Perk Up: How area employers use perks and corporate culture to drive recruitment and retention

In October, the national unemployment rate hit 3.5% – its lowest point since May 1969. While some economic experts have suggested that a slowdown or even another recession might be on the horizon, the economy is booming at the moment and job opportunities are plentiful.

In this so-called “job-seeker’s economy,” how are employers staying competitive with both their recruitment efforts and their employee retention strategies? The Traverse City Business News sat down with a few local employers, recruitment specialists and HR professionals to learn the answer.

Benefits and perks

One of the core battleground areas in attracting top-tier job candidates is the arena of benefits packages and job perks. Traditional benefits like health insurance, retirement plans and paid family leave are as in-demand today as ever. However, what many employers are discovering – including local companies – is the power of unique, unusual or innovative job perks. These less-standard types of benefits serve a simple purpose: They help employers stand apart from the crowd when it comes to attracting job prospects.

Traverse City’s Hagerty seems to have mastered this strategy. Not only does the company offer competitive traditional benefits, but it has also worked to establish robust programs for employee learning and development, fitness and wellness, and automotive appreciation.

According to Rachel Wasserman, senior enterprise recruiter with Hagerty, two of the company’s biggest draws for prospective candidates – and two of its core drivers for long-term employee retention – are Hagerty University and IronWorks, its on-site gym.

Hagerty U is a company education program, which offers on-site courses to help employees grow in their careers. Some of those courses tie directly into the business – including a class where employees can learn about Hagerty’s insurance claims processes, or another that delves into the company’s financials. Others focus on more general employee development – such as a course that trains managers on how to interview potential candidates, or another that helps employees build public speaking and presentation skills. They’re all free to employees and taught on premises at Hagerty’s Cass Street headquarters.

IronWorks is Hagerty’s private gym, also located on-site at its Cass Street campus. The spacious gym, which is only open to Hagerty employees and their spouses, includes an array of exercise equipment and hosts regular group fitness classes ranging from yoga to cycling. Many of those group programs are free and open to all employees, and while the gym technically charges an annual membership fee, the company reimburses the cost for employees (and their families) to use IronWorks. Hagerty employees can also decide to apply that fitness reimbursement to other gyms or fitness centers in the area.

Car-centric perks are Hagerty’s way of tying its employee experience into its mission as an automotive lifestyle company. Even employees whose work does not directly involve cars have opportunities to interact with and learn more about classic vehicles. Staff members can learn how to drive manual transmission vehicles or take part in restoration projects of vintage autos. The company also hosts “Cars and Caffeine” events every Friday morning during the warmer months – impromptu car shows where employees are encouraged to bring their classic cars to work and show them off to colleagues. And employees who do learn how to drive a stick shift even get opportunities to drive iconic classics from Hagerty’s proprietary automotive collection.

“We have a collection of classic cars in a warehouse across town, and (CEO) McKeel (Hagerty) has always believed that cars aren’t just showpieces, but are meant to be driven,” Wasserman said.

She added that, for job candidates who are flying into Traverse City from other areas, Hagerty will make a point of picking them up at the airport or hotel in a classic car from the collection.

Company culture, values, and mission

The most obvious way for an employer to compete for top talent is to pay higher salaries. However, according to Wasserman, pay only gets an employer so far – especially in terms of retention.

“There are a lot of different things that are important to people (in a job search),” Wasserman said. “I don’t think that money is always number one. I think that meaningful work is usually the most important thing to people. I talk to a lot of candidates who have aspirations of doing something where they are contributing to something larger. People want to play an important role, to have their work be challenging, to be part of a collaboration with people, and to learn and have opportunities to advance.”

Those elements tend to drive the concept of company culture, usually defined as the soul or personality of a company. Company culture puts company values and missions front and center and stresses friendly, engaged and teamwork-driven workplace environments. A business that is thought to have a strong company culture generally does better with recruitment and retention than one that isn’t, largely because employees at these businesses tend to enjoy going to work and feel passionate about what they are doing each day.

Both at Hagerty and at another large Traverse City employer – Munson Healthcare – the focus on company culture starts with defining and communicating a corporate vision to every single employee. According to Lona Litson, HR director for Munson Healthcare, the organization stresses an alignment framework that helps employees understand the who, what, where, when and why of their work, as well as how those things feed into the organization’s overall mission and values.

Litson says those connections are re-emphasized each day, with team huddles throughout the organization that “create a cascade of information and connect everyone in Munson Healthcare to the same purpose and mission.”

This strategy of getting everyone on the same page is part of Munson’s integration efforts, which started last year as a push to forge more meaningful connections (and more seamless patient experiences) across each of Munson’s nine system hospitals.

Litson adds that Matt Wille, who was appointed as Munson Medical Center’s president and CEO last summer, has made it a priority to make sure employees feel connected to the core values of the organization.

“[Matt] fully supports the engagement and empowerment of the employee, and has started several engagement and retention activities for the organization,” Litson said. “For example, he has held over 30 healthcare forums, where he’s gone out and met employees where they are to discuss organizational updates and our purpose as an organization. He’s dedicated to connecting people to that overall purpose and alignment of what the organization wants to achieve for its community.”

Wasserman says there’s a similar focus on transparency and engagement at Hagerty. “There’s a lot of communication about the future of the company and how that affects opportunities for employees, and those are the things that drive people to come here and to stay here,” she said.

Work-life balance

Throughout the past 10 years, work-life balance has become one of the buzziest terms in the employment industry. Today’s job seekers want positions that allow them to leave work at work so they can enjoy their time away from the office.

In a 2017 report, Gallup revealed that 53% of employees found it “very important” to have a job that emphasized strong work-life balance. And in a 2016 Deloitte survey of millennial professionals, 16.8% of respondents said they would look at work-life balance first when evaluating potential job and career opportunities.

Wasserman thinks that the growing value professionals place on work-life balance has to do largely with the way modern technologies have redefined work.

“In this day and age, there isn’t really a time that you ever fully disconnect,” Wasserman said. “Even if you leave the office at 4 p.m., you might still be checking email at home or doing work outside of business hours. But I think the way that we keep work-life balance top-of-mind (at Hagerty) is by trusting people to be professionals and to take ownership of their careers. We understand that people have lives outside of work. They have families and obligations outside the doors of the business, and those things matter.”

At Hagerty, most employees enjoy a reasonable amount of flexibility with their hours and overall working arrangements. While certain positions require personnel to be on-site at specific times each day, many job responsibilities can be completed from home or structured to give parents the flexibility they need to pick up their kids from school.

At Munson, Litson says it’s the promise of a Traverse City lifestyle – and of the work-life balance necessary to enjoy that lifestyle – that often draws job seekers to the area from other parts of the country.

“We talk to people regularly who are attracted to the area for the geographical location and the strength of the community,” she said. “I think those are some really strong selling points, regardless of the specific job.”

The candidate experience

While most conversations about recruitment and retention focus on aspects of the employee experience, local recruiting expert Mary Barker cautions employers not to forget what comes first: the candidate experience. Barker is president of Management Recruiters of Traverse City, a division office of the global Management Recruiters International, which has more than 800 branches worldwide.

“Hiring managers are competing with the increased demand (of the job market),” Barker said. “They need to realize that they must move quickly when they find the right fit. We have seen candidates being pursued by one, two, or three other companies at the same time, and the one dragging out their decision to offer will lose.”