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Ep 517: Aligning Benefits To Values

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For many companies, remote and hybrid working has spotlighted compensation and benefits strategies. How do you determine pay levels for the same job across different national and international geographies, and how can you use benefits as a talent magnet when some traditional location-based benefits are no longer as relevant?

My guest this week is Anitra St. Hilaire, VP of People at Threeflow. Anitra has considerable experience in this area and shares some very innovative thinking in our conversation.

In the interview, we discuss:

• What are the most significant talent challenges employers are facing

• Listening to and understanding people’s stories

• Building culture nationally and internationally

• How do you handle compensation strategically across state and country boundaries?

• How can employers use benefits as magnets for talent?

• Aligning benefits with company values

• Understanding the needs of your employee population

• Responsible transparency

• What are the implications of AI for HR?

• What will the future of work look like?

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Paradox (0s):
Support for this podcast is provided by Paradox, the conversational AI company, helping global talent acquisition teams at Unilever, McDonald’s, and CVS Health get recruiting work done faster. Let’s face it, talent acquisition is full of boring administrative tasks that drag the hiring process down and create frustrating experiences for everyone. Paradox’s AI assistant, Olivia, is shaking up that paradigm, automating things like applicant screening, interview scheduling, and candidate Q&A, so recruiters can spend more time with people, not software.

Paradox (40s):
Curious how Olivia can work for your team. Then visit paradox.ai to learn more.

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 517 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. For many companies, remote and hybrid working has put a spotlight on compensation and benefit strategies. How do you determine pay levels for the same job across different national and international geographies? How can you use benefits as a talent magnet when some traditional location-based benefits are no longer as relevant? My guest this week is Anitra St. Hilaire, VP of People at Threeflow. Anitra has considerable experience in this area and shares some very innovative thinking in our conversation.

Matt Alder (1m 47s):
Hi, Anitra, and welcome to the podcast.

Anitra St. Hilaire (1m 49s):
Hello. Thanks so much for having me.

Matt Alder (1m 51s):
It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Anitra St. Hilaire (1m 58s):
Awesome. My name is Anitra St. Hilaire. I am the vice president of People at Threeflow. We’re a benefits placement system, internet technology related to healthcare and insurance. I’ve been doing HR work for many, many years now, but my background’s in finance. That’s where I started out working as an internal auditor for Proctor and Gamble, got my MBA, and then hopped into the world of HR. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Matt Alder (2m 28s):
Fantastic. How’d you find the world of HR compared to the world of finance?

Anitra St. Hilaire (2m 31s):
Oh, very different. When I was working in finance, I think there’s some similarities in terms of data focus, particularly as we’ve moved through time, but I really enjoy the ability to focus on values and people versus focusing on the numbers. I’m decent with the numbers, but there’s something about really using the lens of the values of an organization, what’s gonna be right for the org through the lens of the people as opposed to looking at the numbers. Not to say that finance people don’t look at numbers, but it’s just a different lens through which they’re providing value.

Matt Alder (3m 11s):
Absolutely. We are very complimentary skills in a way as well. Obviously, at the moment, we’re going through a very disruptive time when it comes to everything, but particularly around business and particularly around the talent market at the moment. What’s your perspective on the talent market and what are the biggest challenges you think employers are facing?

Anitra St. Hilaire (3m 31s):
This is such a complicated one because there are so many things happening right now. What I find to be true, at least for what we’re looking at is first, there are a lot of great people available, and so there’s a volume in some ways. Not problem, but challenge. There are a lot of people that are out in the market looking, and I think we’ve finally reached a point, which I’m excited about, that looking at someone’s background and their story, I think there’s a point in time where if you were only at a job for a little while or you were laid off, it was very difficult to say that and tell that story because this person lost their job, we don’t wanna look at them.

