Employee expectations and your total rewards strategy

Divergent perspectives need to be reconciled to create a win-win proposition

By Claudine Kapel

A key principle in developing a total rewards strategy is to consider what matters most to employees.

The reality though, is that an effective strategy often represents a delicate balancing act that acknowledges business priorities and employee expectations as well as competitive market practice and the need to manage costs and risks.

Shaping a total rewards strategy often involves reconciling divergent perspectives by clarifying priorities and facilitating some give and take. Often, finesse is required to create a win-win offering because the emerging value proposition may not look exactly like what any party was seeking.

If you were to set your total rewards strategy to music, you might select the Rolling Stones song, You Can’t Always Get What You – which asserts: “No you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.”

Consider the recent 2011/2012 Talent Management and Rewards study by WorldatWork and Towers Watson, which surveyed 316 organizations in Canada and the United States. The study compares what employers and employees identify as the top five reasons top talent would join an organization, from a list of 23 items.

The top five list defined by Canadian employers is:

1)    career development opportunities
2)    the organization’s reputation as a great place to work
3)    challenging work
4)    base pay
5)    job security

The top five defined by Canadian employees is:

job security
2)    base pay
3)    health care benefits
4)    challenging work
5)    length of commute

The study report observes there’s “a disconnect between what employers think will attract critical-skill employees and what employees themselves say they want.” It adds such mismatches “will not prevent employers from filling most openings today, but they could present big challenges in the future.”

Indeed, there are mismatches between how the employers and employees in the study articulated their top five lists, with job security being the most glaring disconnect.

But this may reflect the reality that most employers today don’t see job security as being something they can actually offer. So they’re not going to emphasize it. In fact, in the U.S. study sample, American employers didn’t even rank job security on their top five list, even though the U.S. employees, like their Canadian counterparts, ranked it number one.

This highlights an interesting total rewards conundrum. How do you respond to employee needs when what they most want is something you can’t actually offer?

Cue the Rolling Stones music, because in such cases, an effective response may be to read between the lines to help employees get what they need.

According to the study results, employees are seeking job security. So what can a company do to help employees feel more secure, even in the face of not being guaranteed a job for life?

Part of the answer may be regular performance feedback and ongoing support for training and skill development. By supporting employees to continuously hone their skills, an organization can support employees to cultivate a stronger sense of self-efficacy. This can also help employees feel more confident about their capacity to land on their feet should something happen to their job.

Another helpful factor is open and candid lines of communication. If employees trust that their leaders will be upfront with them, they’ll know they won’t get blind-sided by organizational change. And if they have opportunities for input, they can even be part of the solutions the organization may need to remain successful.

In the end, a total rewards strategy isn’t meant to deliver every item on every wish list. But it is meant to represent a meaningful synthesis of what matters most to all key stakeholders, so the emerging employment proposition is a win-win deal.

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.

Claudine Kapel

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a human resources consulting firm specializing in compensation design, performance management, and employee communications. Claudine is also the co-author of The HR Manager’s Guide to Total Rewards and Straight Talk on Managing Human Resources.
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