If you want to see what creative, benefits-based differentiation looks like in a full-employment economy, take a look at the Boston and Cambridge biotech hub.
With 28 percent growth in the biotech industry in the last 10 years, and another 12,000 jobs expected to be added by 2023, Massachusetts is the number one biotech hub in the world. And the explosive growth isn’t ending any time soon. A recent poll found that 83 percent of Massachusetts biotech companies plan to increase their workforce in the next year.
Filling all those highly specialized roles with qualified candidates is a massive challenge for employers. In Boston and Cambridge, where a biotech engineer can step off the train and walk into 30 different firms with a resume in hand, companies are offering extremely competitive benefits packages to attract top candidates from a limited talent pool.
One way employers can differentiate themselves is by offering creative perks.
Perks, Perks and More Perks
Medical, dental and vision benefits offered in the fiercely competitive biotech sector are all pretty much the same -- excellent. Most health plans include terms like low-to-no employee contributions and low deductibles. Ironically, even though medical benefits account for the largest chunk of the total benefit costs, they oftentimes become less a part of the discussion than lifestyle perks.
When we sit down with leaders, we try to understand the culture of each individual organization and find out what’s important to them before we apply creative ways to match up benefits to the type of people they want to attract. For example, if the culture is family-focused, then we talk about adding perks like paid child care or elder care. For sales people who are constantly on the road, we can create benefits like transporting breast milk.
Employers can specialize their benefits package by picking out things that are near and dear to their hearts. They might offer benefits for enhanced infertility treatment, adoption services or freezing eggs, all of which can have a profoundly positive effect on someone’s life.
Taking Away Life’s Stresses
In general, biotech scientists are brilliant people who are trying to save the world, but they need help with pedestrian tasks like managing their personal finances. Employers can offer perks that take away some of these stresses at home to let people focus on their jobs.
Financial wellness benefits include a range of services such as bringing in retirement plan vendors to the office to talk about equity options, online services for debt consolidation and financial planning. Concierge services add a layer of assistance in things like scheduling doctor’s visits, making appointments, purchasing tickets for events, or finding and vetting child care and elder care.
While Google’s free employee lunches on campus whipped up by five-star chefs carry a lot of cachet, employers can bring in a suite of other services that improve productivity and maximize time such as on-site vision care, on-site dental care, dry cleaning pick-up and drop-off, and healthy meal delivery services, to name a few.
Biotech and Big Pharma have the unique ability to offer private access to screening tests for drugs that are being developed. Trying to attract post-grads? Try offering employer contributions for student loans or loan refinancing programs.
Start-ups that need to be more mindful of spending can offer lifestyle perks that don’t come with a big price tag. Unlimited time off, half-day summer Fridays and generous parental leave benefits create a lot of goodwill and put people in a positive mindset. Of course, there’s the fun stuff, too. Nitro coffee, kombucha, ping pong, and trips to escape rooms are low-cost items that may not be enough to entice qualified candidates, but can make a better work environment.
The majority of people working in biotech are, in a way, saving the world by coming up with new medicines and technology every day. As brokers in this ever-changing industry, we need to keep reinventing the portfolio of benefits and offer creative solutions to attract the best people and clear the way for them to focus on their noble purpose.
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