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Why SurveyMonkey Wanted Its Contractors To Have Benefits

SurveyMonkey’s chief people officer put in place policies to extend and enhance contractor benefits.
By: | December 12, 2018 • 11 min read

It may not come as much of a surprise that SurveyMonkey administers surveys internally. What may be a bit unexpected is the outcome of said surveys.

Responses to an annual pre-open-enrollment survey last year led to some significant changes for contractors, a group of workers who are typically left out of benefits conversations, says Rebecca Cantieri (featured in picture), chief people officer at SurveyMonkey. She will lead a session titled “Why SurveyMonkey is Bringing Benefits to Vendors and Contractors” at the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in April in Las Vegas.

Cantieri says the annual survey asks employees about their satisfaction with current benefits, as well as how much they interact with different perks the company offers.

“We found high satisfaction across the board—4.5 out of 5 stars consistently,” she says. “Employees were happy and feeling taken care of. Then we read through the open-ended questions, one of which changed everything.”

One employee questioned whether three of SurveyMonkey’s janitorial staff members, contracted from Clean & Green, had good benefits. Cantieri paused, realizing she wasn’t sure.

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“These workers are here when we get here and when we leave, and they contribute to SurveyMonkey just as much as our other employees do,” she says, noting, however, “we had a good idea that, if our third-party contractors were receiving benefits, they wouldn’t be at the same level as SurveyMonkey’s.”

This led Cantieri and her team on a mission to explore if, and to what extent, benefits were offered to the janitorial staff from Clean & Green, cafeteria staff from Bon Appétit and contract workers from Eastridge Workforce Solutions, through which many of SurveyMonkey’s freelance writers are contracted. And, as suspected, she learned that these workers had limited to no benefits in place.

Though there’s evidence that the gig economy is continuing to grow, such workers often don’t have access to benefits. And even if staffing agencies do offer some benefits programs, they may be limited in scope or well below the standards of the company for which the contractor works—as was the case at SurveyMonkey. Two of the three vendors supplied workers with healthcare options but nothing else, and the third was unable to offer any benefits—until SurveyMonkey stepped in.

Setting Vendor Standards

One of the first things Cantieri did upon evaluating the 2017 survey responses was connect with SurveyMonkey’s benefits broker, Dan Maass, co-founder of i2i Benefits, to discuss how to begin to rectify the benefits situation for contractors. Cantieri and her team had determined that they wanted to address three main areas to start: health (medical, dental and vision), paid time off and transportation subsidies.

“My job was to look at the market to build out that benchmark of health, leave and commuter benefits,” says Maass. “The benchmarks were within the market of where national averages were in terms of plan design.”

For example, he says, national healthcare benefits fall into four coverage tiers, ranging from platinum to bronze: 90, 80, 70 and 60 percent employer coverage. Within those tiers are other considerations, such as high deductibles, which lower-income workers—who may include some contractors—often have a difficult time affording. So Cantieri and Maass decided that the benchmark for third-party vendors that wanted to work with SurveyMonkey would be gold coverage, or 80 percent employer-paid costs. (Employees would pay a $500 deductible, $20 physician co-pay and 20 percent of the costs for outpatient services and hospitalization.)

Once these standards were set, Cantieri met with decision-makers from each of the three third-party vendors SurveyMonkey works with to gauge their ability to extend or enhance the benefits they offered their workers. She recalled her experience meeting with Rocio (Rossy) Vargas (featured in picture), CEO of Clean & Green, the company providing janitorial services to SurveyMonkey’s headquarters in San Mateo, Calif.

“We brought her [Vargas] in and told her that we created these standards, and that we wanted to help her reach these standards,” says Cantieri. “She got really emotional—she was so pleased and thrilled that we cared enough to think about her and her team, and she was open and transparent about what prevented her from offering extensive benefits to her employees. It was really about her perception of her ability to understand and find the best programs for them.”

Maass offered to help Vargas find plans that met SurveyMonkey’s new standards. Cantieri says SurveyMonkey contributed approximately $200,000 in 2018 to help the vendors meet the new benefits thresholds.

