What's the most impactful benefit ever you've seen an employer offer? How should couples who are starting a family talk about their finances? Who is a woman that has inspired you most in your career?
Join us for our next Liquid Assets chat with Averjill Rookwood, Doula/Benefits Strategist and Founder @ The Corporate Doula.
Carly Joos, Partnerships and Business Development at LearnLux sat down with Averjill to enjoy a "liquid asset" and talk through:
- What her dream retirement looks like
- The advice she'd give to HR professionals entering the workforce this year
- If she believes, "money can't buy happiness"
Prefer to watch the interview? Click below to launch the video, or read on for the full Q&A.
Carly: I'm joined today by Averjill Rookwood for our Liquid Assets interview series, where we have candid conversations about all things money and career. Averjill is the founder of The Corporate Doula and a leader in the employee benefits and workplace wellbeing space. Averjill, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
Averjill: You're welcome. I'm glad to be here.
Carly: Since this is the Liquid Assets interview series, we'd love to know what's filling your cup today?
What's filling your cup today?
Averjill: Well, I'm from Brooklyn, New York, but I'm coming to you from the South. And here we drink Arnold Palmers, which is half ice tea, half lemonade. So it's delicious. I'm refreshed and I'm ready to go.
Carly: Oh, my gosh, I am jealous. Having a little bit of colder spring weather here today. So I have my hot coffee in my cup, but can't wait for the summer months and some cold ice tea.
Well, we have so many great questions for you today, so we'd love to kick off by learning a little bit more about what you do now in your role as a doula, and then a little bit about your career up to this point, and time in the benefits space.
Tell us about your role as a doula, and your career in the benefits space.
Averjill: Sure! As The Corporate Doula, I kind of drive in two lanes. The first lane is to help the employees or individuals themselves, and that's in a traditional doula standpoint. I'm there for you advocating, rubbing your back, saying helpful things, teaching childbirth education classes to you.
I also help you navigate your benefits as you work. So that can be anything from benefits that allow you to leave work if you're on bed rest, how you come back and how you maintain your pay. So what does short-term disability mean for you versus any state or federal leaves like FMLA.
And the other lane I travel is to help the employers directly because of me formerly wearing a hat in benefits for so many years. Lastly, as a benefits manager, I've sat in their seats so I can help them from two perspectives, from that person that helps their employees but then that person who knows the budget considerations and all the red tape that they have to go through. I help them make very strong decisions to strengthen the family benefit options and packages that they give their employees who work so very hard for them.
Carly: That's amazing work that you do. I know that it's such an exciting, but also a stressful time for families when they're welcoming a new member into their family. It's so empowering that you've helped them through that time in so many different capacities.
Next, I'd love to dive a little bit more into the money topic. I know that it can be a taboo topic for people to talk about, but in your work with both families and employers, why is it that employees and employers should talk about money more openly in the workplace, in your opinion?
Why should employees and employers talk about money more openly in the workplace?
Averjill: We work for two things (outside of personal fulfillment). We work for compensation, and we work for benefits. And so money is the thread that goes through all of that. We're no longer in a society like our grandparents who used to work 30, 40 years somewhere and have a pension that they knew they were going to get. If you think about company culture to take on a persona, that persona is probably going to have some moral responsibilities and some ethical responsibilities.
Someone has devoted their time and attention to make your product, your service grow for the time that they were with you. How can you invest in them? And so I feel that money is a necessary topic as someone travels through their career on their way to retirement.
Carly: Absolutely. And I love that point about those companies investing in their employees as a return for them putting so much time in. Pivoting a little bit more to your role, working directly with families. I'm curious what your thoughts are on how couples should talk about finances?
In your experience working with families, how should couples talk about finances?
Averjill: Oh, just like anything else - to start a family is a decision. I will say there are financial considerations that they have to now put on the table when deciding to grow their family.
