Employee benefits used to be pretty standard, boilerplate stuff. A 401k here, health insurance there and maybe a generous time off allowance thrown into the mix. Today, we recognize that we’re humans (shocker, right?) and that work and life have become so intertwined. We need benefits programs that actually serve the whole person and enhance their entire lives.
Enter lifestyle accounts, flexible work schedules, gym subscriptions, takeout vouchers, and now you’ve got a benefits program that’s more in line with today’s employee. How can employers create programs that meet employees where they are? Can we negotiate our benefits?
In this episode, HR Consultant and CEO of Next Level Benefits, Lauren Winans shares what’s changed in benefits programs and how employers can use them to lead the whole person.
The total value of benefits is something more ingrained in today’s thought process, not only on the employer side, but also on the employee side. - Lauren Winans
Lauren Winans is the CEO and Principal HR Consultant at Next Level Benefits. Next Level Benefits is a nationally-certified HR consulting firm staffed with former corporate HR professionals in all HR disciplines. Each member of our team has at least 20 years of corporate HR experience from Fortune 500 companies, global organizations, and well-known brands around the world. Lauren founded Next Level Benefits in 2019, offering HR teams access to former corporate HR professionals on-demand when they need them most. For more information, head to https://www.nlbenefits.com/, or follow the team on Instagram and LinkedIn.
[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Let's Fix Leadership. I'm excited to introduce our guest this week. Lauren Winas is a CEO and principal HR consultant for Next Level Benefits, an HR consulting practice offering clients access to HR professionals for both short term and long term projects. With nearly 25 years of human resources and employee benefit experience, Lauren possesses a deep expertise of HR best practices and what resonates with employees.
[00:00:32] She founded Next Level Benefits in 2019, offering HR teams access to former corporate HR professionals on demand and when they need it the most. Welcome back, friends! This is your place for cutting edge tools, exercises, best practices, and modern leadership strategies. Because when the world is changing, it's time to bring our leadership styles along for the ride.
[00:00:57] Whether you're a company leader, a corporate visionary, an entrepreneur, this show gives you new insights into the neuroscience and the language of leadership, plus practical steps and tips. To lead your teams in a powerful way. It'll also help you keep your people happy and engaged, all while achieving your biggest goals.
[00:01:16] I'm your host, Jen Thornton. I'm a talent strategist, a brain-based executive coach, speaker, and the founder of 3 0 4 coaching. Now let's fix leadership. So, hi Lauren. Welcome to the show. Thanks for having me, Jen. Appreciate it. Absolutely. So where I'd love to start with you is really understand your passion around benefits and total rewards.
[00:01:41] And how did you end up on this conversation with me? Oh, gosh. Okay. So, um, you know, much like a lot of folks who, um, might be in HR, um, I kind of fell into, uh, this, I actually started working for a health insurance company, um, to start my career was there for about three years. And, um, the natural next step was for me to kind of flip over to the employer side of things as it related to employee benefits.
[00:02:10] And so that's kind of how I got my start in employee benefits administration. And, um, you know, over the years, as time has gone on, I mean, I've been. You know, in this space now for nearly 25 years, um, I still get excited about employee benefits, compensation, all things, total rewards. Um, I feel very passionately that total rewards is, you know, something that is very critical and an important piece of what, um, employees receive from an employer in order to feel valued in order to feel, um, like they're a part of something bigger than themselves.
[00:02:44] And so I look to, to work with a lot of different clients. Um, to really help them establish great total reward strategies and really kind of balance compensation, um, and benefits. And honestly, I also have, um, just kind of this, uh, desire to ultimately, hopefully someday fix health insurance. So I, I constantly feel like, uh, if I can keep, um, adding value wherever I can, particularly on the admin side of the house, you know, maybe, maybe there is a way that I can contribute to the greater good of, of fixing our system at some point.
[00:03:19] Um, so that's what keeps me going. I love that because obviously that is my passion is around fixing leadership. And so that is why you and I have always had such a great connection because we really do try every day to make a difference. And on that same vein, when you think about how employers were was looking, they were looking at benefits a couple of years ago and how they look at benefits and total rewards today.
