and move up into leadership roles. And even though the job market has cooled some, government and private labor data both indicate that the market remains favorable for workers. Combined with current and anticipated labor shortages, this means it's more important than ever for employers to stand out as they look to attract, support, and retain employees.

Benefits are core to the total rewards package. At one time, a great medical and retirement savings plan could make you an employer of choice. But with these elevated employee expectations, those are just the baseline, and companies are finding they must offer added-value benefits to compete in today's job market. To speak on the topic of added-value benefits today, I am very happy to be joined by two companies who are doing just that. One industry that has accelerated its efforts on all fronts is healthcare. Today, Ellen Pancoast, Vice President of People Operations for Cone Health in North Carolina, joins us. Cone Health is a certified great place to work, as well as a Forbes 2023 Best Employer for Diversity, and Forbes Best in State Employer. I'm also pleased to have Hillary Johnson with us, who oversees benefits for the law firm Alston & Bird. Alston & Bird has been honored by Fortune Magazine's annual survey of America's 100 best companies to work for for 24 years in a row. In 2023, the firm placed within the top 50 companies. Congratulations to you both on these accolades, and all that you have done to create such winning workplaces. So, to get the conversation started, Ellen, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ellen Pancoast:
Sure. Thanks, Elizabeth. As you shared, I'm Ellen Pancoast, Vice President of People Operations for Cone Health. We are a large, independent, not-for-profit health system, based in central North Carolina. My areas of responsibility include our employee occupational health clinic, compensation, benefits, employee well-being, employee relations, and shared services. And I've been here for about 11 years, and in HR for over 25. And I really hope to be with Cone for many more because of much of what you've just described. And I'm really excited to be here with all of you today.

Thank you. And, Hillary, could you introduce yourself?

Hillary Johnson:
Hey, everyone. I'm Hillary Johnson. I am the benefits manager at Alston & Bird. We are an international law firm, and we offer benefits to about 1,600 folks. I have been with Alston & Bird for eight years. I was sharing with Elizabeth and Ellen earlier that I was with the firm for five, left for three, and boomeranged back because of this great culture that we've built. I sit in the Atlanta office, oversee benefit programs, so, that's health and welfare, and then also work life and well-being. I also have a 2-year-old son that is at our on-site child care center. So, I am a client of Bright Horizons in many ways. Excited to be here.

Thank you both. Benefits and how they fit into broader total rewards and company culture are a hot topic for business leaders and HR professionals. However, a recent report found that 33% of organizations feel they have clearly differentiated their total rewards from the competitors, and only 28% feel they have a dynamic total rewards portfolio that meets employee needs, and addresses changing business conditions. To start us off, Ellen, can you share some of what you're doing at Cone Health to differentiate your benefits package?

Absolutely. So, for us, our culture really is our competitive advantage. Our brand promise is that we are right here with you. How we approach benefits is one important way that we demonstrate how we live our brand promise to our employees. We have five generations of employees in the workplace, and with the now introduction of virtual work, we're in 18 states. The workplace has never been so complex. But we really do believe that it's important for our team members to know that we're right here with them at every stage of life and wherever they are. Geographically, we face competition at every turn.

And while the healthcare labor shortages have been top headlines since the pandemic, there have been shortages, especially in nursing, for as long as I can remember, and there's really no end in sight.

We have over 13,000 employees across 150 locations, and that means we really do need scalable benefits and programs that support a diverse group of employees, the vast majority who are deskless employees. They're front-facing with the patients all day. And at the same time, 81% of our employees are female, and are likely caregivers of some sort outside of work. We focus on what benefits and programs we can offer that will help them be their best at work and outside of work. Our philosophy is to offer a total rewards program that supports the overall well-being, physical, mental, financial, social, and spiritual of our team members and their families. We really take a holistic approach to well-being. How we support the total well-being of employees can have a positive or negative impact on everything from patient care and patient satisfaction to cost of recruiting and retaining employees, the use of contractors, cost of healthcare for employees, and so much more.

Thank you. And, Hillary, what about Alston & Bird?

