A lot of companies use worker benefits to incentivize team members and reward hard work, whether it’s an extra week of vacation after five years of service or an iPad as a holiday bonus. Recently, CEO Chieh Huang of online wholesale grocery retailer Boxed announced that he was offering a new benefit to his employees: Boxed would pay the full college tuition costs for employees’ children.
With college costs running at $30,000-50,000 a year or more, this is a significant employee benefit and one that could be truly life-changing for Boxed families and their children. As it turns out, that’s exactly what Huang hopes will happen with this new tuition program benefit. I had the opportunity to chat with Huang about the company’s new program, and here’s what I learned:
Boxed Wants to Change Lives
“I’ve always wanted to do something special for the employees,” Huang said. He was inspired to think differently about employee benefits when he realized why many of his employees weren’t able to make after-work Happy Hours. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want to come, it was really because a lot of them didn’t have cars, and they would miss the last bus and have to walk home.”
So Huang began thinking of how he could use Boxed resources to improve his team members’ lives. At first he thought that he would help his employees lease cars — “I had kind of like an Oprah moment: you get a car, and you get a car!” — but he quickly realized that the legal and insurance issues would add too many complications.
Then he had his a-ha moment: “How can we meaningfully change these folks’ lives and their families lives? When I was growing up, we had literally just about nothing when my parents came to this country. One of the biggest ways, if not the way that I ended up where I am today was because of education.”
College changed Huang’s life, so he decided that paying for college tuition was the way to help his employees and their families — better even than increasing their pay. “Even if we triple their hourly wage, they’re not going to be able to save the $25,000 or even $50,000 a year it takes to get their children to college. That’s the way we can really make a meaningful impact, and I thought, let’s do it!”
Huang funded the benefit partially through his personal shares in Boxed stock, and his employees are already taking advantage of the college tuition plan. The plan covers tuition only, not room and board, in the hopes that student recipients are inspired to work hard and, as Huang put it, “learn the value of a dollar.”
Boxed Wants to Inspire Team Loyalty
The Boxed tuition program is only for the children of full-time Boxed employees, and Huang made that choice specifically. “Most folks in the warehouse start out as part-timers, and as they prove themselves and show that they’re hard workers and dedicated to the company, we promote them to be full-fledged employees.”
Boxed values dedication and hopes that employees want to not only work for Boxed, but also build a career with Boxed and help the company grow. “You have to stick with us through this ride. For folks who are really investing themselves and this portion of their lives into the company, I want to give back to those folks.”
Huang hopes that other companies and CEOs follow his example, but notes that his idea is not unique. “Giving back to employees is not a novel idea. There are other folks doing it right now.” He cited Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, who recently cut his own salary to $70,000 a year so he could pay his employees a $70,000 a year minimum wage, as well as Salesforce 1-1-1 program, which helps employees give back to the community by offering paid Volunteer Time Off and other benefits.
Still, there is more that could be done. “I would love for other people, even if it was just one other company, to say ‘wow, I saw what Boxed is doing, and it inspired me to do something similar,’ or to do something nice for employees — then, this would have been worth it.”
Interested in working for Boxed? The company is currently hiring designers, engineers, a bookkeeper and a marketing manager in both NYC and San Mateo, California.
Your Turn: Would you be more likely to build a career with a company if it offered a benefit like Boxed’s college tuition program?
Nicole Dieker is a freelance writer focusing on personal finance and personal stories. Her work has appeared in The Billfold, The Toast, Yearbook Office, The Write Life and Boing Boing.