- International auction house Sotheby's has launched a student loan repayment benefit program. The company said the initiative aims to reduce the $1.5 trillion owed by former students in the U.S. Plan participants must have outstanding student debt owed to an accredited loan organization. Former students and parents responsible for paying their children's debt can participate.
- When an employee makes a student loan payment, Sotheby's will contribute $150 toward the principal amount of a student loan, up to $1,800 a year. The program covers workers for as long as they're eligible, U.S.-based, full-time Sotheby's employees with qualifying student loans.Employees can participate in the program so long as they remain eligible, full-time, U.S.-based employees of Sotheby's with student loans.
- Sotheby's has partnered with Gradifi, a firm specializing in financial employee benefits, to support the benefit plan. The partnership offers Sotheby's employees advice on college savings programs, refinancing and other related issues.
Employees are entering the workforce with thousands of dollars in student debt. Financial problems are the greatest distractions on the job for workers, according to one in three respondents in a 2017 study by the Center for Financial Services Innovation. And in a 2018 study by the same organization, nearly half the respondents cited finances as a major stressor. Stress takes a toll on workers' health and their ability to perform their jobs; for employers, that means higher absenteeism, lower retention rates and productivity losses in the millions each year. These statistics alone incentivize employers to intervene, if they can, to help relieve workers of astronomical amounts of student debt.
In a previous statement to HR Dive, Gradifi's then-CEO Tim DeMello wrote: "If employers are able to help their employees pay off that debt faster, they're able to alleviate some of the stress; ultimately creating a better quality of life both at work and in their employee's personal lives, and in turn creating a decisive hiring advantage in recruiting highly skilled workers."
Workers said they would welcome help with repaying their student-loan debt. Nearly half (46%) of participants in a Student Loan Hero survey said they would accept a student loan repayment plan over a 401(k), if they had a choice. And another 53% said they would prefer a repayment program over paid time off. Offering workers the benefit they value most has the potential to enhance engagement and raise retention rates. Employee satisfaction and engagement are crucial in a tight labor market, where dissatisfied employees are more likely to leave their current jobs for better pay, benefits and opportunities elsewhere. This is not lost on Sotheby's CEO Tad Smith, who said in a statement that the benefit speaks to workers' satisfaction and engagement. Satisfaction and engagement contribute toward the company's success and the value it delivers to its clients and shareholders, Smith added.
The IRS has also stepped in to help workers with student loan debt. In August, the agency issued a private letter ruling allowing an employer to amend its 401(k) plan in order to contribute to the retirement accounts of employees paying down their student loans. The hybrid plan has yet to catch on, but it could be a welcome solution to helping workers pay down their student loans, while getting them to save for retirement.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified DeMello. HR Dive regrets the error.