Yeah. So, it's interesting. You know, similar to Ellen, even though she's in healthcare and we're in the legal industry, we kind of have the same philosophy. So, at Alston & Bird, our philosophy has always been if we take care of our people, they will take care of our business. We recognize that attorneys and legal professional staff have very demanding jobs. We live by the billable hour. So, if we can make our attorneys and our legal professional staff's personal lives easier, right, then they can focus on our clients, and they're able to work for the firm, excuse me. So, no matter what stage of life an employee may be in, whether they are just starting their career, they're caregivers for children, or pets, or adults, or they're going through something personally, we wanna be able to support them and help make their lives a little bit easier, so that when they're at work, they don't have to worry about who's taking care of their child, or whether or not their dog was able to go on a walk today, or even who's gonna help take care of their parent when they have surgery, that kind of thing. So, it's really all about, if we can take care of our people, they'll take care of our business. And also they'll stay with the firm, for a long time. We have long tenure here at the firm, and a lot of boomerangs that might leave and come back like I did. So, that's really our benefits philosophy.

Great. And, Ellen, you brought up many generations that are in your workforce. And Hillary, you mentioned the importance of supporting employees at every stage of life. A lot of complexity. Workplace dynamics are gonna continue to change rapidly, as Gen Z's enter the workforce. Millennials dominate it. Ten thousand baby boomers are reaching retirement age every day, and Gen Xers are coming behind them. So, a recent Harvard Business School study revealed that caregiver is actually the fastest-growing employee demographic in today's workforce, with 73% of all employees having some type of current caregiving responsibility. We also know that many employees, especially Gen X and millennials, are in the sandwich generation, caring for both children and aging relatives.

With this in mind, let's turn to the audience, and do a quick poll to see more about what you're hearing from your employees. So, we're wondering what kind of caregiver support do your employees say that they need? And you can select more than one. All right. And we have some results. A lot of people need support with their younger children, their infants and toddlers, as well as preschool, school-aged children, a little bit less so for high school and college. And then, as we were talking about, the sandwich generation, you know, aging parents and spouses, and then a lot of people got their pandemic pups and pets, so we need support for them as well. So, that's great to see. So, back to our guests. I know that both of you have robust programs in place to support all employees, especially your caregivers. Hillary, you mentioned being a parent using your childcare center yourself. Can you start us off and tell us more about how Alston & Bird is creating a culture of flexibility for caregivers?

Yes, definitely. So, we try to offer caregiving benefits for folks no matter what stage of life they're in. So, I'll start with, in Atlanta, we have our on-site child care center. It is available, or it's open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. So, not only just for those core business hours, but we recognize some folks might want to come into the office earlier, and then get their child and leave earlier to miss some of that Atlanta traffic, or maybe they have an older kid they need to get on the school bus, so they come a little bit later and then they leave a little bit later. Also, attorneys have really long work days, so the extended childcare schedule is really important for us.

I mentioned earlier that we try to take some of the personal tasks off of our attorneys and professional staff's plates, so that they can really focus on their clients when they're at work. And a way that the children's campus helps with that is by having services like the on-site chef, that prepares breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks for all kids that attend the center. So, parents don't have to spend time in the evenings or in the mornings packing lunch, trying to figure out what they're gonna take, that kind of thing. Another thing that we do is we payroll deduct tuition for the campus, so folks don't have to remember whether or not they paid that bill. Just a couple things that we can take off their plate.

In addition to the child care center in Atlanta, you know, we have offices all over the country, and in the UK. So, we do offer the in-home backup care for children, and center-based backup care. So, folks can use the backup care program for Bright Horizons Centers and Bright Horizons Networks across the nation.

In addition to that, we have the Return to Work program. So, if someone has a child, within the first year of that child's life, they get additional backup care days to use, and they can use those when they're trying to plan what their longer-term child care arrangements are gonna be. Or if they just need a little bit more time at home with their kid when they're working from home in this new hybrid environment. But they have someone dedicated there to watch their child.

We also do offer the Adult Elder Care program as well, through Bright Horizons. So, this includes not only backup care, but also planning for your aging loved ones, what their caregiving situation is going to be. Outside of kind of the caregiving benefit, we offer a program called Transitions, and it's offered to employees that might be approaching Medicare age, but also family members of employees that are approaching Medicare age.

So, this is another one that... Both of these benefits I was able to use for my mom. So, she had some health issues, and during the pandemic, she needed someone to come into her home, help her with some light housework, meal preparation, that kind of thing. So, we used backup care for that. And then she was also turning 65. So, she was able to use... You know, she's calling me, because I'm a benefits manager, saying, "What do I do about Medicare?" which I don't really know. I can tell you the basics. So, I was able to put her in touch with the Transitions program, and they helped her plan and actually apply and enroll in Medicare, which is great. A huge benefit for our employees.

