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Work-Life Navigation Goes National

Laura Roberts - Former Program Associate, The Rockefeller Foundation Liddy Romero - Founder & Executive Director, WorkLife Partnership

We all try to bring our best selves to work every day, but sometimes life gets in the way. For those of us fortunate enough to have access to networks and resources, “life” can often be easily managed with a few phone calls or transactions. For the 42 percent of the workforce making less than $15 per hour, a broken down car, snow day from your kids’ school, or health emergency can mean lost wages or even a lost job, which further harms the individual, family, and employer.

So what to do?

The Rockefeller Foundation believes strongly that the solution to this problem lies within an approach we call “impact hiring” or innovative strategies and practices across recruitment, assessment and support areas of business that can drive double bottom line impact, producing positive returns for both businesses and their employees. While the Foundation has chosen to focus on youth as an initial target population for this work, we believe impact hiring can benefit many types of entry and mid-level employees across a variety of sectors. WorkLife Partnership, whose model is producing as high as a 240% return on investment for their employer partners, is one example of an organization that creates impact for businesses and employees across the skill and sector spectrum.

The Navigator is an expert in community resources and financial coaching and serves as a unique, customized benefit to an employer’s entire workforce.

The genesis of WorkLife began back in 2009, when Mary Russell and Liddy Romero, working from their workforce center lens in Colorado, discovered The SOURCE. A small nonprofit in Grand Rapids, The SOURCE was just beginning to experiment with an innovative approach to solving work-life issues. The dismal state of the labor market, paired with employers’ growing appetites to strengthen morale in the midst of a recession, provided a solid foundation to re-engage businesses on the issue of employee retention. As sectors like manufacturing, retail, and healthcare gained market traction, employers began to understand the competitive advantage of adopting new strategies specifically designed to retain their workforce. Through Liddy’s leadership, Denver was able to set up its own version of this practice, closely modeled after The SOURCE, under a nonprofit called WorkLife Partnership. Two more organizations — Working Bridges and Connect for Success — took root in Burlington and Seattle, respectively, helping to build on this sustainable workforce prototype.

At the heart of the model–and arguably what makes it so effective–is what the members call the “Navigator.” The Navigator provides personalized, on-site, one-on-one assistance, paid for by the business. The Navigator is an expert in community resources and financial coaching and serves as a unique, customized benefit to an employer’s entire workforce.

Employees self-refer themselves to the Navigator and together they identify challenges and opportunities for future personal, financial and/or career growth. Navigators stabilize workers through resources like pro-bono legal services, banking, parenting resources, food, childcare, energy and rental assistance, and transportation vouchers—all while working within the limits of a worker’s take-home pay. The below case study helps to illustrate one example of how navigation works in practice.

WorkLife Case Study: Financial Literacy and the Path to Home Ownership
From the case files of WorkLife Navigator, 
Logan Jones

A young employee named Curtis*, who was still relatively new to the working world, was struggling with how to make smart financial choices with his paycheck. Curtis knew he wanted to eventually stop renting and become a first-time homebuyer, for example, but he had little experience with financial planning, building credit, and accessing capital. He had secure housing at the moment but was worried that a misstep could put him on the wrong financial track and make many of his medium-long term goals unattainable. Curtis approached WorkLife Navigator Logan Jones for some advice and support.

Together, they looked at Curtis’ credit report and saw that while his overall score was in good shape, there were a few areas where he could improve. So they made a plan: Curtis would obtain a secured card through his credit union, as well as open a traditional credit card account that didn’t have an annual fee. This allowed him to add credit utilization to his report, showing that he was capable of maintaining multiple credit lines and a revolving credit line that was previously missing from his credit profile. Logan also helped Curtis build a weekly and monthly budget that helped him spend and save wisely, all while continuing to improve his credit score for future investments.

After opening these accounts and building budgets, Logan and Curtis worked together to ensure bills were being paid off on time; Curtis started getting the perks of an improved credit score without credit card interest cutting into his cash flow. This process helped Logan and Curtis work hand in hand to build Curtis’ financial literacy skills and keep his investment goals on track.

 (*Actual name changed to respect anonymity.)

Helping employees like Curtis find security and empowerment through their workplace in this way creates a positive cycle of productivity that benefits both the business and their employees.

With funding from The Rockefeller Foundation, WorkLife (along with The SOURCE, Connect for Success and Working Bridges) are now working with FSG to create a strategic plan to help codify the service model and delivery mechanisms, begin to professionalize the Navigator role, and develop an implementation plan for formalizing the network and scaling in 5-7 new locations over the course of the next two years.  For Rockefeller, this investment represents an opportunity to demonstrate and scale an impact hiring practice and model for what drives positive retention at companies.

Earlier this month, the organizations celebrated the official launch of this expanding network, “WorkLab Innovations,” which will partner with employers and local community-based organizations to bring Navigators nationwide, starting with pilot sites in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Dallas, New York City, and Detroit. With a fee-for-service funding model at all levels of operations and support from a senior advisory council that includes national employers and funders, WorkLab Innovations is poised for expansive success.

As funders and implementers, we know finding models that work is hard, figuring out how to scale them is harder, and the actual scaling work is even harder still. Given that, the launch of WorkLab Innovations and scaling of impact hiring practices writ large represents a milestone for all in the workforce space who care about better outcomes for people and employers. Work-life principles and strategies are officially going national, helping to create a better future for today’s workforce.

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