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Twin Cities companies expand perks to attract, keep employees

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Attorney Kristi Brownson and associate attorney Lindsey Streicher.
Attorney Kristi Brownson, left, and associate attorney Lindsey Streicher, right, sit for a portait with their pets, Ike and Harry inside Brownson Norby, a Minneapolis law firm, on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

With the unemployment rate down in the low single digits, employers often lament they're having a hard time finding employees. Economists are stumped at why wages haven't gone up in response. But many organizations are enhancing benefits to help attract and retain employees.

For Kelsey Roemhildt, her pregnancy is turning out to be well-timed. She is expecting her first child in January.  That's when her employer — General Mills — will be more than doubling its paid maternity leave. New birth mothers will get 18 to 20 weeks off with pay.

"This is the first kiddo for me and my husband," Roemhildt said, "so taking advantage of that extra time will be so well appreciated and enjoyed."

Moms are not the only beneficiaries of the food company's beefed-up benefits. For instance, fathers, domestic partners and adoptive parents will now qualify for 12 paid weeks off. There's two weeks paid leave for caregivers helping family members cope with a serious illness. Bereavement leave was boosted, too.

 Balancing work, life

The enhancements came after General Mills decided the benefits package needed to align better with the expectations and needs of employees. Especially as they cope with balancing work and life.

"As we think about not only attracting but also retaining our current employees we recognize that we had an opportunity to really re-establish ourselves as a leader in this space," said Jacqueline Williams-Roll, General Mills' chief human resources officer. "You know this is an investment for sure and I would argue there's no better investment than making the investment in our employees and helping them be the very best that they can be."

General Mills is not alone in improving benefits, whether to better to compete in the job market, help employers with work-life balance or both. Cargill and 3M, for instance, have boosted family leave in the past few years.

About a third of organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management reported they had increased benefits last year. 

The society found upticks in recent years for health care coverage for same-sex spouses and dependent grandchildren.   There were also more companies offering perks such telecommuting, paid parental leave, lactation rooms and company-paid snacks and beverages. It's the same story in the Twin Cities. 

"Companies here in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul market are definitely looking at enhancing benefits." said Tiffany Kuehl, director of the Twin Cities chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

"You want employees to be engaged in you want them to be committed to your organization so when you're offering things like extended parental leave things that are important to you your employee is that align with their values and your company's values employees are more likely to stay," Kuehl said.

 Increased cost for some benefits

  Some benefits, like paid leave, carry a clear financial cost, though individual employees will typically use them infrequently. But for benefits that involve when, where and how employees get their work done, there's little or no cost for an employer. In fact, those perks can pay off in greater productivity, morale and retention.

"Money isn't the primary focus for a lot of  candidates. Perks and overall life quality is weighing higher than just straight compensation," said Kathy Northamer, district president for the Robert Half Technology recruitment firm. "Work from home benefits,  telecommuting options, flexible work schedule ... those are really, really important right now."

Ike sits in his owner, attorney Kristi Brownson's arms.
Ike sits in his owner, attorney Kristi Brownson's arms inside her Minneapolis law firm on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The firm has implemented a new kind of leave, where new pet owners can work from home for 1 week while their pet gets acclimated.
Evan Frost | MPR News

 Some firms offer pet leave

Northamer said some firms are even going so far as to extend benefits to the furry members of employees families. 

The Brownson Norby  law firm in Minneapolis recently decided to let employees work at home for a week when they're welcoming a new pet. 

Managing partner Kristi Brownson's 13-year-old dog, Ike, was visiting the office recently along with Harry, a colleague's cat.  Brownson figures that a benefits package that includes pets can help with hiring.

Brownson Norby associate attorney Lindsey Streicher talks to her cat, Harry
Brownson Norby associate attorney Lindsey Streicher talks to her cat, Harry, who came with her to the Minneapolis office for the day on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"Salaries are always an issue. But we think that benefits and a firm culture is just as important," Brownson said, "especially in today's job market. I think just creating a good culture where people not only want to come but stay is important."

Lindsey Streicher,  one of the firm's millennials, likes the pet policy.

"This is a really great policy that will draw in more people.  I think that our generation has a different view about pets, maybe, than people used to have. They're more family members."

The latest Society for Human Resource Management benefit survey found that 9 percent of employers allow pets at work. Some even cover pet care expenses while an employee is on business travel.