Now, we also offer support group meetings for caregivers. So, we have a support group meeting for parents, and then also a separate one for folks that are caregivers for their aging loved ones as well, which I think is really important too. So, it's not just the care that needs to be found, but also maybe working through how that can be challenging for folks. And then, Elizabeth, you mentioned pandemic pups. So, we're always trying to grow and evolve, as our workforce grows and evolve. So, I'm gonna turn it over to a video from our chief HR officer, Michael Stephens, to talk about a new benefit that we rolled out last year.


Michael Stephens:
Families are changing. Families look different. We heard many employees say, "I don't have children, and my parents are not elderly just yet, and they don't have any needs for that kind of stuff, but man, I worry more about my dog than anything in the world."

Brennan Fulton:
It just lets me know that they're thinking of us holistically, that we're not all the same. We all have different needs, and that they're really tapped into trying to have something that works for everyone.





That's great. Thank you for sharing. You're creating a corporate culture that is certainly enviable. Ellen, healthcare has been under tremendous pressure for the past few years. What are some of the ways that Cone is caring for its caregivers?

Thank you. That is so true. The pressure has been significant stemming from the pandemic. And so let's start by taking a look at working parents who are also caregivers. We actually have three on-site childcare centers to support those working parents. And while Bright Horizons has been our childcare partner for about a decade, we've been in the childcare business for about 30 years or so, from when we ran the centers ourselves prior to partnering with Bright Horizons. Supporting working parents and their children has really been a part of our employee brand promise for as long as I can remember. And our centers operate for hours that work for healthcare workers and for each center location.

So, for example, two of our centers have extended hours from 6:00 to 6:00 each day. But one, where the need is different, it actually runs from 6:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening each day. We also have a Back-up Care program that supports families. We offer up to 10 days of coverage per year, and that's used to fill in for coverage gaps for children, or aging parents, or spouses. And we recently, much like Hillary described, have added in the pet care coverage. It's new for us, but it is really popular with our employees. Within just a few weeks of rolling it out, we had already had 60 uses of it. So, we're very excited to be able to bring that in.

Caring really is the core of our organizational values. They're caring for our patients, caring for our communities, and caring for each other. And these programs really help show how we live our values, how we care for our employees and their families. They show that we have, we all, as employees of Cone Health, have an important life outside of our healthcare facilities. Sometimes the value of these programs can be intangible, but based on feedback that we receive, we know they help us recruit and retain top talent and support our employees. We see the results of this in our engagement scores and feedback, and in so many more ways.

That's so great. So happy to hear that the supports are helping to attract and retain your employees. And I wanna call out that caregiver support is a great way to attract and retrain both moms and dads, which we found, in our recent Modern Family Index Survey, both moms and dads told us that they wish their employer would do more to support their childcare needs. And to further highlight the importance of family supports, I'd like to share this quote from the CHRO of Clemson University, who said that family supports are now the expectation of working parents, and they not only help to attract and retain top talent, but also help to foster a sense of belonging in an organization, as you can see in the quote. And of course, as we've been discussing, family supports are not just for children. When we look at today's sandwich generation, as we mentioned, that's a person caring for their children and an aging parent or relative, that group actually represents more than half of Americans in their 40s.

In our recent report on millennials and Gen Zs, we found that even if these individuals are not yet technically sandwiched, they are already starting to worry about their parents' physical, mental, and financial well-being. So, with this in mind, a backup care program can be a good place to start with caregiving benefits, as it can support a wide range of caregivers. And Bright Horizons Back-up Care actually saved employers more than 1.2 million workdays in 2022. And more employers are recognizing the needs of those with aging and ailing parents and spouses. The Back-up Care numbers include an increase of 250,000 employees covered by elder care support, a 6% increase for supporting elder care needs.

And, of course, mental health and well-being have also risen to the top of HR agendas over the past few years. In fact, one study showed that 62% of missed workdays can be attributed to mental health conditions. Healthcare might be one of the most impacted industries out there when employees call out of a shift. So many people are impacted by those absences. Ellen, what are some of the other programs that you have introduced at Cone Health to help promote mental well-being?

