Unlike other directors of benefits and HR managers, Becky Cantieri knows she has employees who don’t balk at giving feedback. As senior vice president of human resources for SurveyMonkey — the online survey provider — she uses the firm’s polling software to touch base with the 675 employees in SurveyMonkey’s San Mateo, Calif.- headquarters, as well as workers at the company’s satellite offices in Emeryville, Calif., Seattle, Portland, Ottawa, Dublin and Sydney.

“We’re constantly surveying our employees. Luckily, given that it’s what we do for a living, they tolerate all of our inquiries,” says Cantieri, winner of EBN’s 2017 Judges’ Choice Award, given each year to a benefits professional who makes great use of wide benefits programs.

Cantieri uses four surveys throughout the year: a bi-annual employee experience survey; an annual benefit survey; a recently launched diversity and inclusion survey; and a survey of new hires to understand how well the company helped during their onboarding experience.

“The beauty of being able to use SurveyMonkey as an HR practitioner is it allows me to have conversations at scale with the people on what matters most to our employees,” she says.

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When she joined in 2011 after serving as HR director at Yahoo, SurveyMonkey didn’t have an HR department or a director of employee benefits. With one other employee, she had to craft an entire benefits program and employee engagement guidelines from scratch.

The surveys have helped Cantieri create new voluntary benefits that focused on what the employees of the Silicon Valley tech giant wanted most, namely parental leave and work-life balance offerings. At the end of 2015, Cantieri and her team launched what she calls a “really extensive” benefits survey that focused on “the things that were really important to them and keeping them up at night,” she says. The response rate was 98%. With caregiving concerns apparent from the survey results, the company made a fundamental shift to its leave program in April 2016.

SurveyMonkey offers employees 16 weeks of paid leave for either parent to care for a newborn regardless if the child was a result of adoption, fostering that led to adoption, or a natural childbirth. In the U.S., where employees don’t often have access to such parental leave, SurveyMonkey employees and executives have taken the leave and returned to work.

“Men and women have taken the time, and 100% of people who have taken the time have come back,” says Cantieri, who took the parental leave time herself to have her two daughters. “It’s amazing the loyalty this builds with employees when they have permission to go and focus on the new baby. It’s important to them that they can come back and reintegrate into the workforce and be successful going forward.”

SurveyMonkey also is friendly to parents once they return to work. The San Mateo facility has a Jungle Gym where employees can bring their children to play with games, toys and a chalk board. (The other offices do not have this feature.) Nursing mothers have access to a private room stocked with hospital-grade breastpumps, pumping supplies, and refrigerators to pump during the workday.

Holidays and Take 4

In addition to parental leave, SurveyMonkey offers a perk it calls “holiday recharge,” which allows employees to unplug from company e-mails and unwind during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Additionally, the company extended its bereavement policy this year to up to 20 days paid leave to grieve an immediate family member and up to 10 days to grieve an extended family member.

“We also launched what we refer to as Take 4,” she says. “Once you’ve completed four years of service, you’re eligible to take a four-week paid sabbatical in addition to your regular paid time off. It’s an opportunity for SurveyMonkey employees to recharge their batteries, fulfill a passion and come back inspired with renewed energy.”

The survey also spurred the company to introduce a new educational platform for workers dealing with debt from student loans.

This focus on avoiding employee burnout also extends to the firm’s wellbeing program. Working with wellness provider Grokker, Cantieri developed a plan that focuses on health in six areas: career, social, nutrition, financial, physical and community.

“We broadened the definition of wellness which was usually fitness and food to be more about wellbeing,” she says. “Each month we focus on a particular topic around those pillars of wellbeing.”

SurveyMonkey offers free 10-minute chair massages, yoga classes in a fitness room and a “state of the art” kitchen for healthy options for breakfast and lunch on a regular basis.

The company also worked with Grokker to create a series of short videos on mindfulness, yoga, fitness and positivity. “The power of positivity challenge was designed to help employees build confidence, feel happier, and promote conflict resolution. As an incentive, if employees completed at least 80 minutes of video throughout the challenge, they were eligible to win health-minded gift cards such as Whole Foods and Lululemon,” says a Grokker spokesperson.

“SurveyMonkey wanted to help employees break the habit of sitting by creating a culture where frequent stretching and movement breaks are encouraged. [There’s] a weekly five-minute stretch break every Friday in April in the cafeteria,” Grokker says. “Becky arranged for the first stretch break to be led by SurveyMonkey executives, encouraging employees to attend and prioritize the break.”

Looking ahead in a competitive benefits arena

Going forward, Cantieri and her team have plans to add more benefits such as eldercare support for employees who have to care to ailing elderly parents. “It came up in our survey, but we always ask employees which of these things would you prioritize, and they prioritized the initial set of offerings,” she says.

Cantieri and her team are mindful that they are providing these benefits to increase employee retention, which can be a tough haul in Silicon Valley where great bennies are the norm.

“We offer compelling benefits to employees, and we create a lot of great programs that give them a sense of belonging,” she says. “The ability to grow their career and do their best life’s work here have served us very well and have helped us to retain talent in a competitive environment.”

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