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Hallmark Benefits Its Employees (AKA Owners)

March 1, 1996
Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Featured Article
Way back in 1956, Hallmark founder Joyce Hall had an idea that then was none-too-common: Encourage employees in their work by sharing the profits of the company with them. The profit-sharing program has remained an integral part of the Hallmark benefits package ever since, continually evolving to offer employees bigger and bigger stakes. In the late '70s, for instance, the company began investing in Hallmark stock.

Today, employees own one-third of the company. "It's very much a part of our culture," says Tresia Franklin, manager of benefits administration. "We hear comments all the time about how employees just want to do the best they can for the profit sharing."

The profit-sharing plan is a major means of keeping Hallmarkers involved and interested in the company's success. To ensure employees realize how good they have it, the Hallmark personalized benefits statement highlights the monetary value of an employee's benefits, as well as showcases the progression of their profit-sharing balance over the year. "The rest of the statement includes savings accounts and shows what benefits can accumulate to if you continue working here. It's really designed to show people what will happen if they stick around."

But Hallmark doesn't agree with spoon feeding benefits to employees. They are, after all, partners of sorts in the company. Reflecting this is the self-service approach to many Hallmark programs. For instance, rather than just setting up 401(k)s all around, Hallmark encourages financial goal setting through a savings and retirement planner. The planner is designed for easy use on a personal computer-employees enter such stats as their date of birth and date of hire at Hallmark, their annual pay and profit-sharing balances as well as projected future pay growth and contributions to the Thrift and Supplemental Thrift Plans (these are means by which Hallmarkers can save from 1% to 5% of their earnings before or after tax, with Hallmark matching 20% of the amount saved-an impressive benefit in and of itself). The planner then helps employees project their future retirement income and decide how much to begin saving for retirement.

Also available to employees is Hallmark's Life Event Planner, which takes key events in people's lives-such as marriages, births, buying a house-and demonstrates how Hallmark benefits interrelate. For instance, an employee looking under "Caring for Parents as They Age" will find information on using Hallmark's Dependent Care FlexPlan to pay day-care expenses for an elderly parent. "We've really tried to communicate the concept that benefits are part of your life," says Franklin. "They shouldn't be viewed as a 'you only need them when you go to the doctor' kind of thing. They integrate into your life."

Other important facets of the Hallmark benefits package:

  • Educational Benefits:
    Hallmark has a three-pronged approach. First, it reimburses full-time employees up to 100% of tuition, based on the courses taken and the school. Employees may take courses that don't directly relate to their jobs. Second, Hallmark will match contributions made by full-time employees to eligible schools in any amount up to $2000 annually per institution. Finally, Hallmarkers with five or more years of service may apply for educational loans for their children in colleges or universities. Interest doesn't begin until the child graduates.
  • Community service:
    Through the Volunteer Involvement Pays program, employees who volunteer time to qualifying organizations may apply for a $200 grant to the organization.
  • Adoption assistance:
    Hallmark will reimburse full-time employees up to $5,000 per adoption, one of the top-three most generous corporate programs in the United States.
  • Parental leave:
    New parents may take a six-month unpaid leave of absence.
  • Take-home dinners:
    Hallmark's extensive cafeteria provides take-home meals for employees who dial up and place an order.

So what do employees think about all this? Franklin says that in employee surveys, benefits tend to top the list in employee appreciation. "That's really gratifying because you can have this great benefits program but it will mean nothing if employees don't understand how to use it or don't appreciate it."

Even objective outsiders will rave about Hallmark's benefits. In The 1995 Benefits Index, a study of 20 major organizations conducted by Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Hewitt Associates, Hallmark ranked between third and fourth in overall benefits.

Finally, Hallmark itself benefits from its benefits. Says Franklin: "They're part of our core values. I think the company obviously has an excellent workforce. People enjoy working in a place they feel good about." I guess so. With more than 3,000 25-year veterans as proud members of the Quarter Century Club, I think it's safe to say people enjoy working there.

Personnel Journal, March 1996, Vol. 75, No. 3, p. 54.

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