Yeah. Employee well-being is a top priority for healthcare organizations, as you've touched on, especially given the toll that pandemic had on our staff. And from a mental health perspective, it really does rise to the top of our priority and focus list. We, like so many organizations, have an employee assistance program. Ours is a little bit different in that we don't outsource the function. We actually employ our staff that handle all of the employee assistance program functions internally within our organization. And in addition to that, we've recently introduced tools for employees to access mental well-being support in new ways. The vast majority of our employees are needed on the floor, to care for patients. We talked about them being deskless. So, they're caring for those patients either directly or indirectly, and that means they can't always do face-to-face mental health counseling.

And there's also, you know, we have to keep in mind that that is not something everybody is interested in or comfortable doing. So, by providing other, different ways for employees to access mental health support, we really feel that we are trying to support them, and meet them where they are on their journey. These tools that we've implemented are asynchronous, which means people can access them when it's convenient for them. And access is virtual, through an app or online. Counselors and our employees can text or email one another. But it also does offer virtual live sessions when the employees are interested in pursuing that. So, between our EACP program, as well as this asynchronous tool, we feel like we have put some really good options in place.

Another way we meet employees where they are in their well-being journey, and support our employees, is we have recently implemented something we're excited about, and it's called a care concierge partner. And they really are focused on helping taking tasks off employees' plates. Again, since our employees need to be on the floor, and we are a 24/7 operation, they don't always have the time during the day to do things. An example might be if someone is in a situation where they need to identify a skilled facility for an aging parent. They don't know where to start, or have the time to really dedicate to focusing on that. This group of folks will help them maneuver through and navigate that really challenging situation. This incredible benefit provides a support team who will do the legwork for our employees. And, honestly, the variety of support options is extensive. They really approach it from a, "Hmm, we don't do that now, but we're gonna figure out a way to do it." So, it's a really great way to support our employees' needs.

That sounds fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. And then, Hillary, there tends to be a high job satisfaction within the legal field. A recent American Bar Association study found that female lawyers feel more stressed than their male counterparts, however, with 46% of female lawyers saying that they feel stressed all or most of the time, compared to just 28% of male lawyers. With that in mind, what are some of the ways that Alston & Bird is helping to manage stress and burnout?

Yeah. So, similar to Ellen, in the last few years, our big focus in the benefit space has been mental health care, you know, getting folks access, breaking down barriers. For many years, we have offered an employee and attorney assistance program, kind of the typical program, eight free sessions for you and anyone in your household. But a few years ago, we combined that with a program where we've rolled out on-site mental health consultants. And so, this new program, we call it Guide and Thrive. The guide care concierge piece is the employee assistance program piece, and then work-life referral benefits. So, similar to what Ellen mentioned, folks can call in and they can ask any kind of question, any kind of research question they need. The guide care concierge takes it away, does the research, sends them back what it is that they're looking for. And in that part of the program is also the EAP.

The second part that we're really excited about is the Thrive consulting program. So, over the last year and a half, we've rolled on-site Thrive consultants in each office. This is a dedicated consultant that's available for our attorneys and legal professional staff, to walk down the hall and talk with at their convenience. They're on-site a couple days a month, and as utilization increases, you know, we have the option to increase those days. But the idea is that these folks will really become a part of the firm and a part of the culture. We went through a hiring process with the vendor that's helping us with this and, you know, did a deep dive into not only the firm's culture overall, but in each city that we have offices in, we have microcultures. You know, while Alston & Bird has a great overall culture, the Atlanta office might have a different culture than the San Francisco office, on a micro level.

So, we really were intentional in working with firm leadership in selecting consultants for each office that will be the best fit. And we've seen great utilization. People can go visit the Thrive consultants in person, in the office, or they can do it virtually or telephonically. To Ellen's point, not a lot of people might be comfortable with going in person or being identified as someone that's visiting a Thrive consultant. We're hoping to reduce the stigma by having this person just be a part of the firm culture. They're at committee meetings. The attorneys have women's initiative meetings. You mentioned, you know, female lawyers experiencing stress and burnout at higher rates than male lawyers. So, we do have committee meetings and affinity groups that the Thrive consultants go to. And they are building relationships with leadership in the office, so that we can break down the barrier of stigma. It also breaks down the financial barrier, because there's no cost to go see the Thrive consultants on-site.

