A spotlight on BAML:

Best practice for supporting work-life balance

We are delighted to congratulate our client Bank of America Merrill Lynch on winning ‘Best benefits to support work-life balance’ at the Employee Benefits 2019 Awards. These annual awards recognise the talent and innovation from the reward and benefits sector and celebrate excellence in this field.

As the competition for talent heats up, the ability to provide meaningful employee benefits that attract and retain employees, contribute to wellbeing and enhance engagement is high on everyone’s priority list. However, with five generations in the workplace and the traditional 9 to 5 office-based working day no more, finding the right support for all of our people is more complex than ever.

So we were keen to speak with Adam Brooke, Vice President and Senior Benefits Consultant at BAML to learn more about the secrets behind their success and how they support the diverse needs of their most important asset: people.

It’s fantastic to hear that BAML has won this award for the support you offer to enhance work-life balance. Congratulations! Could you tell us a little about the benefits you offer and why this is an important area for you?

We were delighted to win the award for Best Benefits to Support Work-Life balance. I think one of the things that hopefully stood out when the judges reviewed our entry was that do we try, wherever we can, to be all inclusive, whether it’s through our policies or benefits. Our benefits are available to all our employees, regardless of their grade or length of employment.

Two of our benefits that the judges particularly praised are our Back-Up Care and our Work+Family Space. Each employee in the UK and Ireland has 20 days of back-up childcare and also 20 days of back-up adult care per annum – it’s not one or the other. The reason for this is the demographic of our employees. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch we have almost equal numbers of men and women and a wide range of ages – so our employees will be experiencing different life stages.

In addition to our practical back-up care, our Work+Family Space gives employees access to information and support at those various stages – from becoming a new parent to learning how to engage and communicate with teenagers. The same applies to those employees who are starting to realise that they may already, or in the near future, have adult or elder care responsibilities. This is going to happen more and more as employees remain longer in the workplace and the retirement age increases: caring responsibilities are changing as people can’t retire when they would have done in the past. They might reduce their pattern to part-time but where they would have been at home full-time for a loved one, they’re still in the workplace and therefore that support isn’t there.

These types of benefits, whether it’s back-up care, information and resources, or the ability to speak to an expert consultant, will become more and more important for both employees and employers in the future.

The retirement age is certainly changing especially for the younger generations and it seems like there may not be a specific age in the future.

It’s really interesting and having spoken with colleagues within the reward and benefits industry, the messaging to employees may well change so that they think of their pension pot as a means to help them semi-retire or take on a less stressful job, rather than completely retire.

How do you structure your benefits and how do you prioritise each?

Whenever you look at a benefits offering, especially now, and you’re structuring it and talking to employees, whereas once employers would say ‘this is the benefits offering and we think this is right for you’ this is no longer appropriate. We’re now considering a wider range of benefits that are more flexible based upon feedback from employees, demographic data, and sign-up rates from the various committees.

For example, our onsite gym has all the classes you’d expect to find but also a range of additional classes, tailored to meet the feedback and demographics of our workforce, such as yoga for pregnant employees.

Benefits has to evolve and keep changing and it’s quite an interesting time. It’s slowly been coming through over the last six to seven years and what I would say, especially when we’re talking about those with adult and elder care responsibilities, is that we’re starting to challenge benefit vendors more about their offerings so that we can also look to include employees’ parents in the proposition. We believe that for a truly flexible offering we have to look much broader in this way.

Wow, it sounds like BAML offers many fantastic benefits, beyond those traditional benefits most closely associated with work and family.

When I think about the amount of things we offer, it makes me feel very proud to work for the bank. We really do aspire to make it a Great Place to Work for our employees. In the past year we have opened a mothers’ and expectant mothers’ room in London where expecting or new mothers, including those who are breastfeeding, can relax. I know colleagues who have used the room for exactly this purpose and have taken time out. It’s very quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of daily work.

There’s been quite a few articles recently around support for new mothers, especially those who are breastfeeding, and it sounds like BAML are very much ahead of the curve.

We’re certainly trying to be and we’re challenging whenever we can. We’re speaking to our existing vendors to learn more about the support available for the whole family – there’s no standard family anymore. One programme I particularly like, which is provided by Bright Horizons / My Family Care, is the sessions for different groups, such as new fathers, helping men come to terms with those big changes in their lives. It’s great to see it all coming together.

With so many benefit providers around how do you choose the best fit for your business?

When we sit down with a vendor we have a much broader remit now and we have to look at those who are the best fit for us and often this is based around flexibility. It’s great when we can talk to a vendor about what we’re trying to achieve, share ideas, and for them to then put forward a recommendation, rather than an ‘off the shelf’ product. Given the changing age profiles and demographics of employees, there is more and more demand for these type of bespoke offerings.

What should rewards and benefits professionals look for in a benefits provider?

What you really want from a benefits provider is a relationship. You’re looking for a beneficial relationship for both parties, which you’ll hopefully have for some time. It can’t be rigid because businesses don’t stay rigid – it’s important right from on-boarding to really make it a two way conversation and know each other well so you have a foundation of understanding to build on.

Would you advocate having a portfolio of specialist benefits providers or looking for one more holistic partner?

There are certain areas where it’s helpful to have panels of vendors which minimises risk, but otherwise it’s the holistic partner and working with those who can offer a range of benefits and in line with what you’re trying to achieve.

Wellbeing and mental health has been a big focus for 2019. As we approach benefits season, what do you think will be the next trend for 2020? And what’s next for you?

We’re very much focussed on our wellbeing pillars: physical, financial and emotional wellbeing. Mental health and emotional wellbeing will continue to be given more and more focus, not just by us but by a number of other companies and rightly so – it’s about supporting your workforce as a whole throughout every life stage. We recently held a series of events for Mental Health Awareness Week and it was very successful.

Going forward, it’s about keeping that momentum, whether that’s through our benefits or wellbeing offering. I think that’s where employers generally have struggled before when something is done in isolation. We must embed the support we offer by continuing to raise awareness and make sure everyone knows that it’s OK not to be OK.

Financial wellbeing will also start to gain more attention, whether that’s helping employees to understand the importance of saving for the long term, or looking more broadly at their financial circumstances.

For us, 2020 will be focussed on raising awareness of our benefits and the support available for employees.

If you could give one piece of advice to fellow reward and benefit professionals, what would it be?

Listen to your employees. I still think it has to come back to this. We can’t say what we have always done is still right and only by speaking to our employees can we understand what’s right for them, and align it with our strategy.

How does BAML reach out and engage with its people?

We have a number of networks and we work closely with them to share information about our benefits. Our parents and carers network is particularly popular and we hold a variety of different webinars and lunchtime briefings in partnership with Bright Horizons / My Family Care on parenting and caring topics. Likewise a network can be a fantastic way for us to hear from our employees. We also have an annual employee survey and, later this year, we will be surveying our employees after they have made their flexible benefit elections for 2020 to gauge first-hand what’s working and what we can do to improve.

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