ClassPass Corporate sat down with one of our long-time partners, Akin Gump, to discuss the firm's benefits management strategy. We are excited to share the key takeaways from our conversation to show how Akin Gump goes beyond simply "checking the box" with employee benefits and well-being.

When you picture the company culture of a law firm you might think of the stereotypical “corporate culture” you see in the movies. You might think of long hours with a board of no nonsense bosses who only care about winning cases. But at Akin Gump, one of the world’s largest law firms, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Akin Gump knows that people are at the heart of their success. To support their people, they offer a world class benefits and well-being program, where they focus on ‘meeting people where they are.’ There’s the typical medical, dental, vision, life, disability and paid time off that you would expect of a global firm, but they also offer adoption and surrogacy support among many other thoughtful benefits designed to meet their employees’ specific needs through every life situation. 

Meg Meserole, Chief Human Resources Officer says “we want to have benefits that help them just take some of the stress of life off. We all work very hard at Akin Gump and we want to provide benefits that help make their lives easier.” To double down on their commitment, they’ve hired Juli Dennis, Manager of Well-Being Benefits to focus solely on their wellness program full-time -- a role you don’t often see at a law firm.

“If you’re doing it from a check the box perspective you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and you’re going to miss the mark,” says Meserole. “To be the best professionally, you need to be your best personally.”

A four pillars of wellness approach

Akin Gump’s approach to employee well-being includes four defined pillars -- physical, mental, financial & social/community. Every benefit that they offer, outside of the basics, falls into one of these pillars. Whenever they are interviewing a potential vendor or looking to add or improve a benefit, they’re thinking about which pillar this benefit is addressing. The goal is to ensure that all employees are supported in all four areas so they can show up as the best version of themselves at work.

“Benefits are about more than just jobs and career stuff. We want to make sure that people have what they need,” says Meserole.

Jessica Chicorelli, Director of Financial Benefits, drives the team’s financial wellness strategy. This pillar has evolved over the years to cover everything from retirement planning to student loan assistance. Chicorelli leads the team in coordinating financial wellness education and works with many employees 1:1 on their individual questions helping her to build trust with the employees that she supports.

Chicorelli drove the firm’s decision to partner with ClassPass, the world’s leading fitness & wellness membership, in part as a financial wellness benefit. By reducing the cost to exercise, she’s helping to take one more financial burden off of her employees’ plates. On top of that,  she’s making it easy and accessible for employees to stay active & healthy -- addressing two pillars at once. 

Use feedback loops to ensure benefits are hitting the mark

Chicorelli believes in the importance of having a data-driven strategy. She relies heavily on assessments and surveys to identify trends and areas for improvement. She also looks to her vendors for key insights. For example, she looks at contribution rates from their 401(k) recordkeeper to help understand her employees’ financial situations better.

Akin Gump also relies on their local HR Managers and firmwide resource groups (FRGs) to help inform their benefits strategy. The FRGs are affinity groups for certain populations at the firm and they connect regularly to discuss their needs as a group. Executive sponsorship and participation in these groups ensures that these needs are bubbled up to the global HR Team and incorporated into the strategy. That way, employee feedback is heard.

Effective communication is key

All in all, Akin Gump’s benefits are truly comprehensive - but that also means that employees can get overwhelmed easily. There are so many benefits that fall into each pillar that it can make communication complicated.

Pre-pandemic, the HR team would go on a road show and travel between locations explaining the benefits. Now that travel is restricted, they’ve pivoted.

“There’s only so many benefits we can promote at the same time without overwhelming people. Our job is to connect the dots for them and say this employee has this situation, what benefits can we use to help them with that,” says Chicorelli. “You can’t just give them a list of our benefits, and say ‘hey here they are.’ It’s more about thinking about the time of year, what’s going on in the world, what can we do to show them right now that they are supported.”

Executive support is crucial to success

The Akin Gump team says that the best way to build a successful program at your company is to invest in the team, communicate frequently and get stakeholder buy-in. They admit that without the leadership team’s support, it would be impossible to achieve their program goals.

“The leadership buy-in comes from the perspective of - we know this is good for our employees, we know this helps them personally which will help them professionally,” says Juli Dennis, Manager of Well-Being Benefits. “Not ‘whoa this will save money’ but more from the perspective that we know it’ll help our employees and we care about our employees.”

It’s safe to say that benefits management is so much more than checking the box - it’s about caring for your employees as their whole, true selves and supporting them every step of the way, no matter where they’re at.


Feature image credit: Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

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