[00:03:44] What's changed? You know, a lot has changed. I mean, pre pandemic, you know, I think the pandemic has changed a lot of things for in a variety of good ways, some bad, but for the most part, I think pre pandemic, um, you know, employee benefits weren't always spotlighted in the way that they are today. Um, they are.
[00:04:04] Employee benefits are much more integrated into the total rewards package. Um, thinking about how you're compensated as well as the type of benefits that you're offered and what's the total value of those benefits. Um, so that you can look at my, your total compensation as a combination of base salary as well as benefits.
[00:04:23] Um, I think that is something that is more. Um, ingrained in today's thought process, not only on the employer side, but as well as the employee side, employees look now at benefits as a reward and as part of their compensation package. And I think that's probably the biggest difference between a few years back and today.
[00:04:45] And that's exciting because it should have always really been looked at that way. And it was more so the innovative organizations and companies were really kind of taking that approach. And now I feel like it's. It's definitely something that has caught on and it's, it's more acceptable and widely known.
[00:05:01] So interesting you say that. It was literally yesterday where I was talking with a client about their total rewards and it's a smaller business. It's a fantastic business, an amazing group of owners. But, you know, they were like, how do we kind of look at things differently? How do we evaluate what our compensation?
[00:05:21] I said, well, let's just not think about it as monetary. think about it from a total rewards. And it was, it was great to see them really open up to that conversation and think about things a little differently. But, um, yeah, it's just, it's great to see more companies are looking at it and understand again, that you have to lead the whole self, the whole person in today's world to really have a successful organization.
[00:05:45] And last week's podcast, we talked about that. We talked about how the world is just a little different where we used to be told to leave it at the door. And that worked because, um, you know, we could leave our life at the door when we went to work and vice versa, but then we got technology and anyhow, check out last week's episode.
[00:06:04] We talked a lot about how we've just really integrated our work and our personal lives into one. And. It's would be probably at this point, almost impossible to separate those. So when you think about that concept and that concept that we are kind of living in one world now, how can employers use benefits to help lead the whole person and really help people manage the thought of this overwhelmed of everything being kind of mushed together?
[00:06:32] You know, my favorite, um, my favorite option, um, that is fairly new to the space, I mean, maybe it's existed maybe a little longer than I'm giving it credit for, but definitely something that's gained traction in the last couple of years is, um, this notion of lifestyle accounts, um, and lifestyle accounts are a type of benefit, um, that, uh, allows the employer to dedicate a certain amount of dollars to, um, an employee to leverage how they see fit.
[00:07:00] Um, you know, we all live different lives. We all have different needs. Um, some of us have children. Some of us don't. Some of us live in an apartment. Some of us live in a home. Um, you know, some of us are living, um, you know, in a main residence. Some of us are bouncing around. And, you know, regardless of where you're at in your lifestyle, where you're at in your, um, your personal life, um, what types of dependents you may or may not have, these lifestyle accounts can really kind of meet people where they are.
[00:07:26] Um, and so, you know, we actually have a client who, um, you know, we help them to create lifestyle accounts around certain, uh, different personas. Um, so we created some personas within, uh, their organization and kind of identified, you know, someone who has a family, someone who's more nomadic and likes to travel a lot.
[00:07:44] Um, maybe someone who is looking to start a family in the next two to three years. And what are those different needs? What type of, you know, what, what does this individual need to be successful? And ultimately what we came up with was we created a lifestyle account where the employer put a [00:08:00] certain dollar value in there every year.
[00:08:02] And we also, um, help them get connected to a vendor, um, that allows them to leverage these dollars in the ways they see fit. And so this vendor. offers this platform that allows people to use these dollars towards, let's say grub hub. If, uh, maybe I'm someone who is single and, um, you know, maybe not necessarily that into cooking, um, you know, or you can leverage it for kids classes, um, for your local, you know, local, um, kids activities for your children.