So what does that mean? What does each partner bring to the table in terms of finances, what are the expectations? Because you definitely don't want to start to hash that out in the midst of new baby stress or in the midst of stress trying to start a family. So it's just better to get it out the way as soon as possible and make room for adjustments. If they're working with me, I say "use what your employer has available to the highest utilization so that you can get what they have given you, to assist you in this transitional time in your life."
Carly: Right. And kind of a follow-up question to that - What's the smartest financial or benefits decision you see people making during this stage of life? Is it thinking ahead and having those conversations early on, or are there any other things that really contribute to success there?
What's the smartest financial or benefits decision you see people making as they start the path to parenthood?
Averjill: For individuals, I would definitely say you hit the nail on the head. Thinking ahead! So what does that mean? Ask, "what are available benefits that you didn't think about before?" what's a 529 or do I personally need an IRA? Is it bad luck to think about child life insurance?" (It's not - get it!) Pregnancy and birth bring life and sometimes death - it's a reality for either the birther or, you know, that new baby it happens. It's not just the good.
And for employers, I think the best thing they can do is not think of benefits as a one-stop-shop. There's no silver bullet for all of their family-forming employees or family-sustaining employees. So have something, even if it's just a little something, for everyone along the way in their journey. If they're in the midst of having families, it's great for them to have family-centric benefits to pull from. And then there's postpartum, and then what if there is loss? We're just coming off of the heels of New Zealand granting bereavement benefits for miscarriages.
Carly: That's fantastic.
Averjill: But that's on a government level. That doesn't stop Acme Incorporated in the United States from making that decision on their own, not waiting for it to be a federal type decision. So that's what I mean about looking through the whole continuum of family, forming and family-sustaining at work.
Carly: Amazing. Yeah. There are so many different touchpoints that you have to think about when both returning to work and preparing for that, that moment in your life. Now shifting gears a little bit more into your time in the benefits space, what's the coolest or most impactful benefit that you've seen a company offer? And why is that benefit the best or the most impactful for their employees?
What's the coolest or most impactful benefit that you've seen a company offer?
Averjill: There's no way I can choose one impactful benefit. Like we just talked about, there are so many different touchpoints, so many stages. Certain benefits really come through in the nick of time for someone and it's so fulfilling as you know, in my benefits manager role to see that, wow, we had something in place that came through for one of our employees.
And let me tell you, employers out here; let me have a moment with you. Hello! That moment builds loyalty that you could never buy. That moment puts your name out there in the workforce as a company that cares whether that employee stays with you. You were thoughtful enough in your benefits to have something already in place, no special needs requests needed to be submitted.
That's the most awesome. When you have something, when you've studied your demographic and you have met them where they are. Whatever that looks like, that's the sweet spot.
Carly: Yeah, that's amazing. And it must make employees feel so special when they feel heard by their employer as well.
Averjill: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Carly: So now, this year and last year specifically have been a struggle for many new people entering the workforce. What advice or guidance do you have for aspiring benefits and workplace wellbeing professionals who are looking to just kickstart their career sometime soon?
What guidance do you have for aspiring benefits and workplace wellbeing professionals who are looking to just kickstart their career this year?
Averjill: I would say be as well-rounded as you can. When people think about benefits, they think about medical, dental, vision - those things that we use all the time, that are in front of our faces as benefits. But because of how I grew up in the benefits world, it included the money part of it to me. And I can clearly see the bridges between financial-based benefits and leave-based benefits to health based benefits. It is all interwoven and so very important. I call them close cousins. And so when you are well-rounded, you will create plans for your employee base that are well-rounded as well.
There's no sense in having the best health plan and not offering a match in their 401k or a repayment benefit for their student loans. Worse than that, I believe, is if they don't know what exists to take advantage of it.
So be well-rounded and then produce a well-rounded [benefits program] and lobby for it. Even if you get some pushback, fight hard, give the reasons why the data is out there.
Carly: Yep. Absolutely. And I love that piece that you said about communication. That's so key when it comes to benefits. My next question is about burnout because I know it's something that so many people are experiencing right now.
So I want to know, what keeps you motivated through these strange, tough times, this uncertainty? And what guidance do you have to offer others who might be feeling burnt out either as a result of their job or just being home all the time?