“We made a significant contribution because it involved enriching the current offerings they had, and we believed in it enough to share in the cost,” she says.

After implementing benefits to meet SurveyMonkey’s standards, Vargas went a step further and launched a matching 401(k) program for her employees out of her own pocket.

A Steady Trend Upward

Tracey Malcolm, the global future of work leader at Willis Towers Watson, says more companies are starting to realize that providing access to benefits for contractors and freelancers makes business sense.

“We’re finding that organizations are recognizing the talent they rely on is a mix of permanent and non-permanent,” she says. “Companies are beginning to realize elements that relate to stability affect both their permanent and non-permanent workers. With contractors and other non-permanent employees, you still need aspects of stability, such as financial, benefits, wellbeing, retirement-based and so on.”

One such organization is Microsoft, which announced in August that it will require companies that provide the tech giant with subcontractors (similar to SurveyMonkey’s Clean & Green, for instance) to provide their employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave. This isn’t Microsoft’s first rodeo, either. Three years ago, the company announced it would require its third-party vendors to offer paid time off to employees.

In a blog post, Dev Stahlkopf, corporate vice president and general counsel of Microsoft, wrote that over the next year, the company will work with its U.S. suppliers to implement the new paid-parental-leave policy. The mandate applies to parents who take time off for the birth or adoption of a child at suppliers with more than 50 employees who perform substantial work for Microsoft.

Maass says SurveyMonkey’s approach is novel among his current clients, noting that Cantieri has been sharing her experience, process and vendor standards in the hope that more companies will follow suit.

“I haven’t seen organizations of this size looking to do this type of arrangement,” he says. “Becky has chatted with larger organizations in the tech space to see how they could mimic these benefit options. For now, SurveyMonkey is unique in its approach in looking at inclusiveness and equity and pushing the line as part of their overall business objective.”

Given predictions that nearly 40 percent of the workforce will be gig workers by 2020, Art Mazor, human capital practice digital leader and the global leader for HR strategy and employee experience at Deloitte, sees the contractor-benefits discussion through a broader lens.

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“With employees and gig workers collaborating side by side, we see enterprises beginning to think about ways to foster a positive experience for all team members, irrespective of whether they are on- or off-balance-sheet workers,” he says. “This translates to understanding workers’ interests and needs across rewards, capability and skill development, geography, physical- and digital-workplace preferences, and more to shape an experience that is attractive, engaging and productive.”

Help from Business Partners

While there were challenges in designing and implementing SurveyMonkey’s contractor-benefits standards, Cantieri says, nothing was insurmountable—and Maass’ assistance was quite valuable.

“We really did rely on Dan to help us survey the market, put together a set of standards, ensure we had good costs for vendors and ourselves,” she says. “He willingly got on board and did a lot of pro-bono work for Clean & Green to make sure he could help Rossy navigate the world of benefits.”

Before working closely with a benefits broker, Cantieri says, organizations looking to successfully implement their own vendor standards need to first secure buy-in from the leadership team. Then, they must create a set of standards for vendors and explore how those standards align with what the company offers its own employees before securing funding.

Willis Towers Watson’s Malcom adds that providing contractors with access to benefits should deliver on and align with an organization’s mission, purpose and values, and the work the contractors are engaged in. She says that leaders need to ensure that health and benefits solutions, programs and support are created for everyone in the workforce, both permanent and temporary contract workers.

Above anything else, Cantieri says, the success of SurveyMonkey’s venture was possible because she and her team listened to employees and then acted to prove the company not only understands but values employee contributions. Her advice to other business leaders comes back to something simple: Survey your workforce.

“Employees today have a lot of options in our current competitive market, but after we implemented this change, our entire workforce became more engaged and more productive—they’re proud to work for us,” she says. “We implemented these standards because it was the right thing to do, but we benefited from it, too.”

The 2019 Health & Benefits Leadership Conference will be held April 24 through 26 at the ARIA Resort in Las Vegas.

Danielle Westermann King is a former staff writer for HRE.

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