It’s a tough business environment out there at the moment. Not only are whole industries being disrupted and transformed, but the war for professional-level talent – skilled people who can cope with and adapt to all of that change – is heating up like never before. Employer branding and talent attraction are key weapons in the fight that every organisation is facing, but value-for-money employee retention is an even more pressing concern.
In the past, a lot of retention efforts were based around financial rewards: throw a big bonus or pay rise toward key staff and effectively “buy” their loyalty for another year or six months. But that strategy has been proven ineffective over anything but the shortest terms.
A Princeton University study found that higher incomes only increased total happiness of employees up to a relatively low level of US$75,000 (S$100,000) per year. Beyond that, any increase in pay does little to increase the daily mood, and thereby retention, of key staff.
Rather, it is non-monetary and cultural rewards that keep talents not just at their desks, but contributing to an organisation’s goals and objectives. Employers can get that desperately wanted “buy-in” for a fraction of the cost of financial rewards, and with much greater impact.
Rosaline Chow Koo, founder of CXA Group, says employers should always aim to create a work environment that improves employee morale, engagement, and productivity. And one key way to achieve this is through a well-designed employee benefits programme.
“Studies have shown that happier and more engaged employees take less time off, are more productive, and fall sick less often,” she says.
“Companies of any size can begin to implement wellness programmes for their staff. It can be as simple as self-conducted teambuilding workouts after work, allowing a flexible working schedule, or even choosing to stock the pantry with healthy, low-carb food (check those sweet biscuits and salty crackers!)”
Koo says CXA itself offers an excellent case in point. The startup company recently embarked on its own “Living Lab” health and wellness programme over eight weeks. This involved a series of fun and engaging activities combined with pre-and post-programme health checks. “The programme made a big difference, with 66% of employees reporting improved activity during and after it, while 43% of employees reported an improvement in happiness, and 28% of employees reported a reduction of stress levels,” she says.
Not just doctors and nurses
Of course non-monetary incentives can include much more than health and wellness-related expenses for staff. Particularly with larger organisations boasting a modern outlook, a host of lifestyle options can be included in a comprehensive benefits programme to double-down on the retention advantages.
These include on-site gymnasiums with group fitness classes, childcare centres, in-house catered meals, scholarships and reimbursements for tuition, paid time off for voluntary work, in-house spas or vouchers, and the list goes on.
Some organisations are also experimenting with unlimited leave options; while others have made it policy for all positions to be done remotely if that is the employee’s preference.
David Litteken, Senior Vice-President for the Asia-Pacific region at BI Worldwide, says a complete benefits programme will have both health and lifestyle options for staff. But the important thing is that these are put together in a strategic fashion, taking the workforce demographics and preferences into account.
“A comprehensive benefits programme should be built with a design thinking methodology, with a view to enhancing the Employee Value Proposition,” he tells HRM Magazine Asia. “The objective is to build a package and programme that not only engages and energises staff, but also reinforces the organisation’s key values.”
The true engagement and retention strength comes when the benefits programme is combined with other workplace improvements that help staff feel at home in the office.
“Making a cool, fun, hip place to work is actually the easy part,” Litteken says. “That then needs to be backed up by transparency and agility of leadership.”
“This creates that all-important feeling that ‘my boss has my back’,”
No matter what size the organisation or what region it is operating in, and no matter what sort of benefits will be made available through it, an effective benefits programme will have a number of common features.
Litteken says a Design Thinking methodology is an important tool for the development stage. “The organisation needs to map out exactly where the retention and engagement challenges are,” he tells HRM Magazine Asia.
Along with the strategic element and careful research into the workforce demographics and its individual wants and needs, experts all highlight the importance of effective communication in the rollout and maintenance of a new programme.
“It’s important to consider all the communication elements that your workforce could demand, including social, mobile, and paper-based platforms,” Litteken says.
While the list below has some big and very unique items that only the biggest employers will be able to afford, both Litteken and Koo say there is a benefits programme fit for every organisation – even the smallest outfits.
“It shouldn’t matter what size the company is,” Litteken says. “Whether it is two or three people, or 200,000, no organisation should let size be a deterrent from looking at a holistic benefits programme.”
Koo says a low-cost, flexible starting position for smaller organisations would be the implementation of a Virtual Wallet system of points and benefits targeting a multigenerational workforce.
“Employees at each stage of their life would have different priorities,” she says. “A young family might place more priority on their children’s education and wellbeing, whereas a more mature family might be more concerned about retirement.”
“A Virtual Wallet gives employees the power of choice – they choose what works for them based on their needs, life stage, and personal preferences.”
Several vendors in the employee health marketplace, including CXA will offer these kinds of flexible benefits programmes. They are typically built over an intuitive, easy-to-use digital platform that can scale up or down with the organisation.
For its part, BI Worldwide operates more as a consultancy, helping its clients to conceive, research, and develop appropriate engagement and retention strategies – including through flexible and wide-ranging benefits programmes. It uses data and scientific research to determine the right mix of engagement levers to ensure a workforce is at its happiest – and thereby most productive.