What keeps you motivated through these tough times?
Averjill: I would say, find your "why", and then factor yourself into the why.
My "why" are those families that I help, but then also the families that I help by helping their employers. It's just so rewarding to know that I'm supporting people and it just feeds me. But then I also have to make time and space and room for just Averjill. You know, what does Averjill need to do to replenish herself? What does Averjill need to do to renew herself? What does Averjill need to do to refresh herself? I do those things, and that's what I have to do because I preach it. I teach it. So I have to live it. If you're my client, whether that's an individual or employer, I am baking that into what is done. So I have to be very mindful to do it for myself.
Carly: Yeah. I love that. I feel your energy even just over zoom. So that definitely comes through. You're taking the time for yourself and definitely makes me inspired to do the same.
Well, I think we have a few minutes left, so I would love to do some fun, rapid-fire questions. The first question I have for you is, retirement is something that people think about for so long and save for, for so long. What would be your dream retirement when you get to that point?
What does your dream retirement look like?
Averjill: I want to be able to work just because I feel like it. So I want to work these three months and then I'm out for the rest of the year. I'm a beach type of girl, a warm-weather type of girl. So I need a couple of houses that would facilitate that type of life. I'm a daughter of two Jamaican immigrants and so, you know, water and sand are just what I do.
Carly: That sounds like a dream right now. My next question is true or false; money can't buy happiness?
True or false; money can't buy happiness?
Averjill: That is so hard, Carly. Okay. So if I'm answering from the center of self, it can't. It really can't. I think it's just, money. There's nothing like money that you've worked hard for. And by hard, I don't mean like sweat and almost killed yourself for it. I mean, you worked smartly for it. So for those who are just starting off, get in the game, because the longer you're in the game, the more it has to give you at the end. Save, invest, be wise about it. So that money gives you options. That's not happiness. Money gives you options, and options are a glorious thing to have.
Carly: Absolutely. Next question is, what's a secret talent that you have?
What's a secret talent that you have?
Averjill: I have no secret talents. I let the world know about my talents. I do not hoard them for myself. I would say that my talent is really connection and communication. I love to hear and learn very complex things and be able to break them down for people in a simple way that they can understand and take with them. That, ooh, that gets me fired up to be able to do that. And so I do that through my work in many different ways, both in my doula work and in my consulting work as well. So my, those are my talents and I let them be known.
Carly: That should be a mantra for, for 2021 and moving forward, don't hide your talents. No more secret talents. Share them with the world. Such a good message. Amazing, so my last question, who is one woman who has inspired you in your life or career?
Who is one woman who has inspired you in your life or career?
Averjill: There's definitely not just one. So I'm just going to like put my mom on the mantle and say like, you know, she, at every stage of my life has been a great example for me. But in business, I would definitely have to say her name is Barbara Young.
She was this awesome lady at church when I was a young, young girl. She just had everything all together. She owned three insurance agencies, like three State Farms. She drove a badass Jaguar. She was always dressed to the nine, but sweet as can be. That was like my first example, like, wow. Look at a woman in business who just has it all together and never hesitates to share her knowledge, share her experience, to share her pitfalls with young girls and anyone who asked. The knowledge was here for the taking.
And I just will never forget that. It's what she said, but it's also what she exuded in business. I'm here talking about it, like a gazillion years later. She was like a boss back before I knew what that was.
Carly: I love that. Yeah. Own your own, your success, own your knowledge and share that with the world. Absolutely.
Averjill: Exactly. It's for reason. Little does she know her being a boss was there inspiring Averjill Rookwood for the rest of her life. Like she didn't know, she was just being her. So you just gotta be yourself and, you know, be it to the best of your ability.
Carly: Absolutely. You never know who you're going to inspire and Averjill you've absolutely inspired me today in just hearing about your life, your career, your words of wisdom. So thank you so, so much for taking the time to chat with us today! Can't wait to see what else you have in store.
Averjill: Oh, thank you. It was my pleasure. Thanks so much Carly for having me.