Interview: Sarah Stephenson, CHRO, CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries
With 25+ years of experience in human resources, Sarah Stephenson tells us her job has been rewarding since the very beginning. Fast-forward to today, she’s held the position as the Chief Human Resources Officer at CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, Inc. for over two years. The company, CraftWorks, employs over 10,000 people. She believed finding a way to help her employees living in financial stress, while also taking on minimal administrative burden, would be the perfect way to streamline recruitment, retention, and engagement in the company.
After a successful pilot-period, CraftWorks decided to go live with the PayActiv benefit for employees throughout the organization. Sarah tells us the positive effects she’s seen in CraftWorks as a result of implementing PayActiv and shares her hopes for the future.
CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, Inc. adopted the PayActiv financial wellness program earlier this year to improve retention, engagement, and productivity. From word-of-mouth momentum, to overwhelming initial interest, to reduced turnover in employees participating in the voluntary benefit, Sarah Stephenson—the Chief Human Resources Officer of CraftWorks—reports the success she’s seen is very encouraging and that she’s a “raving fan.”
As a forward-thinking HR executive, Sarah tells us about her passion for HR, how the PayActiv benefit has been received by the organization thus far, and what she hopes for the future.
Sarah Stephenson tells us she didn’t intend to pursue a career in human resources, but when she got into it, she found that she loved it. Now, working in HR for 25+ years, the things that inspired Sarah about her job in the beginning still inspire her today. Sarah says, “I take the role so seriously—whether it’s we’re interviewing someone for a job or we’re helping them make decisions around their benefits, it’s impacting their life. That’s a pretty weighty responsibility.”
Why did CraftWorks feel they could use PayActiv’s help?
Sarah began by telling us her feelings on the financial stress epidemic—one statistic as an example we discussed being that 90 million American employees live paycheck-to-paycheck: “While it may seem like the economy is on the uptick, there are still far too many people below a comfortable standard of living and many, many people at the poverty line. I think we all know many people that are working 2 or more jobs. I think that’s difficult to swallow sometimes.”
Moreover, she told us the specifics regarding CraftWorks being interested in a financial wellness program like PayActiv to reduce employee financial stress and improve profitability:
“Despite the minimum wage increases that have happened in different parts of the country, the jobs in our restaurants (waiting, cooking, etc.) are oftentimes still not enough to make ends meet, or they make ends meet but don’t allow for any flexibility. Also, the timing of our pay cycles doesn’t necessarily mesh with the timing of their bills being due. We’re hoping that this financial wellness benefit program to help employees is going to increase retention, and we’re also thinking this should be an attraction tool as well.”
“The timing of our pay cycles doesn’t necessarily mesh with the timing of their bills being due. We’re hoping that this financial wellness benefit program to help employees is going to increase retention, and we’re also thinking this should be an attraction tool as well.”
Sarah has also, unfortunately, seen the effects financial stress has on employees first-hand. When we asked her if she had a story of someone she knows in financial stress she replied with, “You know, unfortunately, I probably know too many people living in financial stress. I know of several employees that we have who literally have to live out of their cars. And, it’s not a down and out population, either. It’s that they’re literally that close to not being able to survive. It’s also a reminder that we’re all just one catastrophe away from living in those conditions.”
What was the response when CraftWorks first announced the PayActiv benefit?
Like many prospective PayActiv customers feel in the beginning (considering our program comes at no cost to the employer and only a small transaction fee for employees to access their funds), CraftWorks—Sarah Stephenson included—were wondering, “Can it really be that simple?”
Sarah says, “We piloted PayActiv initially. I kept thinking, ‘You guys are too good to be true. There has to be a hiccup in the system somewhere.’ So, I kind of kept looking for that in the beginning. But, when we rolled the program out it was met with overwhelming interest. We had some folks sign up immediately and one of the things that’s been helping create awareness is word-of-mouth among management and employees. Something that was most surprising to me—which maybe shouldn’t have been—is that we knew our hourly employees would utilize this benefit, but what’s been most surprising is that our salaried managers use it as well. We’ve even had people at our headquarters and our support office take advantage of the benefit!”
“I kept thinking, ‘You guys are too good to be true. There has to be a hiccup in the system somewhere.’ So, I kind of kept looking for that in the beginning. But, when we rolled the program out it was met with overwhelming interest.”
The PayActiv benefit has continued to grow—what makes it different from other programs?
“I love the fact that the PayActiv benefit is voluntary and people have a choice to participate if they want to or not. We definitely encourage people to enroll, that way even if they didn’t want to take advantage of it, the process would be quicker if they did need it in the future. I also think the fact that there’s no cost to enroll is another attractive bonus. It’s kind of like insurance: You hope you don’t need it, but if you do, there it is!”
“It’s kind of like insurance: You hope you don’t need it, but if you do, there it is!”
Surveys show that 89% of PayActiv users at CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, Inc. would recommend the company to a friend because of the benefit offered. (We’re elated to say, this is actually quite common among PayActiv customers: Our surveyed users across all employers have an average eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score) of 73. That’s 8 out of 10 employees say they would recommend their workplace to others when offered the PayActiv program.)
We asked Sarah what she thought about the employee survey results with the PayActiv benefit:
“I think these findings are really encouraging. We hope that we’re an attractive place for potential team members anyway, but I think the fact that this benefit is one more thing which makes us attractive to folks that are looking for a job or looking for another job is such a win. And even if employees don’t take advantage of the program—the fact that we’re a company that offers it I think that says something about the culture of the organization. PayActiv gave our employees tangible proof we truly care about their well-being.”
“PayActiv gave our employees tangible proof we truly care about their well-being.”
Would you recommend PayActiv to other employers looking for a financial wellness program for their employees?
“Yes and I already have! I’ve been happy to pass on the good news to others.”
With Sarah’s extensive experience in HR, in-depth knowledge on how to help each employee perform and succeed at an optimal level, and as a personal champion for the PayActiv company, before our interview ended we inquired about Sarah’s final thoughts:
“I’m a raving fan, that’s for sure.”
“Well, I’m a raving fan, that’s for sure. Some of the things I’ve told my peers and other organizations is that I always have more to do than I can get done. I was so appreciative of the fact that PayActiv did all the heavy lifting, and they still do all the heavy lifting. PayActiv put all the marketing materials together and made sure that they reflected not just the organization, but the program as well. From a business partner perspective, I’m so appreciative when my partners are willing to take the load. That’s always a win.”
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