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Nov 7, 2022

Regular visitors to will know that we are unabashedly proud about the power of progressive HR.

But to really be the voice of the HR sector, it’s the views of HR practitioners themselves that matter.

That’s why we’ve kicked off a brand new series that we’re calling ‘It works for me…’

Comprising articles written by ordinary HR folk, about the issues that impact them on a day-to-day basis, we aim to present easily actionable observations made ‘by’ HR professionals ‘for’ HR professionals.

Last month we began the series with Lauren Abe – head of people culture & development for the City of Asheville – around dealing with micro-frictions.

Today, we hear from Anna Richardson, VP of human resources at cloud infrastructure company, Aiven, about her approach to benefits – more specifically replicating in the US what’s seen as normal in Europe.

Here’s what she has to say…

 It works for me…. Offering European-standard benefits to US staff

 “For those that haven’t heard of us, Aiven is officially one of the newest unicorns to hail from the Nordics. We recently completed a successful Series D funding round that values us at more than $3 billion, and have 500 staff globally. In America – one of our newest markets – we have a team of 50, which is up from 20 a year ago. We plan to double the US office in the next 12 months.

When we were thinking about how to attract people who may not know about us, we decided very early on that it’s our culture that defines us. Our founders are Finnish, and where we established ourselves first [Helsinki, Finland] it’s quite normal for staff to have very good benefits – such as generous paid holiday, and perks like 16 weeks’ paternity leave. So it made sense to us that what’s largely seen as a standard in Europe be the same for our employees wherever in the world they work for us.

It means that to our US employees, we offer a standard of perks that they are simply not used to – indefinite sickness leave; generous holiday [20 days, rising to 25 next year]; 16 weeks’ parental leave and more. We also follow the cultural norm in Europe that says when people are off on holiday, they really are off – that is, there is ‘no’ expectation at all that people be contactable.

It’s obviously something we didn’t need to do. Most global companies stick to national norms and expectations. But we felt that meant it created differences in the employee value proposition that wouldn’t be fair. It would mean that people working in one part of the world for us would enjoy vastly better benefits than those in another – purely by accident of where they live.

For us, not only do we think creating consistency for staff globally is important for transparency and creating a sense of fairness and equality, but in the US at least, applying our standard benefits and perks to a US audience is a real competitive advantage.

To grow quickly, we need to engage people, and if we can do this with a well-perceived benefits package, the other good things that we want to be known for – our culture, the sense of autonomy we give staff, and mutual respect – will follow. We already know that staff from competitors are looking at our offerings, and are liking what they see.

Some might say we’re fortunate that we didn’t start off as a US business – that we have European founders; that we have a European outlook that we can simply uproot, and transplant into a US territory. To some extent this is true. Our CEO leads on our values from the top, and insists on a strict separation between work and home life that others can see.

But I do think the ‘European’ outlook we follow is something other organizations can learn from, and maybe try to copy in their businesses too.

We know that the pandemic has shifted attitudes about the way people think about their relationship with work, and people do now value their family life more. Firms don’t have to do everything we’re doing, but if they took a small leaf from our book – like letting people really be on holiday when they’re off – then I think they would soon find it could make a big difference.

Our competitors can already see the value in what we’re trying to achieve, so maybe in our own small way, we may influence the sorts of perks they start to offer.

One caveat that’s maybe worth mentioning: Firms might worry that if they’re seen to be offering amazing benefits, it creates an expectation for ever-more exciting and expensive benefits. But we don’t feel that’s the case. Benefits have their place, but if managed well they are only one part of the value proposition a company creates. For us, giving staff a sense of purpose is just as important, and we know we’ll only keep people if we inspire and motivate them.

But with that said, we do know our benefits attract people, and if we can harness this to make ourselves stand out, then we obviously will.”

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