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Liberty Mutual Benefits Head’s Strategy: Don’t ‘Be Afraid to Try Something Different’

female couple with their child

Verlinda DiMarino knows how to adapt with changing times.

DiMarino first joined Liberty Mutual Insurance as benefits project manager in 2002, when the firm’s offerings looked a lot different than they do today. Over the years, Liberty has added and expanded several benefits, from family to financial. Many of the changes have been in response to big changes in the world, such as the pandemic, trends in family dynamics, and economic volatility that has increased employees’ financial stress.

Among some of the Boston-based insurance firm’s additions for its 34,000 U.S. workers in recent years are a breast milk shipping benefit for nursing parents, backup care options, enhanced family leave, fertility benefits, a musculoskeletal (MSK) benefit, bereavement leave for pregnancy loss, free one-on-one financial counseling, and a student loan match under the company’s 401(k) plan.

Evolving with the times, the marketplace, and employees’ needs is essential to supporting the workforce as well as helping employers hold a competitive edge, DiMarino said.

“You have to not be afraid to try something different,” said DiMarino, now Liberty’s head of benefits. “If we’re still offering the same benefits, we’re not going to attract the talent of the future. We’re not going to retain the talent if another employer is offering more innovative benefits that help a diverse population. So, it's really continuously keeping an eye to what’s changing and how we can support our employees within that.”

That’s part of Liberty’s strategy, she said, and it also should be a strategy for any top employer.

“There has been such a major evolution of benefits. More and more organizations like Liberty really recognize the pivotal role that benefits play in the life of our employees, how they support them,” she said. “And it’s really a major part of the value proposition. Why people stay in an organization can really come down to the benefits that an organization offers.”

SHRM Online talked with DiMarino about some of the firm’s recent benefits additions, the importance of employee feedback, and when to know if it’s time for an organization to sunset a benefit.

SHRM Online: I know you’ve done a lot with family benefits lately. Why is this important?

DiMarino: It speaks to what’s important to us as an organization. Since I’ve started, we always supported family building at Liberty. We’ve had fertility benefits in place, we had some adoption benefits. But over time, by listening to our employees through focus groups and, more recently, ERGs [employee resource groups], we’ve leaned in even more.

The way people built families 20 years ago, it’s very different today. In recognition of that, we have expanded on our family-forming benefits. We have adoption and surrogacy. We allow individuals to utilize fertility benefits without the diagnosis of infertility. All of that really speaks to our core, who we are as an organization, and how we want to support our employees, not just from a professional perspective—which we do by giving them great opportunities to help them grow and develop their career—but also the other parts of their lives. We heard from our ERG that our employees needed more support and assistance with navigating the whole fertility road map, so we found a partner that would assist employees around education, planning for adoption, things like that.

In addition to that, we’ve increased our parental leave. For birth parents, they have eight weeks of maternity leave, followed by eight weeks of parenting leave. And nonbirth parents have eight weeks of parenting leave.

It’s something we’re really proud of, and employees were very excited when we launched that a few years back.

SHRM Online: What drives you to change benefits?

DiMarino: A lot of it is direct employee feedback, and a lot is data related. We are self-insured, so we get our claims that come in and we can see where we’re seeing a lot of utilization in particular areas. We say, “OK, we think we can help employees in that regard.”

Our MSK benefit—the virtual physical therapy—was one of the things we identified during claims experience and also from short-term disability. From looking at the market, looking at what’s out there, we thought, “Wow, what a nice use case to do this virtual physical therapy.’”

In general, it’s just seeing what’s out there and seeing what we can do to make us the employer of choice for employees and prospective employees.

SHRM Online: When you’re offering so many different benefits, how do you know when you get it right? How do you measure success?

DiMarino: It’s a combination of a couple of things. We do a regular survey, and once a year, we were able to put a special supplement around benefits in our net promoter score, so that we can get the voice of employees. We don’t want to invest dollars in things that employees aren’t going to value. We also work closely with all of our vendor partners to see what our engagement rates are. And we look at our engagement rates, as opposed to their book of business, often to see if we’re doing better or worse. If we’re not getting a lot of engagement, that might mean we need to communicate that program more broadly to our employee base, which usually equates to engagement and appreciation of the offering.

If we’re doing all those things and it’s still not hitting the mark, maybe it’s an opportunity to sunset that particular vendor relationship and introduce something else. We can take those dollars and reinvest them in something that’s going to get more appreciation from our employees and support them and their family members more.

Long term, we are just trying to be there for our employees and their dependents. I love the fact that we offer benefits that align to our values. I love the fact that they’re diverse, that there’s something for everyone in what we offer.

SHRM Online: How big a role do benefits play in attraction and retention efforts for you?

DiMarino: We continue to measure our benefits to understand how employees feel about their benefits and figure out the employee sentiment around benefits for attraction and retention. It’s pretty high. We do monthly employee net promoter scores. And some of those questions get directly to benefits. We know that we’re making a difference.

SHRM Online: What’s one of the keys to success with benefits?

DiMarino: When an organization like ours offers so many rich benefits, we need to make sure we have opportunities to communicate and promote those benefits so employees are aware of what we’re offering. We work closely with our ERGs, and we use them as an ambassador for some of our programs. [For example], one of the things we introduced this year was a student loan match under our 401(k) plan. And [employees] had a lot of questions around that. That’s a nice opportunity for us to tell our story and tell them how a benefit works.

I really believe that benefits play an important role in the value proposition. So many times, candidates trying to make a decision between Liberty and another organization hear about our benefits and during a conversation, we hear them say, “Wow, that’s great.” We know our benefits are making a difference in attracting and retaining top talent for the organization.


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