Anitra St. Hilaire (4m 14s):
I think we’re finally in a time where we need to understand more about people’s stories. We are willing to understand more about people’s stories, but it’s, I think, in a new lane in a lot of ways to understand what skills and value people are bringing in ways that just don’t fit what we have historically looked at. “Tell me the jobs you’ve done,” “I can tell from your titles what know you’ve been up to,” “I look at your resume and get a story,” but I think now what has become a challenge, and in a good challenge in a way because I think it allows us exposure and access to a much more diverse group of people, but understanding someone’s story and how this person’s story, skills, and experience can help move your company forward.

Anitra St. Hilaire (4m 59s):
When you’re looking at your scorecard of who you’re gonna hire, really understanding what competencies and skills you need and figuring out how to find that out in a way that isn’t as boiler plate as, “I need someone who had X years of college and did this kind of job.” Now you’re looking at, “I need someone who’s really good with people.” Well, you can find someone really good with people who’s a customer service ex person or someone who has been working in hospitality, right? It’s really identifying the skills and types of experiences in a way that’s much more broader, but I think gets at what we need for people nowadays. Did that make sense?

Matt Alder (5m 39s):
Yeah, 100%. I suppose the other aspect of it is with a remote and hybrid work that’s now the norm for many organizations. You’re looking at a bigger geographical pool of talent as well, aren’t you?

Anitra St. Hilaire (5m 52s):
Yes, and that has been, again, exciting because it opens the talent pool up, but it introduces new complications when you’re thinking about, do I hire internationally and what does that mean for the culture? What does that mean for compensation? What does that mean for performance management? When you’re looking at what this means for even things like vacation and time off and you’re trying to create a culture for your company, having people in different countries creates this different experience for folks. How do you think about what your overall company culture is like? What it means to be in a different country, for example? Even, for example, we are largely US-based, as you think about the rules and laws in different states here in the US, how do you think about what your overall plan’s gonna be versus how you’re going to treat someone in California versus someone in Texas, per se, for example, who may have different, just at the basic level of compliance.

Anitra St. Hilaire (6m 54s):
Not to mention as you grow bigger and as you think more internationally, how those things can differ and change both your philosophy, how you pay people, and how you evaluate folks.

Matt Alder (7m 6s):
To dig into that a little bit further, really interested to get your thoughts on how you handle compensation when it comes to hiring talent all over the world. I’ve seen lots of debates about it, lots of things that the companies might be trying, but nothing really conclusive. What’s your take on handling that in a way that works for everyone?

Anitra St. Hilaire (7m 30s):
This is such a tough one and one that we are continuing to talk about where I am now. When I think about compensation, and actually as I think about most things, it starts to me with what is our philosophy around this? What are our guiding principles? Generally speaking, this is Anita’s thoughts. Generally speaking, I think if you can be true to whatever that guiding principle is, then building your policies and processes on that. For example, if you are comfortable saying for your particular organization that this role can be hired, anyone can do this, I don’t care about where you are. It’s a remote role, as long as you’re sitting in your sit and doing work, we could think about a national strategy and where anyone can do this job from anywhere, so we’re going to pay you nationally.

Anitra St. Hilaire (8m 17s):
That’s great, except there’s a cost associated with that because we know that the cost of labor in different geographical markets is different. There’s a world where maybe you could be, forgive the phrase, but overpaying for a role that you have if you have a national strategy. If you move to a geographic strategy, that’s great, but what happens is what are you gonna do when that person moves? Are you going to move their salary with them? Of course, if they’re moving from a lower tier to a higher tier, great, that’s amazing, but what happens when they move from San Francisco to Des Moines? Are you going to change their salary? I think both of those models work a national strategy, a geographic-based strategy. It’s the transparency around that, what does this mean for folks as you’re talking to them and are you transparent?

Anitra St. Hilaire (9m 5s):
“Hey, if you move, there are going to be consequences.” Then playing it out. That’s the point about moving. If you have a strategy that’s geographic based, then you have to go full in, all in on that and say, “If you’re moving to a lower based area, a lower tiered area, we’re gonna have to change your salary.” I think most people, if they understand your philosophy and your strategy, then they can make informed decisions about whether this works for them, but I think where it’s become really challenging is that’s not typically or historically how we would like to think about compensation. I get paid a certain amount and as I grow in the organization, you don’t care where I move, I’ll just get a different job.

