Resources

Who is ALICE?

Building An ALICE-Friendly Workplace

Starting Points, Tools, And Examples

Ready to build an ALICE-friendly workplace? Follow these best practices and use the resources to launch your company’s action plan. Build a comprehensive support system or begin with a couple of impactful changes.

Companies that adopt ALICE-friendly policies reduce turnover and see improved productivity. More importantly, they’re helping to break the cycle of low-wage poverty, one worker at a time.

Special thanks to The Center for Women in Work at Rutgers University which helped to compile this list of best practices, tools, and resources for employers to develop workplace-based solutions for supporting ALICE employees.

Benefits & Compensation Scheduling & Flexibility Professional Development Work Support & Resources Financial Wellness

Benefits & Compensation

Pay a living wage

The majority of hourly jobs in New Jersey pay less than $20 per hour, making it difficult for many households to make ends meet, even with two workers employed full time. The business case for raising wages is decreased turnover, higher quality workers, improved production and better morale. Here are some tools to help your business develop a plan to increase compensation of low-wage workers:

  • Offer good jobs. The Good Jobs Institute makes the business case for good jobs, of which salary is a foundational element. Companies can evaluate their performance as employers, be inspired by “good companies”, and learn strategies to investing in employees and make other transformational company changes. The site is filled with helpful tools and resources, including the Good Jobs Calculator, which allows companies to compare the cost of raising wages against the long-term costs of inaction.
  • Consider local costs. When considering how much compensation to offer, use the Living Wage Calculator to estimate the cost of living in your area. Even though New Jersey recently increased the minimum wage, ALICE research shows that it’s still not a livable wage.

    Companies leading the way:
    Costco is considered the gold standard of “good companies,” with a starting wage of $15.50 per hour and an average wage of $22.50 per hour in 2019, according to Fox Business News, yearly bonuses that average $4,000, and a culture that’s known to promote and train from within.

Offer affordable health care

Providing affordable coverage may be the most important thing employers can do to support their workers. Yet the rising prices are hard for small businesses and their workers to afford, particularly ALICE. Here are some ways companies are offsetting costs for ALICE:

  • Salary-based premiums. For companies with a wide range of salaries, an earnings-based structure—where low-wage earners pay less, and high salaried earners pay higher— is being used increasingly to make insurance available to lower-income earners. According to the Society for Human Resource Managers, while this model creates savings, administrative complexities require careful navigation. Learn more about salary-based premiums here.

    Companies leading the way:
    JPMorgan Chase reportedly pays 80 percent of health care premiums for workers making under $60,000, and the company lowered the annual deductible by $750 to $2,000 or less, depending on the plan workers choose.

  • High performance network (HPNs). Health plans with high performance networks are more affordable because they offers fewer providers, but ones that are higher quality, maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of care. There has been a recent upsurge of use in high performance networks:16% of companies offered them in 2020, and still more companies are offering them in 2021. Learn more about the promise of HPNs here.
  • Professional employer organizations (PEO). Partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO) enables small businesses to gain access to big business benefits and perks (like more affordable health care plans) and administrative functions (like payroll and taxes). According to one study, companies that work with a PEO grow 7 to 9 percent faster, have 10 to 14 percent lower employee turnover, and are 50 percent less likely to go out of business. Learn more at NAPEO.
  • Secure a nimble broker. If you want the best benefits package for your employees, make sure your benefits and insurance agent is working for you. The Society of Human Resource Management offers best practices for selecting the right broker. Then, don’t operate on autopilot, but bring your budget, priorities, and outside-of-the-box thinking to negotiate the right mix of health care options to match the needs of your staff.
Help employees save for retirement

Building retirement savings is a key issue for ALICE employees. The way most companies structure their retirement plans is often inaccessible for lower salary workers, who cannot afford to contribute the same percentage of their pay as higher tier salary employees. Here are some ideas for helping employees save for their future:

  • Automatic enrollment. Join the firms that help their employees’ retirement savings by making 401ks automatic rather than waiting for employees to opt-in and funding the accounts regardless of an employee’s ability to contribute.

    Companies leading the way:
    JPMorgan Chase automatically enrolls employees in 401k retirement accounts and contributes 3%-5% of employees’ annual salary each year, in addition to the regular company match.

  • ALICE support groups. Giving ALICE workers a voice and a platform to share their struggles can help develop effective solutions. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led support groups for members of a demographic that can facilitate communication with management, increase employee engagement, develop inclusive workplace policies, and build a pipeline for future company leaders. Studies show that companies with ERGs are more profitable than those without. Find out more at What Are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

    Companies leading the way:
    ERGs at Justworks had been built around fellowship and support, but within the last year they also started working with executive sponsors. Having access to leadership brought an employee perspective to the decision-making table and had a positive impact on employment policies for minority groups throughout the company. For ERG leaders, it has brought leadership experience, influence and exposure, and a boost in compensation.

