With more workers than ever quitting their jobs, changing careers, or looking to improve their work lives, companies across the country have been scrambling to attract new workers — and in some cases, struggling to keep the employees they have. It’s been a time of massive upheaval: Pay in many fields has become more competitive, and over two years of hybrid and remote work has reshaped many people’s relationship to the office. Employees are demanding more from employers, and it’s left many companies wondering: Are our benefits what they need to be?
Benefits, which traditionally encompass essentials like paid time off (PTO), health insurance (at least in the US), retirement savings accounts, and sick leave, and perks as broad as free in-office meals, health and fitness stipends, and discounts on tickets and travel, have become both a crucial element of employee retention as well as a recruiting advantage in competitive fields. But when it comes to benefit offerings, it’s not always as simple as more is more.
”Organizations are so [eager] to get talent that they just throw stuff at people,” said Maurice Bell, Head of People Operations at Lattice, But taking an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach isn’t necessarily the path to success. “You need to make sure your benefits feel authentic — they need to feel intentional,” Bell continued.
According to Bell, benefits are one of the ultimate expressions of company culture: It’s one of the first things a new hire learns about a company, and a big part of every employee’s overall experience. So it’s critical, he said, that they reflect the company’s core values. “For someone [who’s] coming into an organization, they should feel like, ‘Oh, of course they offer a 401k match because they’re invested in my growth. Of course they’re offering parental leave because they understand that work is not driving my life,’” said Bell.
But creating a benefits package that reflects company values isn’t always a seamless process; figuring out the balance between organizational priorities, financial imperatives, and employee wants and needs can be tricky. Here’s how we did it at Lattice.
At the heart of Lattice’s organization are four core values that we went to great lengths to identify. These values, which are the framework we use at Lattice to evaluate all business decisions, are:
- Ship, Shipmate, Self: This value speaks to Lattice’s team-first mentality. As Lattice founder and CEO Jack Altman put it in his book People Strategy: How to Invest in People and Make Culture Your Competitive Advantage, this core value serves as a “reminder to put the company’s well-being and success over that of the individual and to put the well-being and success of our colleagues over our own.”
- Chop Wood, Carry Water: When it comes to business success, focusing on the task at hand is crucial. “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” inspired by an anecdote in author and leadership coach Joshua Medcalf’s book Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love With the Process of Becoming Great, reminds workers at Lattice, or Latticians, of the value of doing the day-to-day work along the way to the desired outcomes. Or, as Altman wrote, “focusing on the process will lead to good results.”
- Clear Eyes: At Lattice, pragmatism, transparency, ambition, and growth are central to our mission and culture, and “Clear Eyes” sums this up.
- What’s Next: A growth mindset is integral to Lattice, and “What’s Next” embodies our relentless focus on learning, improving, and looking forward to the next challenge.
These values guide the way we look at business opportunities and how we treat our colleagues and clients alike. It’s how we hire new Latticians, too — which is why it’s also the framework we use to evaluate the benefits we offer.
How Lattice Views Benefits
As a company, Lattice wants to attract best-in-class talent, and that means offering a competitive, compelling benefits package. But there’s more: We want to attract top-tier talent that is also fundamentally aligned with our core values. Bell explained that Lattice’s approach to benefits involves first defining who we are as an organization and what our employer brand is. Then, Bell continued, we reflect on how that gets “reinforced and brought to life through [our] benefits.”
But in a world where the kinds of benefits a company can offer are nearly limitless, and constantly growing — but the ability of a business to support them isn’t — deciding exactly which benefits to offer can be a challenge. That’s where our core values come in.
How Our Values Determine the Process, Not Just the Outcome
Lattice’s core values are at the heart of the process by which we determine what benefits to offer and when. “We’re not an organization that [only] thinks about benefits once a year,” said Bell. “We’re constantly analyzing the value that our benefits offer.”
Lattice conducts an employee feedback survey annually to ensure that our benefits package is one that will be valuable to employees — and that our offerings are explicitly in response to what Latticians are asking for, Bell said. Asking employees questions about benefits and reevaluating our offerings based on the responses we get is a direct reflection of our mandate to “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” explained Bell. “We’ve really leaned into meeting folks where they are in the moment,” he said.
A big request from employees had been for a 401(k) matching program — a popular benefit for employees, but one the company hadn’t previously offered as it prioritized investment. But communicating company thinking around this particular benefit and how it fit into the larger picture was a critical expression of our value “Clear Eyes.”
“We were open and honest, and we had an open dialogue where we could say, ‘Here’s where we are — we’re a relatively early-stage company and we spend more money than we make. We’ve been investing in the organization because we think there’s massive potential,’” Bell said. “We don’t shy away from difficult questions — we try to actively engage in them.”
Lattice then took the “What’s Next” directive literally, said Bell. Hearing from employees that building their financial futures with a 401(k) match program was important to them, Lattice began to offer it, as well as access to a financial wellness platform that could connect interested Latticians with financial planners and give them deeper insights into investment for making long-term financial decisions.
Benefits at Lattice — like many places — have needed to be adjusted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A preexisting emergency fund that let employees affected by natural disasters take up to seven days off and receive a stipend of $150 per day to put toward food or lodging was codified and expanded to support COVID-positive individuals (or those with exposed family members) so they could isolate safely and with financial support. Lattice also rolled out a wellness bundle that offered access to mental health support, virtual health care, behavioral coaching, and physical therapy at home for isolating workers.
The entire benefits package, Bell said, is ultimately a reflection of Lattice’s “Ship, Shipmate, Self” core value in action. “We’re making sure our folks feel cared for — physically, mentally, and emotionally,” he said. “We’re caring for our shipmates and enabling people to take care of themselves.”
In fact, all four core values give Lattice a lens through which to examine all benefits decisions, said Bell. “Broadly speaking, we look at our values as a gut check,” he said. “When we consider new ideas, we ask, ‘Does this feel authentic to the employee experience we want to create at our organization?’”
How Lattice’s Benefits Are Evolving As We Grow
As Lattice has grown (we added 270 new Latticians in 2021 and plan to add another 500 in 2022), keeping benefits aligned with company values has remained essential — but our offerings have needed to evolve as well.
“As we’ve grown, we have that much more diversity, not just in employee experience and needs, but we have more voices and more interests, too,” Bell said. “We have a lot of requests to consider.”
The 401(k) match is just one example of benefits launched within the past calendar year that grew out of our ongoing dialogue with employees, as is a sabbatical program for all employees and fertility insurance. These new initiatives mark a big step in Lattice’s trajectory — as a younger company, the focus from a benefits standpoint was to create an offering that would resonate broadly with employees. As the firm matures, however, being truly responsive will mean differentiating those benefits.
“We’re making sure we’re always thinking about our medical benefits and identifying opportunities to evolve,” said Bell. “Especially as we grow and add more mind power, we’re looking at being competitive [and] reducing costs, but [also] introducing options that just [segments] of the community might need.”
No matter what future benefits are unrolled, the process of identifying them will be rooted in Lattice’s values, Bell assured. “From the people we bring in [to] the benefits we provide to the product we deliver, our values are central,” he said.
Is your firm wrestling with its benefits package? Nail down your values first, advised Bell. Not only will it enhance your corporate culture, but in a competitive job market, you’ll be attracting employees who are already aligned with your mission.
“Thinking deeply about your values when you make decisions about benefits is another way that reflects those values — they compound each other,” Bell said.