[00:08:33] You might also want to use it, um, as a deferral against your contribution for your daycare services. Um, it could also be used for some, um, some gym membership or maybe some classes that you can take. And so what I like about the concept, it's, you know, it's, it's flexible and it meets employees where they're at and it kind of acknowledges the fact that we are humans and that we have different needs.
[00:09:00] And that sometimes, you know, just offering health insurance and a 401k, while that's wonderful and very, very, you know, uh, welcome by every employee, it's not necessarily the end of your benefits program. And so the lifestyle account, you know, you can really kind of mold it, shift it. and, and kind of make it your own.
[00:09:21] Um, it doesn't necessarily have to be set up exactly the way the example I just gave you, but it's, it's a way that you can, um, provide, um, financial support to your employees in a way that also kind of brings that message message through that, you know, as an employer, we understand that you have needs outside of base salary, health insurance, and retirement planning.
[00:09:44] That's amazing. I hadn't heard of that benefit. So I love when I learn new things because that happens all day every day for me. But I love that idea. And I think it's an incredible concept. And hopefully it catches on and more employers are using it. I'm going to share it with my clients. I know that much.
[00:10:02] I think that's a fantastic idea. Let's take a quick break from the conversation. Do you have new leaders on your team and you can see their potential, you can see their runway, but you cannot figure out how to get them across the finish line? Reach out to 304 Coaching and learn more about our brain based, competency focused executive coaching.
[00:10:27] So when you think about the employee? If the employee is thinking about a new job or even in their current job and they're thinking about some of their needs, what might an employee be able to negotiate from a benefit standpoint? It's a great question because, you know, there are are Some aspects of benefit plans that, you know, really are non negotiable, right?
[00:10:50] Like, so there's a lot of regulation around, um, non discrimination practices within, um, the benefits world. So basically what that means is, you know, what you're offering to your highly compensated, um, employees is what you should. For the most part, the offering to your lower compensated employees, that's a general rule.
[00:11:11] I mean, naturally, there's exceptions to that rule, particularly when there's executive benefits, um, that are put in place for maybe some higher level executives, but, um, the long and short of it is there's very few. You um, aspects of a benefits program that you really have the leverage to negotiate for.
[00:11:30] Um, I always though recommend people kind of, um, you know, take a look at your base salary. Um, you know, think about, um, you know, how that amount makes you feel in terms of, um, your experience. Um, and then also. You know, just kind of knowing your worth. There's lots of salary calculators out there that you could actually just kind of ballpark where you should be at.
[00:11:52] I wouldn't, you know, put all your eggs in one basket and assume that number is the number you need to get, but at least gives you a sense of kind of where you should be. I think you can also kind of negotiate, um, you know, any time off, um, you know, vacation time, also a flexible work arrangement. Um, maybe even start and end times, depending upon what your lifestyle is like, um, and then also to, you know, autonomy, um, you know, really kind of seeing, is this an onsite position?
[00:12:20] Is it offsite? Is it remote? Can I be hybrid? Um, am I able to reside wherever for this position, or do I need to be local to a certain city? There's lots of different things. I think if you look at it from a lifestyle perspective, um, that you'd be able to negotiate, but things like. You know, health insurance, how much the 401k contribution rate is, those types of things would be in the non negotiable category, but there's certainly some things that you can always push back on your employer.
[00:12:47] It can't hurt to ask the question. I think it's important that you You talked about those two different buckets, right, the ones that are not negotiable and being honest with, you know, employees and people that are listening, that there are regulations and some things are the way they are, and that's the way they are, because that protects us all by having consistency.
[00:13:07] And then there's other things that we can negotiate and understanding what those are. So I appreciate you. Separating those into two different categories to help the listeners really understand the difference. That was helpful. So here at Let's Fix Leadership, we love to break everything. We love to think about where we were and where we're going.
[00:13:25] And, you know, we might talk about something today and think it's revolutionary. And five years from now, we might go, we were so old school, but here we are five years later. So we know that we're evolving and everyone is always evolving and growing every day. So for you, and you think about your leadership, how has it evolved?