Anitra St. Hilaire (9m 45s):
Now that remote has come more into play, I really think the labor market is becoming a lot bigger and so we need to think about from a philosophical standpoint, what are we going for? Then put our policies behind our principles.

Matt Alder (9m 59s):
Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. It’s another example of something that’s come out of the pandemic, that’s come out a very quick change. In lots of ways, we’re running to catch up with how this works in the long term. I suppose the other thing is that traditionally, employers have used benefits as a way of standing out in the market, particularly where it’s difficult to hire talent. Some of those traditional differentiators have been things like office space, dress codes, or food or things that are very much of a specific place of work. In the hybrid world that we’re working, that’s obviously not relevant anymore, not as relevant as it was.

Matt Alder (10m 43s):
How can employers use benefits to stand out in the market now?

Anitra St. Hilaire (10m 50s):
I love this question. I first would start out by saying one of the best ways to do that in my humble opinion, is thinking about what your philosophy is and how you approach benefits in general. The reason I say that is it’s very helpful for today’s employee to understand why you’re offering the benefits that you offer. A lot of companies have this standard set of things that they expect that they’re gonna give their employees and the employees expect that they get, but I think one way to differentiate is to be really thoughtful instead of, “All right, here’s the standard package and I know I need to be competitive,”

Anitra St. Hilaire (11m 30s):
which is important. I’m not knocking that, but here’s what’s important from a values perspective for us, and not in this paternalistic way, but as a company we want to be solvent, so we wanna make sure that we’re offering benefits that are fiscally responsible. We wanna make sure that we can think about the diversity within our staff. We have people in very different stages of life with very different needs, and we want to try and give as much flexibility for that group while understanding there is some consistency that needs to be provided. One of our philosophies is we believe that it’s important to have a basic safety net of insurance so that in catastrophic events, people are going to be covered.

Anitra St. Hilaire (12m 13s):
That’s one of the reasons that we think it’s important that we have medical care, dental, and vision. Yes, those are gimmies, but I think that extra level of thought and being able to articulate that to people is really helpful to give you that edge. I can tell the story about why we have the benefits we have and why we don’t have other benefits, and being able to tell that story and articulate it, I think has helped us in cases where someone has said, “Well, you don’t have this.” “No, we don’t, but here’s why and here’s why it’s something we’re thinking about in the future, or here is something we do have, or we’re saving that money in this way so you can make that choice yourself,” et cetera.

Anitra St. Hilaire (12m 52s):
I think the other thing about benefits packages that’s really important to consider is what do your employees want, your population? I mentioned that we have a relatively diverse population at all different stages of life and people who are looking for different things. I know that because we asked our organization. We did a survey and asked people what they were looking for, what was of most need to them. Based on that survey, we understood people really had a desire for a lot more work from home benefits. The number one thing was a 401K match, which we’re not providing at this time, but what it allowed me to say was, this is something I know most people want. We want it as well.

Anitra St. Hilaire (13m 33s):
There’s going to be a point where we have that and here’s why we don’t have it now. I was really surprised at the amount of feedback we received from the team saying, “Okay, I get it.” While I don’t get everything that I may want in this moment, I think there’s a level of appreciation for transparency. The question you’re asking, how can employers stand out? I think it’s really in the ways that you stand out as an employer brand, when you think about your values and what it means to work here, taking that same time to think about who you are as a benefits provider to your employees and telling that story. That story in and of itself can help you stand out because I think it shows trust in your organization.

Anitra St. Hilaire (14m 14s):
There’s transparency that helps accountability. These are the things you say you’re gonna do, these are the things you say that you’re interested in, and that you stand behind. I think people really do appreciate it.

Matt Alder (14m 28s):
Just to dig into that a little bit deeper around that values piece, what do you mean in terms of aligning benefits with company values? What does that mean in practice?

