5 low-cost, intangible rewards to promote

The soft side of HR can also have a big impact on the bottom line
By Lotte Struwing
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/10/2009

HR practitioners are transforming into business professionals with HR acumen. In this recession, they’re also getting a rapid lesson in finance as organizations cut into the core of traditional HR programs in an effort to balance the books.

HR professionals will also need to put on another hat and become marketers as organizations rebuild and promote offerings to employees to ensure they remain engaged and stay with the company.

The tangible rewards should remain a main focus. Employers may want to develop communication strategies to help explain how base pay is determined — such as how ranges are developed, how jobs are benchmarked against the competition, where levels and titles fit in and why and how employees progress through the ranges. Communicating what is in benefit plans, including various plan options, how to access them and how plans can support employee health and well-being is imperative for ongoing sustainability.

But intangible rewards — or the soft side of HR — can also influence retention, costs, leadership, training and customer satisfaction, which all ultimately influence profit and shareholder value. Here are five cost-effective, intangible benefits HR can focus on when marketing total rewards to employees:

Career development: During stressful times, employees often resent having to take on the extra work of terminated colleagues with little or no extra compensation. But additional responsibilities can be presented as opportunities for growth and development. HR can create an additional focal point for new skill development (technical or leadership) in performance development plans. Ideally this should start at the onset of new work, so the employee clearly sees the link. If that’s not possible, an organization should take the time to acknowledge the new skill development and support and encourage it.

Recognition: If employees are not recognized, it’s easy for them to become disengaged or indifferent, which can result in the misuse of company time, programs and property while affecting retention. Being proactive and taking recognition a step further can include formal training or mentoring around new skill development to enhance on-the-job learning, a special bonus or reclassification to a new role, if appropriate. Start by examining all recognition programs, including costs and reasoning, to determine their relevance and impact.

Coaching: The most important aspect of coaching — which is listening — can get lost because of all the “noise” in organizations. Managers need to spend quality time coaching their team, which effectively means spending more one-on-one time, “clearing the decks” and truly listening. To ensure effective listening, managers need to be more than just physically present. They shouldn’t necessarily solve their employees’ problems but need to listen and ask simple questions such as: “How can I help you with this?” or “What solution can you think of?” Employees often just want to vent their concerns and feel heard. By asking questions, a manager allows them to take accountability for the concern. The manager is giving the employee time and helping with brainstorming, but the worker owns the outcome. Therefore, the balance of work remains with the employee.

Organization wellness: For many HR practitioners, selling organizational wellness has been an uphill battle. The recession is the perfect time to look at it as an important business retention strategy and long-term, cost-saving initiative. Not only are rising benefit costs an issue but the hidden costs of workers’ compensation, harassment, wrongful dismissal and presenteeism rise in turbulent economies and can have long-lasting ramifications for an organization. Employers can also consider adding elements that support employees’ personal well-being, such as workplace flexibility, convenience services, sabbaticals or vacation bonuses. Employee assistance program providers are also a good resource for many wellness needs. To sell the concept to the executive team, HR must measure results and tie them into the overall business strategy. Preparing comparisons of past benefit and hidden costs versus this year’s should give HR a lot of ammunition on this front.

Communication: Although communication is traditionally a business strategy, it is directly related to retention. Reviewing the overall communication strategy or developing one can be a great investment. Whether through newsletters, face to face, e-mail, voice mail or group meetings, talking about the good, the bad and the ugly will give employees a chance to understand, vent, feel heard and positively support the business in moving forward. If the leadership team doesn’t fill the void, employees will fill it — with whatever they fear the most — and that can lead to a huge increase in presenteeism. Information should cover overall corporate changes, objectives, upcoming opportunities and challenges, and allow an open forum where employees have the opportunity to vent and provide input for positive change.

Lotte Struwing is the owner of Lasting Solutions HR Consulting and Coaching in Innisfil, Ont. She can be reached at lottestruwing@rogers.com.

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