As a recruiter at heart, I like to keep a pulse on benefits trends to better understand how companies attract and retain great talent. While in-office ping pong tables, beer on tap, and unlimited access to cereal bars definitely had their moments, I’ve worked in the tech industry long enough to recognize that flashy benefits like these eventually lose their luster. And in the wake of a global cultural shift to remote work, many such perks have been rendered obsolete.
So how do you create a human-driven work environment in what has become a largely digital space? Which benefits truly make a difference? And how can companies bolster their retention rates while being more responsive to the evolving needs of their employees?
At HUMAN, questions like these are always at the forefront of our minds—but the importance of answering them honestly became even more critical during the pandemic. Although we had an advantage as a remote-friendly workplace from the start, there was still much to learn about what our employees needed in the face of the unpredictable challenges presented by COVID-19. We decided early on to use that time to connect with our people to uncover those answers. And we did it the way we know best.
Starting with data
The importance of collecting and analyzing information is an undercurrent of our organization. That doesn’t stop at our work—it should be embedded in our culture, allowing us to make employee-led decisions that reflect what’s important to our people.
So we sent out a survey, hoping we’d get at least a few insightful responses. Turns out, people were itching to talk about how they were feeling: More than 75 percent of our employees responded! They talked about how challenging it had been to work from home without the right equipment and the struggle of juggling schedules with their partners and children. Many shared that maintaining any sort of work-life balance felt nearly impossible when the physical boundaries between the two had disappeared. Everyone was experiencing burnout, and everyone needed support. But each of our Humans were also facing unique challenges that required flexible solutions.
This first survey launched an entirely new approach to employee wellness at HUMAN. Since then, we’ve run larger and more in-depth surveys to dig deeper into how we can keep our employees happy. When we started implementing new policies, we opened up monthly company-wide surveys so we could track our progress in real-time and adapt as necessary. And we launched an employee focus group—Honestly Human—made up of volunteers from across the organization who provide insight and feedback on new initiatives before they launch.
But if there’s one thing we know about data, it’s that it’s no good if you don’t do something with it—so here are five key things we heard and how we responded.
1. A comfortable environment is crucial to health and productivity
As a remote-friendly company, we know that working from home can bring unexpected challenges—and your physical workspace shouldn’t be one of them. In early 2021, we implemented a work-from-home (WFH) stipend through which every employee gets an initial $1,000 to set up their workspace, plus $500 annually to keep it updated.
We keep the WFH stipend intentionally flexible to be inclusive of all employees’ needs and empower them to spend it where it will make the biggest impact for them. As an avid fan of “walk and talk” meetings, I used my stipend to buy a treadmill desk—the perfect substitute for a stroll on hallmark rainy days in the UK. Extra monitors and standing desks have also been popular, and one team member even purchased a fish tank to bring a sense of calm to their office space.
- Everyone deserves mental, emotional, physical, and financial well-being
This is a no-brainer: No one should sacrifice their health or happiness for their job. At HUMAN, every employee now receives an annual $1,000 well-being stipend that they can use as they see fit. We know how important it is to take a holistic approach to wellness, so we give employees the freedom to cover anything that will make a difference for them personally.
Many employees put it toward fitness goals (gym memberships, personal trainers, desk treadmills); others opt to invest in mental health and wellness with massages or counseling; and some use it to help with the day-to-day by putting it toward child and pet care or even financial planning. Everyone’s wellness journey looks a little different, and how you choose to use the stipend should reflect that.
- Time for self-care and personal development is a key requirement for healthy Humans
Burnout is a serious problem for the tech industry. Currently, the tech sector has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry, and the median tenure can be as little as one year.
We’re working to break that trend. We believe that a sustainable level of excellence requires periods of pause. Employees need time to step away and focus on their development and growth, whether that means focusing on personal pursuits or honing new professional skills.
To encourage this, we offer a two-week paid sabbatical to every employee after two years at HUMAN. From there, employees will continue to earn one week of paid sabbatical every year for a maximum of four weeks—reached at four years.
This approach is way too rare in the tech industry. Most companies that offer sabbatical require employees to work well past two years before they’re eligible for the program—and many don’t offer sabbatical at all. But at HUMAN, we’ve seen the impact a good sabbatical program can have, especially for cybersecurity companies. Our employees work so hard for something bigger than themselves. We want them to have time to invest in their own lives, too.
What our Humans do with their sabbatical is completely up to them—one team member recently traveled around South America to explore new cultures; I took leave to move into and decorate my new home—but we encourage everyone to step away and spend some time focusing on experiences without worrying about work. We’ll be waiting to welcome you back and celebrate what you’ve done. Just don’t forget to take pictures!
- Real work-life balance is meaningful and intentional
Sometimes, making positive change means learning as you go. As an example, to help improve work-life balance during the pandemic, we began offering bonus days off throughout the year. While these were helpful, they weren’t helping our Humans connect to the things that fulfilled them outside of work.
So, we changed our approach and started HUMAN Days: designated days throughout the year designed to enhance the development and well-being of our Humans. We created a framework for HUMAN Days, which we named R2-D2 (yes, like the Star Wars droid—a favorite in the HUMAN community). It’s centered on four fundamental HUMAN values: rest, develop, rejuvenate, and devote.
Rest days allow our employees time to focus on personal well-being. Development days provide an opportunity to learn a new skill or dive deeper into an existing one. On Rejuvenation days, we encourage our Humans to connect with friends and family. And Devote days are a chance for people to give back through service and philanthropy.
Offering these days in addition to our unlimited PTO has improved work-life balance for our Humans—and it’s been especially impactful for our employees who work from home. Whether they’re volunteering at a community garden or tutoring kids in their neighborhood, giving back has helped our employees build a deeper connection with their communities (and our Slack channels are buzzing with chatter and photos about the various ways employees use the time).
- Creativity requires collaboration
We work hard to make collaboration across time zones enjoyable and productive, but sometimes there’s nothing like getting to work together in person.
To help, we opened four main offices—we call them Hacker Hubs—that are always available to our Humans. Located in London; New York City; Vienna, Virginia; and Victoria, BC, our Hacker Hubs give us a physical space to meet, get creative, and share ideas. Every single day, our Humans can get together and generate new ideas in these collaborative spaces. When circumstances allow, the offices also double as gathering places for our traveling international teams.
Benefits by humans, for Humans
In just one year since we’ve implemented these programs, we’ve seen them make a dramatic difference in the lives of our employees. And we’re just getting started. We’re always looking for new ways to help our Humans succeed, be heard, and feel empowered in all aspects of their lives.
CTA: Learn more about the HUMAN experience.