WORK SUPPORT & RESOURCES

Make employees aware of government resources

Many ALICE families who qualify for government assistance due to low income don’t access it. One reason may be that they are unaware of benefits available to them. As part of a comprehensive benefits package, companies could keep their employees informed about the resources, programs, and financial assistance available to them from local, state, and national government, including:

  • Paid family leave. In New Jersey, paid family leave has recently expanded from six to 12 weeks, wage replacement has increased to 85 percent, and jobs are now guaranteed during that time (in organizations of 30 or more). This employer toolkit will help your employees navigate these benefits.
  • Food and nutrition. Approximately 10 percent of New Jersey residents suffer from food insecurity. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and WIC are designed to ensure eligible families have adequate food and nutrition.
  • Tax credits and relief. Low-income workers may be eligible for tax credits that they may not be aware of, like the Child and Dependent Care Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit which can amount to thousands of dollars per year. It’s estimated that one in four New Jerseyans who qualify don’t apply for the EITC and miss out on the refund. Consider offering tax-preparation on-site, or direct your employees to free filing services at the United Way of Northern NJ tax site or the 211 Free Tax site locator for southern and central New Jersey.
  • NJ.gov. Be sure that your employees are aware of NJ.gov's assistance portal, where they can access every form of government assistance (mentioned above and additional resources). It’s also where they can find their county website, which is a one-stop portal for human and social services, including mental and behavioral health supports.
Be sure community resources are known and understood

Become familiar with community programs and other ways to increase ALICE’s access to support. Here are some ways to keep your workforce informed about these resources:

  • Network for ALICE. Look into creating an Employer Resource Network (ERN)— a group of companies that shares the cost of a success coach who helps ALICE workers with ongoing human and social service needs. Success coaches can restore productivity to workplaces by connecting employees to the correct resources, saving hours on research for helpful programs and visits to government agencies. According to a recent study, companies in an ERN have employee retention rates of 80 – 90%, and a 500% return on investment. Learn best practices to build your own ERN at ERN-USA.

    Companies leading the way:
    In 2019, success coaches in ERNs in Michigan helped workers with over 6,000 requests. The top requests were life coaching, housing, financial literacy, government agency navigation, financial aid, health insurance, car repair, transportation, and counseling referrals. They helped employees get emergency loans equaling $422,000 and build emergency savings accounts totaling $225,000.

  • Community resource hotline. Make employees aware of New Jersey’s community resource hotline (accessible by dialing “211” or at http://www.211.org). Available 24/7 to connect individuals to local human and social services, this resource can assist with anything from paying utilities, housing, financial aid, mental health supports, and workforce development.
Removing transportation challenges

Economically vulnerable workers experience significant challenges when it comes to affordable and reliable transportation to work. The ease or stress of commuting can affect workers’ productivity. Here are some ideas for tackling this tough challenge for your workforce:

  • Pretax benefits. Employers can continue to offer and educate workers about the benefits of pre-tax commuter benefits available to them.
  • Transportation partnerships. Employers may also want to consider collaborating with their county’s Transportation Management Association to find alternative options, such as coordinated van pickups or other solutions designed to offset employee costs.
  • Rideshares. Firms can offer subsidized Uber and Lyft rides to provide ALICE workers transportation when public transportation is far away, late at night, or as an emergency back-up when employees can’t get to work any other way.

    Companies leading the way:
    During the pandemic, Adventist Healthcare was one of many New York businesses that has turned to Uber to provide safe and reliable transportation for hospital workers and caregivers needing to visit patients who required in-home care.

SCHEDULING & FLEXIBILITY

Give your workforce hours and income they can count on

In order to thrive in the workplace, ALICE needs consistent work with predictable, fixed hours. With dependable schedules and earnings, workers are better able to budget and plan for child care and transportation expenses. Here are some ideas to help provide more stability for your workforce:

  • Standardize and plan. Work with your workforce to build shifts with more predictable schedules that fit their life demands. Building in clear expectations and timelines for key tasks can also help make scheduling more accurate. Visit workplacefairness.org to learn more about current laws and trends in flexible and predictive scheduling.

    Companies leading the way:
    After participating in a stable scheduling study in San Francisco for a year, participating GAP stores saw a sharp increase in sales, and the chain then implemented a company-wide policy of predictable and consistent hours.

