As I think back on the roller coaster we've been on over the past two years, one thing is very clear - the one-size-fits-all approach to staff wellness is a thing of the past. And if your company hasn't updated its benefits since the pandemic, you're likely falling behind the competition.

At our 3,300-staff member firm, we've worked hard to adjust, and our retention rate is well above the average in the professional services industry. We think the way we've adapted to the new workplace environment has been a big factor.

First: Embrace the new reality

One of the first things we did was embrace the reality and positives of remote work. The pandemic showed us that certain tasks can be completed virtually without a significant loss in effectiveness, and our staff clearly wanted to retain some of the flexibility of working remotely. Strategically we have adopted a "principally in person" model, recognizing that remote work isn't the right answer for all situations and for relationship building over the long term. However, we want our workplace model to be flexible. 

Recognizing that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to remote work, we introduced a program we call "workplace for your day." On any given day, staff decide where to work based on what they need to achieve, whether that's on-site with a client, in the office, or at home. This gives them flexibility, while trusting them to make the right decisions. They're able to build strong relationships with clients while also recognizing that their personal and family lives benefit from some location flexibility. There is no weekly or monthly requirement for in-office work, though the program has shown that staff often conclude that being with a client or at the office is typically the most efficient use of their time. 

The alternative "hybrid work" approach being adopted by many companies is to mandate office work for two or three days a week. In my experience, people tend to dislike this - not because they don't want to be in the office, but because they don't like being ordered when to be there. Instead of rules, we rely on guidelines and trust. 

The mental stress inflicted by the pandemic lockdowns and school closures made us realize that setting aside time to relax and rejuvenate is essential. So, we added an extra paid day off to our benefits package, but with a twist. We made it a floating holiday for use on any day that has special meaning, be that a religious or cultural date, a birthday they want to celebrate, or just an additional mental health break.

Paying up

We also transformed a pre-pandemic annual athletic benefit into an overall wellness benefit we call the "Balance Fund" with few strings attached. 

The idea is for staff to use the benefit for something that fits better into their lives, whether that's childcare, cooking classes, personal travel, concierge services that help with household management or vacation planning, home office equipment, or even student loan repayments.  

Every month, $100 is deposited into each staff member's balance fund, which can be claimed for reimbursement every quarter up to $1,200 annually. 

Will the expanded wellness benefit cost our firm more? It certainly will, based on our expectation that the take-up rate as an overall wellness benefit will rocket to nearly 100% from below 20% as an athletic benefit. But we hope and expect that it will increase the staff's sense of being valued and make them more likely to stay. If someone gives a silent thanks to their employer while they get a great massage or head off on an exciting vacation, it can only help the retention rate.

Before any organization balks at the cost of expanding a benefit in this way, they should consider that their competitors are likely implementing similar changes that will make them more attractive to the same pool of talent and, in turn, lead to higher turnover costs for the business over the long term.

The common thread running through all these initiatives is that they put staff first, trusting and empowering them to make their own decisions. This can be a scary prospect at first, but our experience shows that the trust is repaid richly in the form of strong staff loyalty and achievement.