So, that's a program that we're really excited about. We've had high utilization in those one-on-one sessions, but they also do group sessions. So, they go to group meetings, but then they'll also do what we call Thrive Chats. And some of the examples on programming that they've given is, we did a program on stress and burnout leading into Q4 last year. You know, the last quarter of the year is the most stressful one around here. We did a program for new lawyers on protecting your mental health in big law, and strategies on how to do that. Every Monday, we have what we call A & B Mindful Mondays. This is a 20-minute meditation session, that's firm-wide, over Zoom. And an associate from our Atlanta office actually leads it. He's a practicing attorney, but he's also a certified yoga and meditation instructor. So, you know, we're really trying to encourage people to take care of their mental health in that kind of way.

And then, similar to what Ellen talked about, there are other benefits that aren't necessarily labeled as mental health benefits, but they really are. So, we have a concierge program that's an errand-running service. They'll do research, plan parties, plan vacations, things like that, but they'll also take your car to get your oil changed, which is, in my opinion, the best benefit. They'll take your watches to get the batteries replaced. You don't have to spend time trying to figure out those things. During the formula shortage, I used the concierge to go to every location in the Metro Atlanta area and buy the formula that my baby needed. So, that was literally a lifesaver.

And then another thing that we're doing, we're rolling out in 2024 is expanding upon our telemedicine benefits. So, for many years, through our healthcare program, we've offered telemedicine. Pre-pandemic, it was kind of a hard sell. And now, post-pandemic, a lot of people are really comfortable and really want to practice, or see their providers in a virtual setting because you don't have to spend the time going to a doctor's office, being around other sick people, things like that. So, with our telemedicine program, we have always offered acute care. So, for parents specifically, this has been really helpful. If your child has pink eye, or strep throat, or something like that, you can do a virtual visit instead of having to take your child to a doctor's office, that kind of thing. And then also dermatology and behavioral health has been offered for a long time under our telemedicine program.

Next year, we're rolling out primary care. And it's just another way to break down a barrier to healthcare. People will be able to choose a primary care provider that they're comfortable with, that they can have virtual visits with on a regular basis, build a relationship with. It'll be able to save them time, because, again, they don't have to go into an office. And then also money, because it's always going to be cheaper to have a virtual visit than it is to go to a brick-and-mortar type place. And through the primary care benefit, these providers will also be able to refer out to brick-and-mortar labs, specialists, things like that. So, we're really trying to attack mental health from all aspects, because we, similar to Ellen, and I think everyone, in today's world, realize that it is a crisis, and we wanna help people where we can.

I love all of the variety of options that people have, to meet them where they are, where they're comfortable, save them a lot of time. That's so great. Thank you for sharing all those. Another impact on mental well-being that we haven't touched on yet would be financial well-being. Ellen, can you share some of the supports that Cone Health has in place for financial well-being?

I would be happy to do that, but before I do that, I just have to say, Hillary, all of your virtual care commentary was music to my ears in the healthcare industry. So, that was wonderful. So, we all know inflation is real. It's impacted everyone in some way. And our employees here at Cone Health are no different. To help offset costs, we have recently implemented a new discount program. It's a perks and discount platform that offers truly meaningful discounts, just about anything you could think of. On the big scale, it could be mortgages, cars, computers, travels, and then more on the everyday front, it's shopping warehouse clubs, home meal services, glasses, movie tickets, and really so much more. It's a free, mobile-friendly offering to our employees, and they have access to literally thousands of discounts that are curated to meet their needs and interests, and it's updated on a daily basis. Employees can also discover local discounts. We are a community-based healthcare system, and we're committed to supporting our local communities. And this service provides us with the opportunity to include local retailers and vendors in the program as well, with no cost to those retailers and vendors.

In addition to that, we're very proud of our retirement plan. We have a team of on-site financial advisors. We have three that are with us full-time, that support our employees with retirement planning, budgeting, and so much more. They really are considered part of our own HR team, and part of our Cone Health family. You'll often see them on the floor, connecting with employees, and encouraging them to set up one-on-one connection time with them. It really is a very personal program, designed in recognition of how and when our employees work. And another new thing I'd like to mention is we've probably all heard about the loan forgiveness programs that are available out there for employees that have outstanding student loans. We are a qualifying organization, so we've implemented a program that supports employees in navigating the complexities of the loan forgiveness world. They have access to a counselor to work through them, work through all of the paperwork and forms, and figure out what the best option is for them. And that's been received very, very well. We're really excited to be able to support our employees in that way.

That's very exciting. Hillary, what about some of your financial well-being programs?