Anitra St. Hilaire (14m 45s):
Sure. I’ll give you maybe small specific example and something larger. The small specific example, one of our values is grow together. We believe strongly that we wanna get better professionally, personally in our roles. That is a stated value for the company. With that, we knew one of the things that we felt strongly that we needed to offer was a learning and development stipend. With that, there are a number of ways we could spend money. We could say no stipend at all. We could provide some training, which we do in certain areas, but the idea here was really our values.

Anitra St. Hilaire (15m 25s):
We think it’s really important for people to learn and develop and so we want to make sure we have a benefit that encourages that, that helps people actively take charge of their own development. We don’t have unlimited funds. We are a startup and so we don’t have like a LinkedIn learning platform or something like that where people can take all the courses they want, but we did wanna make sure that we made an investment and it was important for us to make an investment based on values alone. I think the second more a broad piece of that is as we were thinking about our benefits philosophy, when we thought about things like, do we want to cater very heavily to the masses?

Anitra St. Hilaire (16m 6s):
Meaning you can lean towards making sure most people have access to most things or do we want to provide some more specific benefits to populations that are going to have a harder time getting those benefits elsewhere? There are cost decisions with that, but from a values perspective, as we think about what work with respect, another one of our values, means to our organization and collaborating enthusiastically and other value, but that ability for people to do their best work and do their best work together, we found that we really wanted to provide something in the middle of that spectrum I just named. We do have healthcare for all medical, dental, and vision, but we also provide things like parental leave.

Anitra St. Hilaire (16m 53s):
That is a specific provision for a specific group of people. Not everyone’s going to use it, but we think it’s important. Parents are going to have a hard time replicating that elsewhere. Whereas something like free lunch, and I don’t mean to make it simple, but that’s just the first thing that came into my mind, what people want to eat, how people eat is something that I could have provided to everyone, DoorDash memberships or cards, but the money that I could spend on that I’ve decided to spend on a more nuanced particular population that is much more important for us to take care of both our parents and our overall population than focusing it just on things that everyone can have.

Matt Alder (17m 39s):
I suppose leading on from that, how important a role do benefits play in retention?

Anitra St. Hilaire (17m 42s):
I think they’re incredibly important, but the hesitation you’re hearing in my voice is I think the better companies are at being able to tell a total story of the value of working at a place, the better you are at that, the easier it is to retain people that are willing to be retained by that story. I’ll go back to 401K match as an example. I know we have a lot of people here who have come from bigger companies that offer that. In a lot of places, it’s table stakes and we don’t have it. That could be a big issue for us.

Anitra St. Hilaire (18m 22s):
However, I think when we talk about this full story of “Here is what you get here, and we don’t have this and we hope to have it at some point,” people are willing for their own to make and they have the information to make their own calculations on whether this is something that works for them or not. I think there are some benefits that people might want that we can offer. If that’s a deal breaker, it is a deal breaker. I can’t do anything about that, but when I think about benefits and retention, there is some core set of things, and that’s where I go back to catastrophic events. We wanna make sure people have some outs.

Anitra St. Hilaire (19m 3s):
Core set of things that are table stakes, but outside of that, being able to tell that story and you’ll hear that as a theme through a lot of what I say, the narrative, the story of what we’re trying to do, I think it’s not how much benefits you offer or how many benefits you offer. That’s not the piece for retention. It’s how do you talk about and make those decisions that I think can be a piece that helps retain folks.

Matt Alder (19m 28s):
Awesome. One of the biggest topics in HR and people at the moment is the advances in technology that we’re seeing happening. What do you think the implications are for employers, for people, for HR professionals with some of the technologies that have been developed recently?

Anitra St. Hilaire (19m 47s):
This is a hot topic in a lot of the circles I’m in right now, especially when you talk about things like ChatGPT, but generally speaking, this idea of AI and HR. I’ve got mixed feelings about it. I think the ability to do things faster, to have the knowledge, and I’ll use that in quotes, but the knowledge of large groups of people pulled into a functionality that allows me to find things really quickly, I think can be incredibly amazing. There’s a lot we can do with the advances in technology.