  • Cross-train utility players. Training employees in more than one task creates a more flexible workforce with a deeper understanding of your business and ensures stability when staff in key roles are absent. In service-oriented businesses, it’s essential have a cross-trained staff for down times. For example, a hostess for a restaurant could be trained to work on catering logistics when there aren’t many customers. Find implementation ideas for cross-training here.
  • Provide flexible and family-friendly child care policies. Child care costs are crippling for segments of the U.S. workforce—despite New Jersey’s expansion of publicly funded preschool, vulnerable households struggle to continue working due to high price of child care. And while the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has required certain employers to offer some kind of family flexibility, the business case for making long-term family friendly policies is a more committed and productive workforce with less absenteeism and lower turnover.
  • Subsidized back-up care. Some companies address child care needs by offering a set number of days per year at an on-site day-care center, or by providing a nanny or babysitter for families at home.
  • Flexible scheduling. Use creative thinking to allow for schedules that allow employees to get their work done. For staff with specific child care or elder care needs, telecommuting or completing the same number of hours in different hours may be advantageous.
  • Tax savings plans. Employers that can’t afford to offer subsidized back-up child care can still help by offering Dependent Care Assistance Plans (DCAP), which allow employees to contribute pretax dollars for dependent care—much like health savings accounts do for health. Employers can help by contributing to employees’ accounts as well. Learn more about DCAPS and more lenient guidelines due to COVID-19, here.

    Companies leading the way:
    The cost of Patagonia’s family friendly policies—subsidized onsite child care, 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, and a travel support program for nursing mothers—are 71% repaid to the company, between tax incentives, employee engagement and retention, not to mention the value of a happy, healthy workforce.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Skill development is key

Developing a productive workforce and retaining ALICE workers is just as important as finding and retaining good managers. Here are some ideas to help get your business started on this path:

  • In-house training. Establish a program that creates pathways for employees to grow on the job, whether through ladders, mentorships or investing in management training programs. This article from The Society for Human Resource Managers discusses different ways, including career ladders, mentorships, and shadowing, that employers can use to assist employees in career progression.

    Companies leading the way:
    Wegmans grocery store, from Rochester, NY, invests more than $50 million every year in training and development, which includes providing management trainee and leadership development programs. It must be quite good, because at the #3 company to work for in the US according to Forbes for 5 years running, employee’s top reason for loving their workplace is the positive environment, integrity of the managers, and how valued employees feel.

  • Publicly funded programs. The state offers numerous grants, scholarships, and incentives for on-the-job training of new hires, training partnerships with learning institutions, hiring hard-to-place employees, and a credentialed apprenticeship program that pays employees to learn on the job and offers classroom instruction. Learn more about signing your own workers up for sponsored apprenticeships or hiring a sponsored trainee at New Jersey Department of Workforce Development.

    Companies leading the way:
    RWJBarnabas Health has participated in a state-funded partnership with New Jersey’s Department of Workforce Development’s CareerWorks to run development trainings for in-demand health care related careers. Educators work onsite after hours to train cohorts of entry-level workers to step up their skill and salary. Participants have gone on to become patient care technicians, EMTs, and patient care technicians as a part of the company’s career ladder program.

FINANCIAL WELLNESS

Emergency assistance can be a stabilizing lifeline

When workers have an emergency need for cash, without any savings to rely on, they can be forced to rely on high-cost alternatives, such as payday loans. These loans come at an extremely high interest rate and could lead to greater economic instability down the road. Companies can help their workforce manage their finances and plan for emergencies by offering financial planning tools, counseling and emergency relief funds.

  • Savings tools. Employers can facilitate financial preparedness by offering an automatic emergency savings account, in which a predetermined deduction is taken from each paycheck. Because saving is so hard for low-wage employees, consider offering an incentive to help jumpstart meaningful savings.

    Companies leading the way:
    Levi Strauss & Co. Red Tab Savers program helps hourly employees build a habit of savings and equips them with an emergency fund. In addition to a $20 sign-up bonus, employees who deposit $10 a month for six months receive $240. After that, employee funds get a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $40 per month.

  • Financial counseling. The National Fund for Workforce Solution’s Guide to Employee Financial Wellness provides resources, tools and strategies to help employers connect employees with customized financial support to help them take steps for long-term solutions and financial stability.
  • Hardship loans. Employers can help protect their workers’ financial health by providing internal, interest free loans for employees, as an advance on their paycheck. Learn more about the tax implications and other considerations of Employee-loans from the Society for Human Resource Management.

    Companies leading the way:
    Walmart employees can use the PayActiv app if they need an advance on their paycheck. If they borrow, it costs $5 biweekly. The store also uses Even, an app that allow employees to get up to half of their paycheck a week early. For an additional fee, it also has a budgeting tool and bill pay features.

  • Emergency relief grants. Particularly since the start of the pandemic, more companies are instituting relief funds, which workers can access if they are in danger of losing housing or facing other circumstances that challenge their economic security. Learn best practices and legal and tax implications for creating an emergency fund at the Emergency Assistance Foundation.

    Companies leading the way:
    Starbucks’ relief fund is a nonprofit foundation, so donations are pre-taxed, and employees are encouraged to contribute to the fund in addition to the corporation. Employees facing unexpected financial hardship can apply to receive a tax-free grant.