Yeah. So, similar to at Cone Health, we have economic diversity within our workforce. We have lawyers and we have professional staff. So the way that we support financial well-being of our populations can look a little different. So, on the lawyer side, for newer lawyers, we partner with a company to do student loan consolidation and refinancing. Unfortunately, lawyers aren't eligible for loan forgiveness. So, we help them consolidate, refinance their student loans that they might have. And then, as they grow in their career at the firm, once they reach counsel or partner level, they're able to [inaudible 00:32:21] partner with on their own wealth planning needs. So, that's a way that we try to support them at the beginning of their legal career, and then towards the end.

For the professional staff, so, the next programs are also available to attorneys, but we see them more heavily utilized with professional staff. So, that Guide and Thrive program that I mentioned, the Guide Care Concierge piece, we offer free and then discounted legal advice that can help with estate planning, wills preparation, things like that, when people are trying to kind of get their affairs in order, which we encourage them to do. And then there's also a financial planning benefit. You can be matched with a financial counselor. They can help you with your budgeting, with planning how much you should be contributing to your retirement plan, all of those types of things. And then, of course, in addition to, we do a lot of education sessions on how to take full advantage of your health savings account, because it really is, it can be a financial planning tool, and then a retirement planning tool. And then, investment education sessions for our 401(k) retirement plan, things like that.

And then we also do consider our benefits through Bright Horizons financial well-being benefits, because our on-site child care center, the tuition is discounted for the market area that we're in. The in-home backup care for children and adults is heavily subsidized by the firm. The college coach [inaudible 00:33:47] that we offer, there's no cost for employees, where they might, you know, in the individual marketplace, go out and get some kind of consultants to help their child apply for Ivy League schools. They don't have to pay for that, because they can use the college coach tool. So, you know, this is an area that's obviously very important, and we try, again, to help folks at every stage of life that they're in.

Thank you for sharing that, Hillary. I was thinking, you know, Ellen, you mentioned something about, you know, you touched upon employee recognition. And there's a recent Workhuman and Gallup report that finds that employee recognition programs can amplify well-being. Can you share a little bit more about your employee recognition programs?

I would love to, and this is something I have a lot of passion about, so I will try to keep this concise. We have a program that is called CHeeRS, and it stands for Cone Health Employee Recognition System. Very, very proud of this program, as we have actually won several international awards through Recognition Professionals International. The categories we've won in is their best practice standards for communication, events and celebrations, overall strategy, program change, and flexibility. And again, I really could go on and on. The program really primarily revolves around a sports theme, thus CHeeRS. Think cheerleader. And we rolled it out several years ago at an offsite organizational pep rally. We go all-in with things. This is a user-friendly program. It's designed to encourage recognition and appreciation to and from any level within the organization. From peer-to-peer, giving one another high fives, all the way up to our CEO sending recognition to employees.

There are multiple levels of awards. Some are non-monetary. And others are monetary, depending on what the recognition is for, and the impact it's had on the organization. E-cards are very popular. They can be sent to recognize birthdays, holidays, to thank someone, or just because. Our biggest category is the high five that I mentioned, and it really is exactly that, giving someone a virtual high five for something that they have done, participated in, or helped someone out with. It is a wonderful program that, as you can tell, we're very proud of, and employees at all levels within the organization really value.

That's great. I love hearing from you both of how deeply you understand your staff's needs, and the variability of their needs. It's been so great to hear all of the offerings you have. As a bit of a transition point, we're gonna hear a little bit from another Bright Horizons client, Lars Minns, CHRO of Mercedes-Benz, of why it's exciting time to be in human resources.

Lars Minns:
Well, I can tell you, at present, I think HR is very much a strategic partner of the business. And as I remind my team, we are the only entity within our overall business environment that is intimately in touch with every employee. If you think about it, we're not only responsible for paying the employees, which I always say is right up there with oxygen. We're responsible for their healthcare benefits, their future retirement, in our case, on-site childcare. We are intimately involved with our employees. And again, much more so than any other part of the organization. So, strategic in that respect. We have the pulse on what the future of work will look like, and therefore, that becomes a potential gain or loss for the company, depending on how we shape it.