Anitra St. Hilaire (20m 31s):
The hesitancy I have is around bias. Everything has bias. We, as humans, have bias. This is a way to, in some ways remove bias from things, but what I fear is without additional actual human oversight and thought, what can happen with a lot of these technology advances is you just stop thinking about it because the computer has it, the computer has it, the computer has it. Small things can, the way that computers work, if there’s just a little bit of garbage in, a small amount, something that’s off and it keeps adjusting that thing that’s off a little bit at the start can make a left turn really quick and and be devastating.

Anitra St. Hilaire (21m 26s):
I still think there is a need for, I’ll call it human oversight, additional thoughts from others that we don’t end up down this path where things that aren’t just math, right? A computer to do one plus one equals two all day long. I don’t think about it and I shouldn’t have to think about it. I just don’t think people are that simple. When we talk about tech in HR, it’s how do we maintain logic, empathy, thinking about bias, and how we avoid bias in these systems, and I think that’s gonna be the balance and the challenge over the next few years as we figure out how to take all of this technology and implement it in our everyday lives.

Matt Alder (22m 16s):
As a final question, pulling everything together, we’ve talked about the disruption and the changing nature of the talent market. We’ve talked about how that’s affecting philosophy around benefits and then bit about the developmental technology. How does this all come together? What do you hope the future of work will look like in a few years time?

Anitra St. Hilaire (22m 39s):
Oh, I love this. I think I’d start off with a world of responsible transparency. What I mean by that is there’s so much more access to information and I think in a lot of ways that’s a good thing. Where I think we are going is a place where we are going to be required as employers, as workers at a company to understand more about the places and environments in which we work to apply that transparency in smart ways. In other words, it’s one thing for me to tell you, “Here’s what you make and here’s what everyone else makes,”

Anitra St. Hilaire (23m 22s):
right? That’s the transparency, but the responsible part of the transparency is also providing the story around why these things are what they are. As an employee, taking the time to understand the nuances in some of the data. It’s not to make excuses for bad behaviors and poor or bad actors, but what it does mean is I think there’s a much greater responsibility on all of us to be more informed. It’s not just the data, but it’s the story behind the data that I think everyone has to get better at. I am looking forward to more responsible transparency. I do continue to see a world where people are seen for the full value of what they bring to the table.

Anitra St. Hilaire (24m 6s):
We are becoming more than just what our resume says. I love that. It doesn’t mean everyone has to bring all of their personal stuff to work, but it does mean that I can have spent time doing non-traditional things and still be seen as a viable full candidate because I know those non-traditional things have given me a set of skills and experience that someone may use in a more traditional kind of job. Again, that looking at a full human and our ability to do that, I think is gonna be pretty exciting. Then maybe as a last thing, I do think we’re gonna move more to a world where we’re able to pick and choose more of what we want out of work.

Anitra St. Hilaire (24m 52s):
I’ve been working remotely now for a very long time. I was one of the pre-covid work from home folks. At the time, before then, just saying I had a remote job, I could get a lot of people to come apply because there weren’t that many places that had remote and were living remote. I think now that we see more hybrid places and then there are places that are fully remote and then places that are fully in office. This idea of choice and flexibility, if I am a person who really thrives in a work from home environment, I have that ability to go do that now, or if I’m a person who needs to be in office and get work done, there are a lot of places where I can still have that experience.

Anitra St. Hilaire (25m 35s):
I think that just trickles down over time where we’re going to find for employees a lot of choice in where we go and for employers, more resources to work in these different kinds of flexible ways. For me, that feels truly exciting though. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the office as I’ve been holding onto that for the past 10 plus years and I’m sticking with it. I don’t think I’m ever going back in an office, but I love that that’s okay for me and for my daughter who may, at some point, decide that she loves working with people and wants to be in person, will have the ability to do that as well.

Matt Alder (26m 14s):
Anitra, thank you very much for talking to me.

Anitra St. Hilaire (26m 16s):
This has been a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Matt Alder (26m 19s):
My thanks to Anitra. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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