‘Not just the Zoom happy hour’: Why publishers are adding benefits to lift employee peace of mind

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Digital media companies have been challenged in a myriad of ways during the coronavirus crisis. Events have been canceled, advertising deals have been pulled and layoffs and furloughs have been a harsh reality.

But another challenge facing employers is making sure that the remaining employees — those whom the companies’ success relies on — are being taken care of and feel like they’re still a part of a (mainly remote) team.

“Employees need to feel valued and feel like their bosses care. And care about the whole being, not just the employee part,” said career expert Vicki Salemi.

To do this, the five digital media companies that Digiday spoke to for this piece — Meredith, Condé Nast, Group Nine, BuzzFeed and Vox Media — have invested in providing employees with more virtual wellness services, subscriptions to mental health apps and career development programs.

A significant focus for Meredith’s benefits team has been modifying its health and wellness benefits to be useful and usable for its 4,800 employees, according to Tim O’Neil, the company’s executive director of employee experience, benefits and wellness.

Owning the span of health and wellness content and platforms that Meredith does, O’Neil said his team wanted to make that expertise available to the company’s employees.

That includes making three of the company’s external facing, consumer products —the MyLife meditation app, Synapse’s 4YourHealth virtual gym platform and the soon-to-come The Well portal, which curates Meredith’s brands’ health and wellness content into one location — free to staffers. Employees are given a free one-year membership to MyLife’s premium app while the rest of the services are expected to remain available to employees even after the pandemic is over, O’Neil said.

Generally speaking, core benefits like paid time off, health insurance and wellness services have remained relatively unchanged during the pandemic. There were some changes that went into effect this year, including increasing paid parental leave to 12 weeks and adding telemedicine as a covered benefit. But the most significant changes to benefits are how they are delivered and the forms in which they take. 

For example, Meredith launched its virtual gym 4YourHealth, in October for employees to take workout classes online. This was in addition to what the company typical does, which is paying for employees’ gym memberships, for those staffers whose gyms remain closed.  

Condé Nast is also repurposing its health and wellness benefits to be more applicable in the coronavirus era. A company spokesperson said that U.S. staffers are able to use their annual health and fitness stipend on home office equipment or virtual workout classes or at-home gym equipment. They would not disclose how large the stipend is.

Additionally, Condé Nast employees who choose to be a part of the long-term remote work option (meaning they continue working remotely post pandemic) will receive a larger stipend to support their home office, the spokesperson said.

Mental health services are also a particularly important benefit that digital publishers say they are looking to offer.

Condé Nast started giving its employees access to eight free counseling sessions through a mental health service platform called Talkspace during the pandemic. Staffers also get free access to the mediation app Unplug.

Three of the companies Digiday reached out to — BuzzFeed, Group Nine and Vox Media — reported that they have partnered with a mental health support platform called Ginger to give employees access to on-demand therapists. Some also pay for six to 10 sessions with licensed therapists and psychologists.

In 2020, Group Nine, publisher of Thrillist, PopSugar, NowThis, also started offering its employees free access to the meditation app Headspace and made a licensed therapist available during election week, according to a company spokesperson.

Vox Media also launched a partnership with meditation and yoga class provider HealHaus last year to give its employees access to the online classes, according to a company spokesperson.

BuzzFeed has started encouraging employees to take a monthly self-care day that’s not deducted from their PTO days after receiving feedback from its parenting employee resource group that this was a perk they needed while working remotely.

According to Guillermo Corea, managing director of the Workplace Innovation Lab & venture capital at the Society for Human Resource Management, employees want to feel like they’re still “getting skill sets that make them valuable in the workplace,” especially at a time when layoffs are common and keeping your job is not a guarantee. He added it’s important for employers to implement trainings and keep job security in mind when thinking about employee wellness.

Career expert Salemi added that modifying the simple “lunch and learn” structure to include speakers that can offer career advice can make that hour-long lunch break feel worthwhile to employees.

Both BuzzFeed and Vox Media have created one-to-one programs that employees can take part in to learn from career counselors and executives at the respective companies about how to advance in their careers.

Some of Vox Media’s brands specifically, including New York magazine and The Verge, hosted workshops for staffers that focus on different aspects of career advancement, the company spokesperson said. For example, The Verge did a three-part investigations workshop that included virtual classes on “How to Investigate a Workplace” and ”Fact Checking 101.”

Of course, employee benefits are only good as long as they’re being used.

About 40% of The Verge’s staff tuned in live to the workshops and the recordings are available for employees to watch after the fact. 

At Meredith, O’Neil said that 25% of all employees (or 1,200) have downloaded the MyLife app and 400 employees completed a workout class in the first week of launching the 4YourHealth virtual gym. Additionally, 4,000 employees have signed up to participate in the company’s annual wellness challenge in January, which has been modified to take place virtually and as a means to connect employees while they work remotely.

During the four-week challenge, teams track their activity minutes together and once a week the captains get their teams together virtually to complete a special task.

“We want to provide an opportunity for employees to have that sense of belonging. It’s not just the 5 o’clock Zoom happy hour. It’s ‘let’s form a team and let’s work on a challenge and try to be healthier together,'” said O’Neil.


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