And so, along the strata of everything that's HR-related, by all means. But I think even more than that, I think HR, because we interact with such a broad spectrum of individuals, we are the one group that can communicate where we're headed, why we're headed there, and certainly, what do we expect the future gain of the organization to be, and we can do that at any level, because we spend time doing it at any level. We can speak at a third-grade level, or even at a much more advanced level. And everyone else is completely consumed with their own objectives, which are great for the company, on scale. But as far as HR is concerned, we have to be deeply in tune with all employees, and helping to drive this business in a direction that can make all of us proud. So, very much big partners. I think it will be interesting in the future where it all goes, now, with some of the talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence and all of those technicalities. But I think at the end of the day, understanding that we touch employees in a way that no one else does or can, I think, is the starting point, and I think will define the future of HR.


Switching gears a little bit, let's talk about education. Education growth is so important to many, especially younger generations and healthcare workers who are advancing their careers. Education Assistant is therefore another critical benefit program. Ellen, can you tell us a little bit about what Cone Health offers?

Sure. So, we have a robust tuition reimbursement program. And it is available to assist financially with education, whether it be a professional certification or up through a doctoral degree. And the certification-level programs are very important. We do a lot of focus on taking individuals that are in more of our entry-level positions and helping them see the potential of a future in an entirely different direction, that, without access to these programs, they may not otherwise realize they have available to them. We offer assistance to full and part-time employees. Part-time employees pursuing an undergraduate degree, as an example, qualify for $1,250 annually, while full-time employees currently qualify for $3,500. Our nursing programs, employees are eligible for $5,250. This really is a critical need for us, so we invest more in that program. And nearly two-thirds of our overall participants in the program are pursuing a nursing degree. So, we're very excited and also proud of that.

Our network through EdAssist is a group of more than 200 education providers. And in addition to the tuition assistance, using one of these programs can actually result in, potentially, a tuition discount or waived application fees for students. Another way we help make advancing education more affordable for our employees. And looking back at 2022, we've retained approximately 88% of our participating learners. More than half of the participants are attending local schools and universities, which, again, is us supporting our community, investing in that community. Sixty-six percent of our 2022 usage was with North Carolina colleges and universities.

We talked a little bit, again, about that loan forgiveness support that we provide our employees, but we also offer other types of student loan support, through programs that help them navigate refinancing their loans perhaps, to create a more affordable situation for them on a monthly budget basis. Our goal, really, is for people to join Cone Health and grow their careers with us. And if it's okay, I think we've got a quick video uploaded to share with the attendees today, that shows exactly how somebody can grow their career with us.


Mona Easter:
With the help of Cone Health, I have grown from bedside nurse to night supervisor, to the point where I'm now the vice president of operations, and chief nursing officer with one of the hospitals in the Cone Health system. I'm Mona. I was born and raised in Rockingham County. In fact, this is the place where I have received care, my neighbors, my family have received care, so I was always planning to work here. I started my career here 42 years ago, as an associate's degree nurse. In the health system, we have a lot of opportunities for growth. People coached me, mentored me along the way. I was promoted, obtained my bachelor's in nursing, and then went further on and obtained my master's in business administration. The sky's the limit here with Cone Health as far as your ability to grow professionally.


Forty-two years at Cone Health. That's amazing. It's terrific to have that video, and to see her career path. And I jotted down, you mentioned earlier, this public service loan forgiveness program. Many people might qualify for that and not even know it. So, that's another area where it's helpful to have coaches, through programs like EdAssist, who can help a student, former student, navigate the ins and outs of student loan repayment. And since student loan repayment is a hot topic recently, let's turn to another quick poll. Does your organization offer student loan repayment as a benefit? And we have 21% "Yes" and 79% "No."

As the class of 2023 is looking for jobs, and not far behind them is class of 2024, a recent study said that over half of next year's college graduates expect to carry student loan debt, and within that group, almost 70% say their debt will influence the jobs that they consider after graduation. So, this is something to keep in mind with student loan repayment programs. Student loan repayment is a benefit that really helps organizations stand out. SHRM's 2023 employer benefits survey found that only 8% of organizations said that they offer some form of student loan benefit to employees, a percentage that hasn't changed for five years. So, as we saw in the poll, this group is a little bit ahead of that 8% curve.

And so, that brings us to what I'm sure some benefits professionals consider the most wonderful time of the year, while others might find it the most stressful, and we're talking about open enrollment season. Let's do one last poll. In considering your benefits for 2024, are you adding benefits, keeping benefits programs but consolidating your vendors, removing benefits that you don't believe your employees value, cutting benefits as a way to save, or not making any changes? And most people are keeping things the same. And then we have about a third of the group who's adding more benefits. Great to see. And it may not come as a surprise to you, but our recent Modern Family Index survey found that there's actually a missed opportunity with benefits.