[00:13:43] Over the years and, you know, what's important to you today as a leader? You know, that is such a great question and the first thing that comes to mind is I definitely learned to, um, stop, uh, white knuckling, um, everything and trying to control everything. Um, you know, I think that my, my natural tendency to want to have a lot of control over, um, something that I'm responsible for, um, including a team.
[00:14:11] Um, you know, what, what I've learned is that really put me in a place where I was unable to be self aware. I was unable to see innovation when it was coming. Um, I was unable to come up with great creative ideas because I was too busy, too focused on grasping to everything so closely. Um, and so I've definitely evolved into, um, a more relaxed individual.
[00:14:35] Um, you know, I, I love that. I have been able to grow not only as a human, but also, you know, myself personally, I've grown a lot from becoming, um, a parent and that has helped me to naturally loosen my grip a little bit and, um, you know, and, and ultimately realize I can't control everything. I can't be perfect.
[00:14:58] 100 percent of the time and mistakes are okay because mistakes is what helps us learn. And so that's actually made me, um, much more of a better leader. You know, today I am, you know, much more, hey, let's work on this together. Let's figure out a solution. Um, I am more collaborative in how I approach my leadership.
[00:15:19] style. Um, I'm much more, um, you know, wanting to make sure that people have what they need. And I'm asking constantly, is there something I can do to help? Um, and those were things I just wasn't, um, I just wasn't evolved enough to know to ask very early in my career, but fortunately I've been able to kind of pick up those pieces as I've gone.
[00:15:38] And I do feel really comfortable now leading teams and leading groups, leading projects. Um, working with clients and, um, it, I think it shows, um, and so once you kind of gain that confidence, identifying the thing that might be holding you back and kind of letting it go, that definitely has helped me a lot to kind of evolve my style.
[00:15:57] I love that it is interesting about how when we're individual contributors, you know, it's about our performance. And so we just hang on to that and we get rewarded for our personal performance. And then we get into leadership. And then we don't always disconnect that reward and go, Wait a minute. Now I'm rewarded for leading.
[00:16:16] We hold on to that reward of our own personal, um, performance and then kind of forget about our team's performance, um, or try to control their, their performance. So I appreciate you being honest and vulnerable and sharing that. I think we can all learn from it. Thank you. Awesome. So it's been fantastic to talk with you.
[00:16:35] I could sit and chat with you all day long. Um, as we do sometimes, um, outside of our podcast recording. But if someone wanted to reach out to you, they're interested and thinking about the benefits for their company and how they can elevate and really, um, go out there and offer something that allows their employees to lead their best life.
[00:16:56] How can they reach you? Yeah, you know, you can check us out on our website that is nlbenefits. com. So nl for next level nlbenefits. com. You can also email me at lauren at nlbenefits. com. Um, we're on LinkedIn. We're on Instagram, so you can follow us as well. And yeah, feel free to reach out. We're always happy to have an experience.
[00:17:18] Exploratory conversations to see how we can potentially help you, um, whether it be employee benefits, compensation, all things to go rewards, um, or really anything in the HR space, we're, we're happy to chat. Wonderful. And I do recommend all the listeners follow you, um, when you follow Lauren, she posts incredible information on LinkedIn around articles she's done, interviews she's done.
[00:17:40] And I just. Appreciate all the content you put out there. I know that's work, but I learned from it and I hope everyone else has the opportunity to learn from you too. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. We appreciate it. Well, it was great to have you. Have a fantastic day and um, enjoy all of the benefits that the world has to offer you.
[00:18:00] Thank you. Thanks. Thanks for listening to Let's Fix Leadership. By hanging out with me today, you're already on your path. If you're looking to learn more and to see if your company is a good fit for our coaching and leadership education, then hey, visit 304 coaching. com. If you got value out of this podcast, share it with a friend, and it would mean the world to me if you would leave a thoughtful review and a rating on iTunes.
[00:18:26] Thanks again for listening, and I appreciate your work in fixing leadership.