So, you know, your organizations have all these amazing benefits, and you're adding new ones for 2024, but people report that there's a shortage of clarity on exactly what benefits they have, how the benefits work. We had nearly half of employees say that their company's benefits were never clearly defined or explained to them. So, you know, some opportunity there to get more use of the benefits that you do have with some additional communication.

We also recently found in surveys of our Bright Horizons Back-up Care users that employers learned about their Back-up Care benefit through colleagues, and, you know, stated that they would like to hear more about benefits through email. But word of mouth is very important as well in spreading news about great benefits that are offered. Multiple different forms of communication is critical. Hillary, what are some of the ways that you communicate with your employees about benefits offerings?

Yes. So, this is all of our favorite thing to talk about is, you know, how to get the word out. So, our spiel is always "if you have a need in life, just call our team, no matter how random it might be." We probably have something that can help you and if we don't, we might look into it. But some of the things that we do to get the word out there, right now is town hall season. So, every year, in the fall and the spring, our senior HR leadership, that's our chief HR officer, director of global benefits and payroll, and the firm-wide HR director, they travel in person to each office across the country for a town hall meeting. They host a town hall meeting, go over general updates about the firm, for the fall town hall meeting specifically, going into the last quarter of the year. But then also our director of benefits, he does a presentation on open enrollment. We're in this season right now. He's actually in New York. And we talk about when open enrollment's gonna be, what changes we're making, and then things that you can do to plan for open enrollment. So, the town hall meetings are a great way to get face-to-face time with employees that you don't get to see all the time, and then get the message out there.

Some other things we do, the IT department at the firm built an app that we call A&B2Go. A&B2Go is available on everybody at the firm's mobile device. And it has a wealth of information, from the firm directory to the dining room menu. But our department is lucky enough to have a space on A&B2Go with all of the benefit information that folks need, whether that's open enrollment information, or, throughout the year, if someone is out and about, and they don't have access to the firm's intranet, but they need to figure out what the health insurance provider's phone number is, that's available on A&B2Go, along with our well-being benefits, if they need the Back-up Care number, anything like that. So, A&B2Go is a great tool that we have.

In addition to that, we do announcements in our HRIS system, Workday, and on the firm's intranet. And then we go in person to committee meetings. I try to get a five-minute, we call them benefit highlights, on any meeting agenda that's happening at the firm. I raise my hand and say, "I'll come." And then I just do random highlights of benefits, because you never know... When someone joins the firm, we go through an hour orientation, but maybe they don't need what we're talking about at that time. And so you never know when someone might think, "Oh, college coach. I have an eighth-grader now. Let me call Hillary about that." So, yeah. So, we try to hit everybody where they are, and communicate as many ways as possible, but we still get that "I didn't know about that."

And I realize that we're coming up very quickly on the end of time. No doubt that we've learned today that the benefits landscape has come such a long way, from just medical and dental. To quickly wrap us up, I'm wondering if each of you could share, very briefly, how you measure the ROI of your benefits investment. How do you know that your benefits are a success? Can we start quickly with you, Ellen?

Okay. So, we've mentioned earlier that a lot of the benefits we've talked about today can be a bit intangible in quantifying that. So, it's a bit informal. There are a couple of ways I'll share really quickly. We've talked about competition [inaudible 00:50:40] I'm getting a little bit of feedback again. We really work to design benefits that differentiate us from others, which is key to recruitment and retention strategy for us. We use information gathered during the selection process to identify the impact our benefits offering has had on attracting talent. We also do focus on making sure people understand the benefits each year, through the production of a total rewards statement that is provided to each employee that's benefits-eligible, that really outlines the value of benefits to each individual employee. It's personalized to them. It shows what they contribute, but then also shows what we pay for, to have them understand what their total compensation package is really worth. And we use feedback that we receive from a survey that follows the total rewards statement to help us fine-tune our benefits offering for that next year.

Great. And Hillary, do you have anything to share before we close out?

I was just gonna say, yeah, the ROI for us is cultural. So, if we're doing the right thing for our people, the feedback we get, we're on the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work list for 24 years. Hopefully, that will continue, and we'll keep supporting our folks.

That's great. And we are at time. So, I wanna thank you both so very much for joining me today.


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